The Bowes Museum > Exhibitions > 2015 > Birds of Paradise - Plumes & Feathers In Fashion

Birds of Paradise - Plumes & Feathers In Fashion

25 October 2014 - 19 April 2015

A dramatic and striking exhibition opened at The Bowes Museum’s award winning Fashion & Textile Gallery in October; its only UK venue.

Birds of Paradise – Plumes and Feathers in Fashion was a tribute to the elegance of feathers used in the fashion industry past and present, featuring extravagant catwalk creations from British, Belgian, French and Italian designers including Alexander McQueen, Dries Van Noten, Jean Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler, Balenciaga, Prada and Gucci.


Courtesy of Prada

Thanks to their beauty, fragility and value, feathers and plumes had various connotations and were used throughout history in fashionable dress, both as an accessory and as part of the entire silhouette. The exhibition, organised by MoMu - Fashion Museum Antwerp, addresses aspects such as luxury, modernism, femininity, lightness, and also themes of lost innocence and dark romance.

“Whereas in the past, feathers were generally appreciated for their value and refinement, contemporary designers now see them as an expression of freedom and spirituality,” said the Museum’s Keeper of Textiles, Joanna Hashagen, who is curating the show with MoMu curators Karen Van Godtsenhoven and Wim Mertens.


Dress Rochas by Olivier Theskens, AW 2004-2005, Photo Boy Kortekaas

The exhibition featured on the ancient profession of plumassier in cooperation with the Parisian Maison Lemarié, one of the last traditional feather studios. This fashion house has specialised in processing plumes, primarily for French haute couture, since 1880. Maison Lemarié is making samples of its beautiful feather work especially  for this exhibition.

The fashion for feathers as accessories was also revealed with tantalising displays of fans, hats, including a number by Stephen Jones, and sumptuous feather shoes from Rogier Vivier. 


Thierry Mugler, Haute Couture, Collection Spring Summer 1997 ©Patrice Stable Studio Mil Pat

“It also demonstrated that thanks to design houses such as Alexander McQueen and Dries Van Noten feathers are firmly back on the fashion agenda and once again featuring strongly on the catwalk,” said Joanna.


The exhibition was initiated by MoMu – Fashion Museum Antwerp 

Related Events

Feathered Fairies – Workshop
29 November 2014, 10.00 – 4.00,  £20.00 per person (materials included)

Join textiles practitioner Beverley Peach to make Christmas fairies for tree or home using feathers and found and recycled materials.

On the Darkened Wing
13 March 2015, 7.00, The Witham, Barnard Castle, £5.00 Adult, £3.00 Concession/Child – see website for booking details
A contemporary dance performance by Fertile Ground, with costumes by students from Cleveland College of Art & Design. 

Fabulous Feather Fascinators & Corsages 
14 March or 12 April 2015, 10.00 – 4.00, £50.00 Adult, £48.00 Concession/Friend of The Bowes Museum (materials included)
Join milliner Claire Spooner for a fun & relaxed workshop on either of these dates, using fabulous feathers to make a fascinator (on a comb or headband) and a corsage. Enjoy getting creative whilst learning some basic millinery techniques along the way. 

Introduction to Feather Conservation
16-17 April 2015, £240.00 (materials included)
This two-day workshop will be led by Allyson Rae ACR who has extensive experience in the conservation of artefacts incorporating feathers. Now a freelance conservator, she was Head of Organic Artefacts Conservation at the British Museum until 2006. Encompassing both theoretical and practical sessions, the workshop will cover the structure and nature of feathers, their causes of deterioration and principles and practice for non-interventive and basic interventive options (soil removal, reshaping, repair techniques).  We will consider feathers in most contexts including ethnography, costume and natural history collections. Participants are encouraged to bring images of feathered objects to the workshop for discussion. Booking is required by contacting Allyson directly here.

Gallery Talk
30 October, 20 November, 18 December 2014, 22 January, 12 February, 12 March, 9 April 2015, 2.30
Join the Museum’s Curator of Fashion & Textiles, Joanna Hashagen, for an introduction to this exhibition.

Image Captions

Top Banner Image - In order: Pump “Blue Angel”, from Limited Edition Roger Vivier Rendez-Vous Collection Fall Winter 2012-2013, Pump “Guermantes”, from Roger Vivier Couture Collection Spring Summer 2008 & Pump “Miami”, from Roger Vivier Collection Spring Summer 2008

The Bowes Museum grounds are open!

Due to the government announcement on Thursday 17 December, that County Durham is to remain in COVID tier 3 restrictions, The Bowes Museum unfortunately will remain closed to all visitors. However, the grounds remain open to visitors from 10.00 - 4.00 daily, and we are currently hosting a woodland fairy trail, two spring trails and outdoor guided tours are available from 29 March 2021.

As we have already been shut for a number of weeks and there is much uncertainty around possible further restrictions, we have decided to use this period to undertake some work in Café Bowes, alongside performing some much-needed structural repairs to the building, notably to the windows. January and February are usually quieter times for the Museum, often due to severe weather, so we believe that this is the best time to carry out such works with the least amount of disruption to our visitors.

We have therefore decided to remain closed for a period of four weeks following any near-future tier 2 announcement from the government, as this will allow us time to deep clean the Museum prior to reopening our doors once again. We will, of course, keep you updated as the guidelines change.

Your ongoing support during these unprecedented times is hugely appreciated and we very much look forward to welcoming you back into the building as early as possible in 2021.

We hope to be able to offer a few COVID-safe outdoor events over the coming months, about which we shall make further announcements as soon as possible.