London has been in the spotlight a lot this year. Our sporting heroes have become household names and the royal family is as popular and as loved as they’ve ever been. But with all these wonderful celebrations going on, fashion has had to take a step back. Of course Stella McCartney did us proud designing the uniforms for the Olympics and Kate donned some undeniably British attire during the Queens jubilee, but overall fashion hasn’t taken centre stage in London this year.
Thankfully the Victoria & Albert museum in South Kensington has paid tribute to British fashion design in the most fitting way. We’ve partied in frocks all summer, and we’ve seen princesses in evening gowns so it seems only right that the exhibition celebrates the very best of British glamour. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the exhibition but I’ve found some from the V&A website and from around the internet so you can see just how beautiful it is.
The exhibition costs just £10 for adults and £7 for students but I couldn’t resist treating myself to a year long V&A membership. The museum is practically my second home and I didn’t mind paying the £48 to enjoy it all year. It gives me so much in the way of inspiration so it felt good to put something back into it. The membership entitles me to free entry into all the exhibitions as many times as I want, along with a guest of my choice. I also enjoy the benefit of membership only preview days, the V&A magazine and exclusive events- including talks from designers! There is even a members room to enjoy some lunch without getting caught up in the crowds. For just £48 I was able to take my sister and I into three exhibitions without any extra costs (It would have normally cost £7 each per exhibition) and I’ve still got the rest of the year left to use it! It also means I can go into the Ballgowns exhibition as many times as I want, to sketch, to admire, or to just sit and dream. I’d recommend the membership to anyone who lives in London as you save money in the long run and enjoy so many benefits – it would also make the most wonderful gift! Click here for more information on memberships.
The exhibition itself is held in the newly restored fashion galleries that provides the most elegant backdrop for the gowns. The mezzanine floor houses a collection of modern dresses as where the downstairs exhibits gowns closer to the 1950’s. I began the exhibition downstairs and I quickly became mesmerised by all the chic, glamorous evening wear that was on show. This included couture gowns commissioned for royal occasions and one notable dress that was worn by Princess Diana. The iconic ‘Elvis dress’ designed by Catherine Walker is adorned with white pearls and a turned up collar. It is just as splendid in person as it is in the famous pictures, although Princess Di made it sparkle in a way that no designer could ever replicate. David Emmanuelle, the designer of Princess Diana’s wedding dress was also represented throughout the exhibition with several dresses including one very pretty pink taffeta dress that was designed for Joan Collins in 1983. The craftsmanship was outstanding, with fine embroidery, delicate lace and quality fabrics.
The exhibition shows the changes in society, taste and class with couture becoming popular amongst celebrities and not confined to the debutantes who wished to display their wealth. Downstairs evening gloves, kitten heels and charming purses are displayed, expressing the formalities of the age.
I made my way up the Hollywood inspired sweeping staircase to the more modern part of the exhibition. I was instantly immersed into the world of contemporary couture by the elegant chandeliers, revolving mannequins and stunning photos of the dresses projected onto the magnificent architecture surrounding the mezzanine. The sheer contrast between the contemporary numbers and the full-skirted 50’s frocks shows just how much society has changed, how the industry has developed, and how much more freedom designers have to push boundaries. The upstairs level is a dazzling celebration of design, imagination and British intuition. The collection includes dresses by Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Zandra Rhodes, Gareth Pugh and Ralph & Russo. Whilst the majority of the downstairs gowns were commissioned for the likes of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother the dresses upstairs were designed and worn by celebrities including Elizabeth Hurley, Beyonce and Sandra Bullock. Here are some of my favourite gowns from the exhibition.
Giles Deacon’s spring 2007 number, by Tim Walker
Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, winter 2011
Victor Edelstein, 1986
Nicholas Oakwell – Digitally printed silk
Elvis Dress – 1989
Roksanda Ilincic silk dress S/S 2009
Atsuko Kudo – lace print on latex
Here is a video for the exhibition featuring interviews with Bruce Oldfield, Nicholas Oakwell, David Sassoon, Mary Katrantzou and Roksanda Ilincic – definitely worth a watch!
The museum shop is selling an accompanying book that I hope to buy very soon. I’ll post a review of it along with some scanned photos as soon as I do.
The exhibition is showing until the 6th of January 2013.