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British couple sets up fashion museum in France

A museum dedicated to women’s fashion in the 20th century has been set up by an English couple who moved from the UK to the Dordogne two years ago.

It features numerous items from a collection Vanessa Howard has built up over 35 years, displayed in a converted barn in Mialet.

The couple ran a vintage clothes shop in Clare, Suffolk, and Ms Howard said: “We brought dozens of chests packed with fashion ephemera, and all the objects have a story behind them.”

She now combs brocantes for local finds and has been given an item by a neighbour.

“I showed the lady round the collection and was thrilled when she then gave me a corset cover. These were worn at the turn of the century over corsets to prevent the lines showing through outer clothes.

“It is very beautiful, with tiny buttons. I found a white cotton cap at a vide-grenier, which is unusual because it extends down the back of the nape.

“The stall-holder explained it was part of the Limousin traditional costume, and the lady on the next stand gave me an old postcard, showing a woman dressed in the same style.”

In the museum is an assortment of clothes spanning every decade of the 20th century, many by designers including French couturiers Jean Patou and Dior.

The museum also displays handbags, fashion magazines, early cosmetics, perfume bottles, lipsticks, jewellery, gloves and footwear.

Ms Howard has a personal collection of everything to do with nightwear and said: “One of my first purchases was a 1930s pair of pyjamas, which I absolutely fell in love with.

“Since then, I collected all kinds of nightwear, which led me to give talks on the history of the subject, which I plan to do in France.

“Using my knowledge and personal examples, I am writing a book dedicated uniquely to ladies’ nightwear.”

Visits to the museum are free and can be arranged by emailing or via the contact page at


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