"The Messel Dress Collection" is a unique collection of exceptional garments, embracing luxurious international haute couture, fancy dress, home-made and customised clothing worn by six generations of women from one extraordinary and creative family - Mary Anne Herapath, Marion Sambourne, Maud Messel, Anne, Countess of Rosse, Susan Viscountess de Vesci, Alison, Countess of Rosse and Anna, Lady Oxmantown. At the heart of the collection is the clothing worn by Maud Messel (1875-1960), whose son became the internationally famous film and costume designer Oliver Messel and her daughter Anne, Countess of Rosse (1902-1992), whose son Lord Snowdon is the acclaimed photographer, film-maker and designer. Their garments have been lovingly kept, collected and passed down through the family from 1865 to the present day. The surviving clothing tells the story of these six women and traces their rise in society from private middle class comfort to the public stage of the aristocracy.
Their story takes us to Darmstadt, in the 1860s, to Linley Sambourne House in Kensington in the 1880s; to Nymans in West Sussex; to Birr Castle in County Offaly, Ireland; to street markets in Florence in 1898; and finally to China in 1904, 1935 and in 2004. Each generation were committed collectors and had an abiding interest in dressmaking, embroidery and botany. The women's taste over a period of nearly one hundred and thirty-five years is revealed through clothing that is romantic in style, influenced by historicism, femininity, travel, orientalism, and a love of gardens and flowers. The book which accompanies an exhibition of the clothes at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery in October 2005 Fashion and Fancy Dress: The Messel Family Dress Collection 1865 - 2005 catalogues the entire Messel Dress Collection.