Joséphine Bowes - The Woman of Fashion
Joséphine Bowes - The Woman of Fashion

Joséphine Bowes - The Woman of Fashion

Celebrating 125 Years of Her Museum

The Bowes Museum continues its 125th anniversary celebrations with a new display, Joséphine BowesThe Woman of Fashion, which opens in the award winning Fashion & Textile Gallery later this month.

Building on the theme and popularity of Joséphine BowesA Woman of Taste and Influence, a recent exhibition which paid tribute to the woman who was a driving force behind the Museum’s creation, this in-focus display will highlight her influence as a socialite and devotee of fashion.

“In contrast to the earlier exhibition, this display will be an unveiling of the ‘physical’ Joséphine, using existing links with her, including two of her bodices, pieces of her jewellery, and her fashion plates from our archive,” said Hannah Jackson, the Museum’s Fashion and Textile Curatorial Assistant.

“Joséphine dressed in the height of fashion and was indulged in her love of fine clothes and jewellery by her husband John,” she added. “She patronised the leading couturier of the day, Charles Frederick Worth, who dressed European royalty including Empress Eugénie of France, who was Joséphine’s contemporary. Bills on show from the Museum’s archive show that she was spending large sums of money on her clothes and accessories.”

Among the key pieces in this latest show is a newly conserved lavender silk evening bodice worn by  Joséphine, which will be teamed with a specially commissioned matching skirt, reconstructed by renowned historical and theatrical costumier Luca Costigliolo in an imitation of the woven geometrical design taken from the original bodice.

“The silk for the skirt was sourced by Luca in his native Italy,” said Hannah. “He designed and cut the skirt, which was then sewn by costume interpreter Viviane Chen, using Luca’s own pattern based on historical research. He also designed and made the crinoline and petticoat to create the correct fashionable silhouette.”

The stunning machine embroidery was produced exclusively for the Museum, without charge, by the firm of Bischoff, St Gallen, Switzerland, famous for the quality of its Swiss embroidery and lace. The digital design was created by Leon Maurice, senior lecturer, School of Design, at Northumbria University.

“We are very grateful for the donations we have received to kick-start this project, including one from the Museum’s former Director, Elizabeth Conran, who set the ball rolling,” said Hannah. “However, we are keen to encourage further donations to enable us to complete the project so if anyone would like to offer their support please contact our Fundraising Officer”.

Also unveiled in the display will be a midnight-blue velvet evening jacket by the famous couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, purchased for the Museum by Hannah with the aid of an Art Fund New Collecting Award, which awarded her a grant of £60,000 to invest in a capsule wardrobe of French haute couture in homage to Joséphine, herself a Frenchwoman.

The fitted evening jacket was created for Schiaparelli’s autumn/winter 1937-8 collection and is richly embroidered by Lesage, with gilt strip and cord, sequins, rhinestones and three large turquoise star shaped buttons.

One of Joséphine’s blouses - an article of clothing which became very fashionable in the early 1860s, making separates an appealing trend for the first time - will also feature in the display.

 “The Fashion & Textile department’s long term aim is to focus its collecting in a more French direction, in order to reflect Joséphine and the core history of the Museum, and we hope this new display will give our visitors a further insight into the world of this pioneering and fascinating woman,” said Hannah.

Joséphine Bowes – The Woman of Fashion opens on 26 August 2017, running until 7 January 2018.

For details of all The Bowes Museum’s exhibitions, displays and events visit or call 01833 690606.

Notes to Editors:

  • The Bowes Museum was created over 100 years ago by an extraordinary couple, John and Joséphine Bowes.  Together they built up the greatest private collection of fine and decorative arts in the North of England and constructed a magnificent building to house them in.  The collection contains thousands of objects including furniture, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, textiles and many other items covering an extensive range of European styles and periods. 
  • The Bowes Museum receives a core funding grant from Durham County Council and as a Major Portfolio Museum receives support from Arts Council England.
  • The Bowes Museum has undergone major redevelopment, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, One NorthEast through the County Durham Economic Partnership, English Heritage, Northern Rock Foundation, The Monument Trust, Garfield Weston Foundation, The Foyle Foundation, The European Regional Development Fund, DCMS/Wolfson Museum and Galleries Improvement Fund, Designation Challenge Fund, The Shears Foundation, The Richard and Suzanna Tonks Family Fund at County Durham Foundation, Durham County Council, The Friends of The Bowes Museum, The Headley Trust, Sir James Knott Trust, Catherine Cookson Charitable Trust, Fenwick Ltd, Mercers Charitable Foundation, Welton Foundation.
  • The Bowes Museum is a member of the Discover Durham partnership of attractions. Our commitment is to promote Durham as an exciting and vibrant group travel destination and to provide the travel trade with a professional and knowledgeable service: hotline number 0191 301 8531,


For further information or images contact Sheila Dixon, Media and PR Officer, call 01833 694616.

About Art Fund

  • Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art. In the past five years alone Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections. It works with over 700 museums and galleries across the UK and helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, including ARTIST ROOMS, and makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators.
  • Art Fund is independently funded, with the core of its income provided by 123,000 members who receive the National Art Pass and enjoy free entry to over 240 museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions. In addition to grant-giving, Art Fund’s support for museums includes the annual Art Fund Museum of the Year (won by The Hepworth Wakefield, in 2017), a publications programme and a range of digital platforms.
  • Find out more about Art Fund and the National Art Pass at


Categories: News

The Bowes Museum is looking forward to welcoming you on the 17 May

Staff have been busy behind the Museum’s closed doors getting everything ready to welcome visitors back safely.

Café Bowes has undergone a refurbishment and has a new menu waiting to be sampled, the Museum has been deep cleaned, new signage is in place reminding you to adhere to social distancing, hand sanitisation stations have been refilled, the shop has been restocked and staff are being trained ready to greet you back in a safe and timely manner.

North Country Quilts: In Celebration of New Acquisitions is now hanging in the main exhibition gallery ready to wow visitors through to January 2022 and, due to social distancing measures, entry to the display will be by a separate timed exhibition entrance ticket that needs to be booked, at no extra cost, before visiting. Song has also been reinstated in the Music Room so people can enjoy the sound of the instruments. A varied programme of activity is being planned throughout May and June which we hope you will participate in.

Entry to the Museum will be by timed slots and tickets will have to be pre-booked online here or by calling 01833 690606. The Museum will be open from 10.00 to 5.00 daily. Masks will need to be worn throughout the Museum, shop and café, except when eating or where exemptions apply.

We look forward to welcoming you back soon!