Court mantua, c1750s – The mantua was worn for court occasions and was designed to be a luxurious garment, often decorated with opulent embroidery incorporating gold or silver thread, to display status and wealth. This example, brocaded in gold and trimmed with gilt lace, is thought to have belonged to the Countess of Haddington.
It is particularly interesting to the contemporary eye not only for its extravagance -- the fabric alone would cost the equivalent of around £5,000 ($7,200) today -- but for its sheer enormity.
Slap-soled shoes, c1660-70 – These shoes were once thought to have belonged to Mary Queen of Scots, although they have since been dated to nearly a century later. The slap sole was initially used on men's shoes to prevent their heels sinking into the mud; women's shoemakers caught on and they were adopted as a fashion accessory in the second half of the century.
The distinctive clacking sound they made (the sole was only attached to the ball of the foot and not the heel) was associated with wealth and sophistication.
Boy's suit, c1760-70 – This silk velvet suit was for a little boy, and may have belonged to the son of Thomas Hamilton, 7th Earl of Haddington.
Children's dress at this time is particularly interesting as until the late 18th century, children of the upper classes were dressed to imitate their parents. Seeing the extravagant adult male fashions of the mid-18th century in miniature is fascinating.
It's hard for us to imagine today, but it wasn't until the time of the Enlightenment that children's dress emerged as a distinct type.
Bustle dress, c1874-79 – The 19th century is a fascinating period in fashion history, as styles change more quickly and seem to vary from one extreme to another.
The crinoline stands out as a notable example, but as the outline of fashionable dress changed to become more streamlined in the 1870s, the bustle -- or "dress improver" -- became a separate garment.
This fashionable day dress is cut in the "princess style" -- the bodice is cut continuous with the skirt -- and the fullness is gathered at the back in a waterfall of drapery. There is a real romance to this style of dress, which features in some of the most famous Impressionist paintings of the period, by Manet and Renoir.
Robe de style by Jeanne Lanvin, c1924 – In the 1920s, Jeanne Lanvin became known for her robe de style with its full pannier hips, and her trademark use of intricate trimming and embroideries in light floral colors.
In an example of successful brand marketing, the illustrator Paul Iribe sketched Jeanne and her daughter both wearing a dress in this style, and the image has been used as the logo for the house since 1927.
We acquired this dress recently from a vintage haute couture specialist in London to enable us to tell this story. It offers an eye-catching contrast to the androgynous flapper style that we usually associate with the decade.
Day dress by Poiret, c1924 – Known in America as "The King of Fashion", and in Paris as "Le Magnifique," Poiret's revolutionary designs allegedly freed women from corsetry and the rigid hourglass silhouette of the Belle Epoque.
He is renowned today for his exotic Eastern-inspired silhouettes, and for introducing controversial trends such as the hobble skirt, which narrowed towards the hem, shackling the legs and restricting the wearer's movement.
As a designer who is credited with developing the blueprint of the modern fashion industry, we were thrilled to acquire this piece at auction for the new displays.
Evening jacket by Elsa Schiaparelli, Autumn-Winter 1937/38 – We acquired this piece at auction specifically for the new "Fashion and Style" gallery.
Elsa Schiaparelli is a pivotal figure in fashion history, and is particularly important to the story of Frances Farquharson, an editor at Vogue and Harper's Bazaar in the late 1920s and 30s whose wardrobe features in the new gallery.
This jacket is from the period that represents the height of Schiaparelli's creativity, when she was collaborating with the surrealist artists Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali and Leonor Fini. This is thought to have been a favorite design of Schiaparelli's, as she wore a near-identical jacket for her famous portrait by the photographer Horst P. Horst for Vogue.
Ballgown by Jacques Fath, c1948 – Jacques Fath is one of the designers credited with contributing to the rebirth of haute couture during its Golden Age following the Second World War. It's particularly significant for the fact that it dates from around 1948, after Dior's New Look of 1947 had changed the course of fashion but while clothing restrictions were still in force in Britain due to rationing.
The gown represents the height of luxury for this period, and its glamorous associations are the focus of our section on film fashion, since Ava Gardner, Greta Garbo and Rita Hayworth were avid fans of Fath's work.
"Chainmail" tunic by Paco Rabanne, 1967 – Paco Rabanne's first haute couture collection, titled "12 unwearable dresses in contemporary materials," catapulted him into the limelight as one of the first designers to move beyond the idea that garments should be made only from fabric.
His futuristic designs broke with the tradition of couture and are remembered as some of the most iconic fashions of the 1960s. His chain-linked, armor-plated metal mini dresses and tunics caused a sensation and were famously worn by Jane Fonda in Barbarella and by Audrey Hepburn in Two for the Road.
Leather dress by Jean Muir, c1972 – The internationally successful British fashion designer Jean Muir created couture-quality ready-to-wear designs. With her superlative cutting and use of luxurious fabrics, Muir excelled in making technically complex designs that appeared simple, such as this butter-soft nappa leather dress.
In 2005, National Museums Scotland was fortunate to acquire her archive of an estimated 18,000 items. This piece is a favourite of mine as it is typical of the timeless, feminine designs that made her popular with so many high-profile clients, including her former house model Joanna Lumley.
Bump dress by Comme des Garçons, Spring-Summer 1997 – One of the most influential avant-garde designers of the 1980s, Rei Kawakubo is renowned for exploring the boundaries of clothing and we therefore just had to represent her work in the "Cutting Edge" section of the gallery.
This sample garment for her landmark "Bump" collection plays with the space between the fabric and the contours of the body. Lightly padded and reinforced with tulle to hold its curves, it critiques the notion of there being one ideal female shape. It's a fantastic piece for us to have on display in a gallery where body image is also a central theme.
Rose Royce hat by Stephen Jones, Autumn-Winter 1996/97 "Contours" collection – Leading British milliner Stephen Jones is considered one of the most important and radical milliners of our times. As the "go-to" man for statement-making hats, his pieces have won favor with everyone from Boy George and Diana, Princess of Wales to fashion industry greats like Jean Paul Gaultier and Marc Jacobs.
Jones once declared the lyrical spiral design of the satin rose on this top hat as his favorite design, so we were very excited to purchase this at auction for our visitors to see up close.
Harris Tweed suit by Vivienne Westwood, Autumn-Winter 1998/99 "Time Machine" collection – Scotland's rich textile history has put it firmly on the international fashion map and it is particularly important for us to showcase fashion designers whose collections celebrate Scottish heritage fabrics. Vivienne Westwood stands out for her love of traditional British clothing, and her use of tartan and tweed. Handwoven in the Outer Hebrides and exported to over 50 countries worldwide, Harris Tweed is the only fabric in the world protected by its own legislation, designated with the iconic Orb Registered Certification Trademark.
"A la Russe Kokoshnik" by Anya Caliendo, 2016 – When we approached New York-based milliner Anya Caliendo for a hat for our "Cutting Edge" section, we were thrilled when she decide to create a bespoke piece especially for us. It was inspired by the culture of Caliendo's native Russia, created in the style of a traditional Russian headdress.
This hand-made piece incorporates unique millinery techniques without using a single machine stitch or drop of glue, and took over three weeks to complete. The use of Italian shimmering gold silk, French flocked lace and Swarovski pearls and crystals helps to create an impression of early spring in Russia, as the first signs of nature push up through a covering of snow.