Chris Wadsworth
Percy Kelly - Looking East to the Ennerdale Fells
Writer and Art Consultant

15th July 2015


We once threw a fancy dress party at the gallery.  Everyone was invited to come as a painting. It was good fun. We had several Van Gogh’s with bandaged ears, Millais’ Reapers, Magritte’s Lovers, two Constables, Toulouse Lautrec’s La Goulue and many more. George Wallbank made a fabulous Laughing Cavalier and his artist wife Karen turned up in a dress in primary colours that she’d made herself to resemble a Mondrian painting.

This reminded me that I had also made a copy of that Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian dress in the sixties. I don’t think mine was haute couture by any stretch of the imagination - not as well cut and sewn - but it looked convincing. I  couldn’t afford an original.

I had never seen the original in the flesh - until this week when we sped over to Barnard Castle to see the first exhibition of YSL’s work in the UK. I was pleased to see my and Karen’s dress on the banners in the town (they were obviously copies of our efforts of course.)

This is a major coup for the Bowes Museum whose main specialism is costume. The exhibition is spectacular. There are several videos, lots of archival material, original toiles, fabric samples and sketches and 55 gowns ranging from 1957 (when YSL became Christian Dior’s successor at the tender age of 25) to 2001. Known as The King of Fashion, he it was who invented clothes for the modern woman; the first trouser suit, the first female tuxedo. Not only was there our Mondrian inspired dress but several based on Matisse’s cut outs, a few pop-art dresses and several Braque and Picasso inspired garments.

Yes, style is eternal in the hands of a genius. None of these couture gowns would look out of place on the catwalk today. A few years ago I visited the peaceful shady garden in Marrakesh that belonged to YSL and his partner.  It too had style. A desert garden is a challenge but its simple architectural  layout and  clear blue abstract shapes and sculptural cacti worked very well.

The Bowes  Museum’s excellent ground floor café was packed but the staff were coping admirably and cheerfully with the sudden influx of visitors. (The Bowes Chowder was very tasty.)  It was good for people watching too. I was fascinated by a young woman whose back was tattooed in the manner of the lace backed YSL cocktail dress illustrated above.

Leave time to explore the rest of this vast house built like a French chateau and don’t miss the Silver Swan. It’s spectacular.

It’s essential to book in advance as this is a very popular exhibition.  It runs until 25th October.



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