Toronto’s Spadina House plays host to Downton Abbey’s Costumes
Season 4 of Downton Abbey has just ended and filming of Season 5 has begun, although in North America we will have to wait a year to view it. For those of us in Toronto suffering withdrawal from the series, it’s wonderful to know that we can indulge ourselves during the hiatus with an up-close look at Downton costumes.
“Dressing for Downton” is an exhibit of 20 mostly Edwardian costumes from seasons 1, 2 and 3, on loan from Cosprop in London UK. It will be on view from March 11th – April 14th, 2014 at Spadina House, a 55 room mansion built in 1866 and occupied by the Austin family for 100 years. It was bequeathed to the City of Toronto in the 1980’s. Positioned on the brow of the Davenport hill, it commands a view of the city to the south.
Spadina is much smaller than Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle) or its lands, but it gives an excellent view to the lifestyle during a parallel, but non-fiction period. While not of the aristocracy, the Austin family possessed great wealth and hobnobbed socially with visiting royals and Toronto’s privileged class.
The self-guided tour of the costumes begins on the third floor of the house, the servants’ quarters, which only recently has been open to the public. It was somehow reassuring to see that the wallpaper was the original and the plaster had a grey patina from decades of soot and temperature changes. A very relaxed viewing allowed us to take pictures (without flash) and take advantage of the lovely natural light in most of the rooms.
It was tempting to reach out and touch the embroidery, lace and fabrication of many of the costumes. Clearly, every effort had been made to make these costumes historically authentic. The craftsmanship was exquisite. If I had my fashion career to do over I would work at Cosprop.
In a recent interview Laura Carmichael, who plays Lady Edith said “I love the dresses in Season 4!! They are far more risqué which is fun & they are more comfy. I do still have a soft spot for the more Edwardian dresses though. They seem romantic in a different way.”
Toronto and the Austins
Throughout the rest of the house, the museum has successfully integrated stories of the Austin family that mirror the romantic and sometimes tragic world of the Crawleys. Spadina House’s ample rooms were often used for entertaining large numbers of guests for dinners and parties. Tragedy touched the Austin family when son Bertie died of tuberculosis at the young age of 24. The Austins had a son who enlisted in the Great War and returned shell-shocked. A daughter served as a nurse.
I am unabashedly a ‘Downton’ fan, primarily because the production values are so high. Their historical adviser, Alistair Bruce, provides cast and crew with accurate advice on everything from decorum, protocol, love and even how to properly pour tea. In the meantime, I will be watching interviews with the cast and looking out for their tweets as Season 5 has begun taping, but this exhibit was the interim fix I needed. Here is a wonderful video with interviews and behind the scenes segments with the cast and crew.
For my US friends there is also an exhibit of other Downton Abbey costumes at Delaware’s Winterthur Museum, formerly the Dupont mansion and grounds, running now until January 4th, 2015.
Visit Spadina Museum’s website soon to book your timed visit. DRESSING FOR DOWNTON, March 11th – April 14th, 2014 (only one month). Get your tickets soon as it is selling fast. The tea and tour combo is sold out!