Ann Bernstorff: Historic Fashion Amid Fields
The ivy-covered walls of Berkeley Forest, an elegant Georgian home amid fields of sheep in Ireland’s County Wexford, seems an unlikely place to find a private collection of historic textiles and fashion to rival Paris or London.
For decades, Countess Ann Bernstorff has gathered period clothes and fabric from her own family’s trunks, auctions and donations. She welcomed me over one recent afternoon and shared her passion.
Her collection stretches back to the 1700s, focused on Ireland, but also includes courtier clothes, wedding dresses and ballgowns from Great Britain, France and Italy.
Fancy dress costume trunks of large Irish houses often yield overlooked gems, more worn by children playing than by time. Among her most prized items are period children’s clothes, good examples of which are particularly difficult to find due to repeated use and re-cutting for different children.
In contrast with most fashion exhibitions, which elevate mannequins above visitors, Ann’s dresses stand at floor level, reminding us how the clothes looked on actual people (and – at 5 feet for one of her home-made mannequins – how short people were in the 18th century).
They may be old, but not all of dresses she showed me are complete. The below embroidered silk, likely from the mid-19th century, was found in pristine condition in the attic of the French Exelmans family. Cut for a pattern, Ann is still working to piece together the probable dress.
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Tags: Ann Bernstorff, Berkeley Forest, Ireland, Irish textiles, textiles