Downton Abbey: A New Era is a joyful family affair, and the jewel of the Crawley‘ tiara is the social wedding that takes place in the film. Widower Tom Branson (Allen Leech), late husband Lady Sybilleremarried Lucy Smith (Tuppence Middleton) in a typically British ceremony that puts Lucya maid in the Yorkshire house, in the foreground for the first time.
Black-smith makes a glorious bride thanks to her Chanel– drop waist inspired dress and gorgeous art deco veil, decorated with white flowers and ornate silver vines climbing up the sheer tulle. The headpiece was purchased by an antique lace specialist Jeanne Bourviswho seized it about four years ago during a moment of eBay glory. “I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was,” says Bourvis, who fell for the unusually exotic design from the first scroll. “It’s the only veil I’ve ever seen like this, it’s such a rare piece.”
A room full of mystery
Bourvis imagined a fashionable British aristocratic family member to have married once wearing the exquisite design, and dubbed it the Desdemonaafter Shakespearethe character in othello. “I felt the name was intriguing; it’s all full of mystery. Everyone who works with antique fabrics and antique dresses has a passion for [the fascinating stories]”, Explain Bourvis, who was sewing a dress the other day with a small tag marked 1869 and the name of its former owner. There was also a period when she bought a range of World War I-era dresses, with handwritten notes inside the boxes. “The potential groom hadn’t gone home because you could tell the dress hadn’t been worn. It was terribly sad,” she recalled of one particular wedding look she restored for let another bride wear it.
When the Desdemona arrive at Bourvis‘s Portobello Arcade HQ – a magical intimate boutique stuffed to the rafters with textiles – Joan sent all 12 feet of it to India, where his trusted embroiderer set to work replicating the fragile piece for several months. The Downtown costumers came calling in 2020 and fell as hard as Joan.
A true work of craftsmanship
“Anna Robbins [the Emmy-nominated Downton wardrobe lead] was adamant about the colors and the type of lace they wanted for the veil,” recalls Bourvis of the gentle and meticulous researcher, who never settles for anything less than absolutely authentic. “The amount of work that goes on behind the scenes is enormous; almost everything is made from scratch”, attests Joan, who always makes replicas of the originals she procures in order to preserve the little slices of history. Anyway the original Desdemona would have been too frail to endure the filming process, and the faint splotches – markers of a life once lived – not polished enough for the big screen.