Like almost all of us now staying safe at home, I’ve been catching up on some TV and movies. I’m obsessed with Autumn de Wilde’s 2020 version of Emma with its candy-like colors and stunning scenery—I kept pausing and rewatching scenes just to take it all in. Based on the novel written by Jane Austen in 1815, Emma takes place during the English Regency period, which refers to the period (1811-1820) when George III was unfit to rule and his son, the future George IV, ruled by proxy as The Prince Regent. It also covers the fashion, style, and culture of the late Georgian and William IV periods, c. 1795-1837. The Prince Regent was a lavish spender, but he was also a great patron of the arts and an arbiter of leisure, style, and taste. He preferred trousers and pantaloons to knee breeches. He was a huge Jane Austen fan—Emma is (at his request) dedicated to him. He amassed an impressive Royal Collection, and worked with the architect John Nash on ambitious building projects (I highly recommend looking into The Royal Pavilion, Brighton, the prince’s seaside retreat). He created Regent’s Park and Regent Street in London. I’d be remiss not to mention that as a monarch, his legacy is a poor one: his subjects saw a spendthrift and a disinterested sovereign. But you can’t deny his huge influence on the style and fashion of the day. Let’s look at Emma and The Regency style through objects from Skinner.
One of my favorite things about the movie are the costumes. Fashions changed dramatically during this period. People eschewed the formal and fussy style of pre-revolutionary France in favor of more relaxed and casual dress, and no one wanted to look like a French aristocrat. Women wore the Empire silhouette, seen throughout the film, inspired earlier in the 19th century by neoclassical ideals. Hairstyles included masses of curls, turbans, feathers, and ribbons. One of my favorites from the Skinner archives is this French gold and pearl hair ornament, c. 1809-19. The fitting is removable for wear as a diadem or hair comb, and would fit right in with the costume design in Emma. I can picture it in Mrs. Elton’s elaborate (if out of period!) coiffure.
Another jewel that we might see on set is this gold and rock crystal necklace which closely resembles the pendant drop worn by Emma in several scenes. Garnets can represent love, warmth, and friendship, so perhaps this garnet necklace would look quite nice on Harriet. As for the gentlemen, styles changed drastically as well. Fashionable men wore their natural hair in short curls, somewhat due to the Duty on Hair Powder Act of 1795, which taxed hair and wig powder. Muttonchops also came into fashion. Gentlemen copied the famous Regency dandy Beau Brummell, who wore dark coats, full-length trousers, and elaborately knotted cravats, as they do in the film. Of course Mr. Knightley and Frank Churchill are sporting watch fobs. I could see Frank Churchill wearing the elaborate one below left, while Mr. Knightley might prefer the more conservative but equally elegant model to the right.
Then there are the interiors. One of my favorite scenes is when the Eltons come to the Woodhouses’ for tea. The gorgeous colors of the room and the costumes are like incredible confections! This early 19th century Regency ormolu centerpiece by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell would be perfect here, piled high with flowers. As would the Barr, Flight & Barr Worcester porcelain inkstand shown below. The sphinx feet show the Egyptian Revival style of the time, and the pastel green is also typical of the period.
Mr. Woodhouse would certainly have family silver, but I like to think that Emma would have made some additions—above is a fabulous hot water pot by Paul Storr, the most prominent English silversmith during the first half of 19th century. Storr’s use of neoclassical motifs was much admired during the Regency period. They might have also used this topographical painted luncheon service depicting various buildings and landscapes—one is inscribed “Chatsworth.” I love this because the stately Chatsworth House in Derbyshire is used as Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice. There’s another scene with Emma and Knightley with all of this incredible Georgian silver laid out on the table, a great shot showing upper class dining accoutrements!!!
These early 19th century Matthew Boulton meat domes are silver plate, and definitely make a statement on the dining table!
Along with Egyptian revival, Chinoiserie was very stylish, and I love the simplicity of these Regency faux bamboo armchairs that would look at ease with Mr. Woodhouse, and now in a 21st century home.
Of course, for your beverage storage needs, this cellarette would be perfect. The sarcophagus form and paw feet are just wonderful.
Emma was always a favorite novel of mine, taking place during an especially beautiful time period for decorative arts. I loved escaping into Autumn de Wilde’s confectionary world and peeking into some of Britain’s historic homes, and I hope you will too.