And she’s back! Back to blogging and back to Chicago.
Ever since I heard about a traveling exhibit of the fashions of Downton Abbey, I had hoped that it would come somewhere close to home so when it was scheduled for Chicago I began plotting. I studied maps and researched possible lunch stops and watched the weather forecast. Finally, I pulled the trigger bought tickets. Then, a few days before I was scheduled to go, a friend mentioned a new exhibit at the Art Institute and just like that my itinerary expanded.
It was at about this point that the weather forecast changed from mild to a blizzard warning for parts of Chicago. Too late, I was committed. But it did give me lots of fodder for worry!
Yes, it was snowing in Chicago, but the blizzard was south and east of the city itself, so there were lots of snowflakes, but little accumulation. It was cold and windy, but I had dressed for that so I actually enjoyed the weather (although, admittedly, I was inside a lot of the day)
First stop was breakfast at Lou Mitchell’s, an iconic Chicago landmark. An old-fashioned diner, you’re given a donut hole when you arrive (excellent) and the ladies get a mini box of Milk Duds. I have no idea why, but I wasn’t going to turn them down! The pancakes and eggs were delicious and the waitress friendly and welcoming – she even sat down at the booth with me a couple times to ask where I was from and what I was doing in Chicago. She was very impressed that I had come all that way on my own (it early wasn’t that far and just for a day, but it still made me feel good!)
Next I headed to the Driehaus Museum, located north of the river near the Magnificent Mile. Built in 1883, it stands in staunch, Edwardian elegance among the modern buildings that have sprung up around it. Considered one of the finest houses of the Gilded Age, it was restored and designated as a museum in 2003.
The exhibit that is currently showing at the Driehaus is “Dressing Downton”, a collection of many of then stunning costumes from the popular PBS show Downton Abbey. It can be argued that the stunning fashions – which have ranged from the early 1910s, thru World War I and into the 1920s – are just as much a star of the show as the storylines. They’ve reflected the changing role of women, the changes in English society and attitudes – history via clothes. They are also simply stunning, with exquisite details and workmanship. Many of the gowns would be considered couture, made especially for the actress.
I found the description of how the gowns were researched and made to also be fascinating – some were adapted from vintage clothes which were often fragile and required extensive, delicate repair work I order to preserve them. Others were made from vintage materials, or built upon fragments of vintage beadwork or embroidery. One, a summer coat that Lady Cora wore to the garden party early in the series was actually made from a vintage tablecloth, the hand embroidered border working perfectly as edging for the coat. And other costumes were made from scratch, inspired by vintage fashions.
As fascinating as the exhibit was, it was nearly overshadowed by the house itself. It is simply amazing. From parquet floors to coffered ceilings, handcrafted tiles to intricate wood carving, the house is a treasure trove of Edwardian elegance. And then there’s the stained glass, an astonishing collection of Tiffany lamps, windows and glassware (not all of this is original to the house, but has been collected to compliment it)
Undoubtedly, the highlight of the museums collection is the domed, stained glass ceiling of the library, created by an associate of Louis Tiffany. Four trees are depicted, their foliage meeting at the peak of the dome. It is stunning.
Unfortunately, the house is fairly dark (all that wood and heavy draperies) so my pictures are not the best, but they might give you a hint of what the museums splendor.
Tomorrow, Millennium Park in the snow and the Art Institute!