Vivien Leigh at the Fashion Museum
In September 2019, the research team went to Bath in Somerset to visit the Fashion Museum. We knew that the museum held at least one item that belonged to Vivien Leigh: an exquisite jacket in black and red designed by the Parisian couturier Lucien Lelong in the late 1940s. The dress features prominently in marketing materials for the museum and can be seen on large print banners outside the entrance in the beautiful Georgian Assembly Rooms on Bennett Street.
When we contacted the museum, we found out there were in fact a few other items of Vivien Leigh's held on site, along with a few paper records related to their acquisition history. The museum kindly invited us to view these materials in their study room, so we took a trip across the South West and arrived at Bath Spa station on a sunny September afternoon.
One inside, we were able to view the Lelong jacket on display within the museum exhibition spaces on the lower floors. The jacket is quite startling in its display case, standing out from the other more muted colours around it in an exhibition space dedicated to women's fashions in the 1940s and 1950s. The bold red oak leaf patterns against the black, fitted bodice grab your eye the moment you move into the darkened exhibition space, and a small plaque close to the glass frame explains that the dress was made for Vivien Leigh by Lelong in 1947. Just along from the jacket was the dress of another famous actress, Elizabeth Taylor. To find out more about the unique connection between the two women in relation to dress and costume specifically, click on the photo of both dresses in this exhibition.
Upstairs in the study room, staff laid out for us each garment in turn. First, a petite silk blouse made sometime between 1950 and 1960, followed by a black dress and matching fitted jacket lined with black dyed mink fur. Along with these material artefacts we were ablso able to view the few paper records that exist to accompany the garments. These included the accession cards for each donated item and a letter from museum's founder Doris Langley Moore to Suzanne Farrington thanking her for donating the materials in late 1967. Vivien Leigh and Doris Langley Moore had a connection through their investment in fashion and fashion history. Vivien Leigh had modelled for Doris Langley Moore's book The Woman in Fashion in 1949 and had been a Vice President of her museum of costumes before it found a home at Bath in the 1960s.
To find out more about the histories of each of these items and what they told us about Vivien Leigh and her connection to the museum, click on the photographs in this gallery.