Opulence in the Derbyshire Dales

 The Peau de Chagrin Noir and the resplendent Chatsworth House formal pond. Image ℅ Allan Griffiths

The Peau de Chagrin Noir and the resplendent Chatsworth House formal pond. Image ℅ Allan Griffiths

Creative Director of Peau de Chagrin Sofie C Guerrero reflects on ‘House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion in England’ during its opening weekend.

Chatsworth House. A grand mid-16th Century estate nestled within the rolling Derbyshire hills, presents an ambitious survey of design and decadence that the house has played host to over the past 5 centuries. Being home to the noble Cavendish family, the exhibition ‘House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion in England’ is an expectedly lavish affair of fine jewels and jewellery, dresses, ornaments and objects from some of the illustrious past-inhabitants.

Perhaps unexpectedly for an otherwise bygone chapter of imperious past is the partnership with Gucci, who, along with Hamish Bowles - International Editor-at-Large for American Vogue  - have worked to bring a contemporary focus to the treasures on display, through sponsorship and curatorial direction respectively. The result is an declarative pronouncement of greatly shifting tastes and cultural values over the centuries, from gestural English Baroque to mournful Victorian practice.

Of the previous inhabitants, Bess Hardwick; the most powerful woman in the land during the 16th Century after the Queen, Georgiana Cavendish; wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire in the 18th Century, the Mitford Sisters, and others, all appear to have shared a common fetish in insects and jewels. Such affection is captured in the extensive collection of bejewelled bugs, bees, butterflies and various arachnids scattered throughout the 30 room exhibition.  

One of these rooms - a long, corridor-type wing of the house - is lined in luxurious almond-green taffeta. Across the length of the room are several fragile glass cabinets, containing a trove of rough precious stones and crystals. Three mannequins stand opposite, adorned in evening coats and a beautiful 18th Century dress with a very narrow waist, quite possibly belonging to Georgiana. The senses are saturated, yet wonderment is in the detail.

Elsewhere, a giant quartz and similar amethyst stone glisten, leading the way to the centre piece; John Galliano’s green ball gown produced in honour of the Duchess, and worn by Stella Tenant for a Mario Testino shoot for Vogue in 2006. Hung from the walls are a number of portraits of Georgiana, showing her as icon and heroine, the most prominent being Maria Cosway’s allegorical depiction of Georgiana as Cynthia from Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’, 1781-82. The painting, like the dress, is animated, billowing, as it remains suspended as both backdrop and centre stage, eluding to fancy, fantasy and the fantastical.

Moving on, and into the chapel. A silent choir of ghostly brides spiralling a marble memento mori is followed by a group of elegant widows and a cortège of hats. The white elliptic arena enclosing the brides takes the form of a resin display case, containing shoes, veils and orange blossom crowns. Rings passed on from one generation of Cavendish duchesses to future ones. Along the aisles are a Christening gown, lockets of hair as memento mori, mourning buttons and armbands.

Here, time’s eternal cycles of life, death and rebirth conduct the advancing procession eternally towards Exquisite Pain, Damien Hirst's flayed Saint Bartholomew, glorified under the red marble apsis in the baroque chapel. With a penchant for the sublime, Hirst’s depiction of martyrdom amplifies the brutality of iconographic devotion through the uncanny allure of precious material and craftsmanship.  

  Damien Hirst, Saint Bartholomew Exquisite Pain. 2006. Image ℅ Allan Griffiths

Damien Hirst, Saint Bartholomew Exquisite Pain. 2006. Image ℅ Allan Griffiths

Chatsworth House has a reputation for its grandiose balls. An infamous occasion in 1897 attracted royalty from all over Europe, reconstructed here and in the adjacent music room, both now transformed into the most magnificent of changing rooms hosting numerous extravagant costumes and jewels. Opulence reaches its climax in this ‘cabinet de curiosités’.

Back outside, the spacious surroundings continue to purport formal grandeur and aesthetic, as the eye is lead over the follies, fountains and ponds, to the horizon of giant glass houses, cascades, labyrinth and Modernist sculptures, all seamlessly integrating within the wilderness, encouraging the visitor to explore the rhythms of classical and contemporary Chatsworth.

‘House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion in England’ is open now until 22 October.

  Jedd Novatt, Chaos Mundaka, 2009, with The Peau de Chagrin Noir. Image ℅ Allan Griffiths

Jedd Novatt, Chaos Mundaka, 2009, with The Peau de Chagrin Noir. Image ℅ Allan Griffiths

BOOK TO OBJECT, LA PEAU DE CHAGRIN: A CONTEMPORARY NARRATIVE for A timeless collection of Rare gifts and bags

Peau de Chagrin is inspired by Honoré de Balzac’s novel of the same name. Our designs are intended to last generations and are handmade in a limited amount. We believe that each of our creations should be as environmentally sustainable and socially responsible as possible.

Our  limited edition luxury objects such as handbags and scarves are made by the finest European artisans, masters of traditional methods and curious to explore new processes. Like us they believe that raw materials, should be of the highest quality and they seek to sublimate their essential qualities, be it vegetable tanned leather or Crêpe de Chine.

But let's go back to the book: La Peau de Chagrin...

Romantic sense and postmodern sensibility

By Martha Vasiliadi

Book and Bag.jpg

In our fragmented world of constant contextual switch, one could ask oneself what is the purpose of reading and benefiting from classical literature. Or, more specifically, how can we read, rethink and reconsider the imaginative, paroxysmal, irrational and lyrical fiction of the Romantic nineteenth century in our daily lives? In the vast repertory of Romantic stories, there are heroes and literary characters that, despite their anachronistic features, remain relevant in today's constant perplexity. Among these suicidal, youthful, self-destructive famous heroes of romanticism, Raphaël de Valentin, Balzac’s protagonist in one of his early novels, “La Peau de Chagrin” remains a symbol of “hubris and repression, of hope and despair”.

La Peau de Chagrin appeared in print in 1831 and immediately gained the critics' and public’s acclaim. Commercial success was not only due to Balzac’s genius in exciting the interest of his readers by providing extracts of his novel in journals, but also because the novel, a “conte philosophique” (a philosophical tale), brilliantly combined the plot of a fantastic narrative with the author’s symbolic realism.

The plot is simple yet superbly crafted: the romanticised, doomed young hero, from fallen aristocratic stock and of unrevealed poetic nature, after losing his last penny at the gaming tables, decides to throw himself in the Seine. However, on the way to the intendedlocation of his suicide, by chance he enters an antique shop where a wizened centenarian antiquarian appears and offers Raphaël a magic animal skin which lends the novel its title. The leather talisman grants its owner's every wish, but once the desire materializes in reality, the leather itself shrinks as does the life of its owner. Tragically exposed to this Faustian bargain, the tormented hero wishes for enormous wealth, social success, love and passion. Thus, every wish brings him closer to his end.

The Peau de Chagrin limited edition Tan and Noir handbags come with a copy of La Peau de Chagrin.

Peau de Chagrin designs limited edition luxury objects created by European master craftsmen, and following as far as practicable the principles of “slow fashion”.   

The limited edition Peau de Chagrin Noir luxury handbag is made in Bordeaux, the largest city of south west Franc, for Peau de Chagrin by a small “atelier” ( workshop of master craftsmen), set up in 1972, originally making high quality leather hunting gear.   Over the years, the Bordeaux atelier has broadened its range of products to include special luxury leather cases for wine connoisseurs, bags and accessories.  

The limited edition Peau de Chagrin Tan luxury handbag is made in the Swiss Jura, by a single master craftsmen.   The Jura is an area with a long standing tradition of precision watch making in small ateliers.

Our skins, from European animals, are prepared by a Belgian tannery using the vegetable tanning method. All of the leather is 100% chrome free.