Dame darcey bussell’s tutu on display at guildhall art gallery

Dame Darcey Bussell’s tutu on display at Guildhall Art Gallery

The Royal Ballet School has a rich heritage of almost 100 years. We have a fascinating historical archive that is not only relevant to dance historians but also contains items of wider interest – their stories are woven throughout the fabric of society, connecting ballet to different areas. This October, our Manager of Special Collections Anna Meadmore helped to install a very special tutu belonging to our Artist Laureate, Dame Darcey Bussell, at Guildhall Art Gallery as part of their Treasures of Gold and Silver Wire exhibition.

The exhibition

The Treasures of Gold and Silver Wire exhibition was curated this year in celebration of the quatercentenary (400 years) of the Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers. It features over 200 historical items including military uniforms, theatrical costumes, and modern jewellery, all of which are embellished with gold or silver wire in some way. Some of the highlights include extraordinary survivals of clothing from sixteenth-century Tudor monarchs, David Tennant’s robe from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Richard II, and the Coronation costume made for Claire Foy in the role of Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown.

A stunning costume

Dame Darcey Bussell’s tutu is amongst the treasures of this exhibition. She wore the tutu when she performed the title role in The Royal Ballet’s 2004 revival of Frederick Ashton’s ballet Sylvia (1952). Originally designed by R. and C. Ironside (revised by Peter Farmer), the tutu is richly embellished with gold thread, making it particularly fitting for the exhibition. Dame Darcey’s personal archive collection is cared for by the School’s Special Collections, however, she kindly agreed to loan this costume for this exhibition.

Her tutu has been conservation treated which means that a specialist conservator has cleaned the costume to best preserve it. Any vulnerable areas of fabric or fastenings have also been reinforced to ensure that it is robust enough to be displayed on a mannequin for a period of time.

Dame darcey bussell’s tutu on display at guildhall art gallery
photo credit: jampondphotography

Installing the tutu

Anna helped to install the tutu on 26 September in time for the exhibition to open on 29 September. She told us how difficult it can be to display such an item:

It is always a challenge to display a tutu to the best advantage. Since a mannequin doesn’t have the muscle tone of a ballet dancer it has to be given shape with the use of inert wadding, and the hooks and eyes must be reinforced with invisible nylon thread so it takes a great deal of concentration.

A fitting item

The Treasure of Gold and Silver wire has been open throughout October and will close on 12 November. Anna was thrilled to see the whole exhibition:

From having seen the full exhibition, I can say that the gold embellishments and brocade on Darcey Bussell’s tutu mean that it fits in perfectly with the other objects on display. Although the various clothes, uniforms, and costumes on display span a period of 400 years, they are all woven from, or decorated with, a rich variety of gold and silver ‘wire’ threads.

Chairman of the City of London Corporation’s Culture, Heritage, and Libraries Committee, Munsur Ali, said:

Created nearly 20 years ago for one of the most outstanding ballet dancers of her generation, Darcey Bussell’s beautiful tutu for her performance in Sylvia is one of the gems in this popular exhibition at Guildhall Art Gallery.

We were delighted that it has been loaned to us for the show and I have no doubt that it is regarded by the gallery’s many visitors as one of the show-stopping exhibits.

The Duchess of Gloucester admiring the tutu 


We’re delighted to see our Artist Laureate’s tutu featured in an exhibition to celebrate The Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers. We have a longstanding relationship with the company and are grateful for their ongoing support for The Royal Ballet School.