regencycore:-a-masterful-exhibition-is-heading-to-firle-place-this-summer
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The uniform of Sir Robert Smart, in Little Hall at Firle Place

The House of Embroidered Paper

‘The Regency Wardrobe’ set for later this summer, commencing on 29 August and running through to 26 October, will not be your average exhibition. It will be exceptional for a number of reasons. Firstly, any exhibition held this year will be brilliantly joyful owing to the cultural drought that was 2020. Secondly, it is taking place at Firle Place, the East Sussex wonder that starred in Autumn de Wilde’s visually spectacular adaptation of Emma. And, finally, while the display is veiled under the ‘Regency Wardrobe’ title it is in fact a very lateral take on the subject.

Firle Place

James Rachford

Stephanie Smart is an extremely talented decorative paper textile artist, and local Sussex girl, who is the master craftsman behind the exhibition. Quite astonishingly, each of the 11 pieces you will witness with all the pomp, ceremony, ruffles and grandeur you’d expect from the Regency era are formed of thread and paper alone. It’s quite miraculous. Stephanie is really a fine artist who has established a unique fashion house, The House of Embroidered Paper (probably better described as a fine art studio). Her works are inspired by period, place, history and story – and ‘The Regency Wardrobe’ will be no exception.

Detail of Fading Glory, the Regency Wardrobe ball gown

The House of Embroidered Paper

Smart’s exhibition reinterprets the Regency art form while responding to this history of the 15th century manor, Firle Place. The house is a treat to visit in itself, but when embellished with Smart’s virtuoso creations across the historic rooms, it will be all the more so. The exhibition will culminate in a spectacular ball-dress in-situ on a Regency style chalked floor (an aspect of Regency ballroom decoration, originally put in place to make the floor a little less slippery at dances – but one that became a trend in its own right).

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Of course, the exhibition is fabulously timed to top off a year that spawned ‘Regencycore’. When bonnets and corsets started selling out on ebay and the housing secretary Robert Jenrick praised a radical plan to replace rows of post-war bungalows with Georgian-style terraces. All inspired by Netflix’s Regency spectacle Bridgerton, which is now the streaming platforms’ ‘most watched’ and on its way to a second season under the direction of executive producer Shonda Rhymes.

Smart began producing clothing in this way after seeing a paper kafan in Istanbul that was made for a Sultan; it was intricately decorated with illustrations and scripture. Today, she uses the ancient art of paper quilling or paper filigree that involves rolling, shaping and gluing paper into ornamental designs (in Smart’s case to mimic embroidery, lace and haberdashery).

Josh O’Connor as Mr. Elton and Tanya Reynolds as Mrs. Elton in Emma, filmed at Firle Place

Focus Features / Universal / Kobal / Shutterstock

Smart began working directly with heritage sites in 2016. She created the collection Maison de Papier inspired by the past and present residents of a Grade 1 listed Elizabethan mansion in Sussex, and, now, onwards to Firle Place. After exhibitions being put on hold as a result of the pandemic, this will prove a breath of fresh air and enormous relief for art and heritage enthusiasts who have been long-deprived. We say bring on ‘The Regency Wardrobe’.

The Regency Wardrobe at Firle Place, East Sussex, will run Sunday 29 August to Tuesday 26 October 2021. Tickets are £11 and pre-booking is essential. For more information on timings and to book visit fireplace.com

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