Fashion as Art

Gazette de Bon Genre, March 1920. Winterthur Archives.

Gazette de Bon Ton, March 1920. Winterthur Archives.

Our forthcoming original exhibition Costumes of Downton Abbey, opening March 1, gives Winterthur a unique opportunity to shine a light on the library’s collection of 20th century magazines, including the rare La Gazette du Bon Ton. Founded in Paris in 1912, the avant-garde fashion magazine has been used by designers as inspiration since it was published. The magazine was discontinued during World War I, and when it was revived in 1920, the New York edition was rechristened Gazette du Bon Genre. Both titles roughly translate as “Journal of Good Taste.” The magazine aimed to establish fashion as an art alongside painting, sculpture, and drawing. Each issue centered around ten full-page fashion illustrations produced by notable artists and illustrators depicting the models in various dramatic and narrative situations.

Gazette de bon Genre, April 1920. Winterthur Archives.

Gazette du bon Genre, April 1920. Winterthur Archives.

According to the magazine’s first editorial, “The clothing of a woman is a pleasure for the eye that cannot be judged inferior to the other arts.”

Much like the readers of La Gazette du Bon Ton, viewers of the highly acclaimed series Downton Abbey® are offered glimpses of upper class life, manners, social environments, and leisure pursuits of the time.

The 1920s costumes worn on Downton Abbey for the wedding of Lady Edith Crawley fit into the newly stylish lines and colors of the immediate post-war period, shown in the pages of the magazine.

Downton Abbey®. Photograph © Nick Briggs, Carnival Film & Television Limited, 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Downton Abbey®. Photograph © Nick Briggs, Carnival Film & Television Limited, 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Caroline McCall, the Downton Abbey costume designer who created character Edith’s dress, noted,

“Edith’s wedding dress started with a period train, a fragment, and the dress was built around it. It was important that Edith look very beautiful in the dress and that her groom abandons her from love—a realization that she is just too young and beautiful—not out of pity. The dress had to be able to survive a lot of action . . . running up the stairs, and throwing herself on the bed.”

The dress worn to that ill-fated wedding by character Lady Mary Crawley was also fashioned in the style of 1920. McCall noted, “We started off with a cream dress, dyed it blue, and then added the sleeves and a sash.”

The Downton Abbey costume designers have only seven weeks to design all the costumes for the season. They produce dramatic results very quickly by relying on pieces of original designs that they then refabricate. Many of the costumes, including the dresses worn by the three sisters at Edith’s wedding, are fashioned with bits of vintage fabric and ornament.

Visitors to Costumes of Downton Abbey will experience the world of Downton Abbey through 40 historically inspired costumes on lend from Cosprop, the world’s leading costumier to film, television, and theater, as well as from Carnival Film and Television. The costumes will be displayed and supplemented by photographs and vignettes inspired by the fictional program and by real life at Winterthur.

Pages from Gazette de Bon Genre, 1920. Winterthur Archives.

Pages from Gazette du Bon Genre, 1920. Winterthur Archives.


For more information, please visit

The exhibition at Winterthur is presented by

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With support from the Glenmede Trust Company

Downton® and Downton Abbey®. A Carnival Films/Masterpiece Co-Production.

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