Thursday, 17 May 2012


Report for The Style Column

To celebrate the opening of their newly refurbished Fashion Wing, the V&A museum presents, with style, their latest project entitled ‘Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950′. This exciting new exhibition highlights the styles, silhouettes and colours that have been perennial favourites for many years and celebrates ongoing British design talent.

 In the accompanying book, which they co-authored, exhibition curators Oriole Cullen and Sonnet Stanfill shared their wonderful experiences of searching through the archives and the intense selection process for all the gowns shown on display. Of the new upstairs space, Stanfill commented that “we’re very excited because this is, of course, a completely new space for fashion display”. Claire Wilcox, Head Fashion Curator at the V&A museum, stated the decision to exhibit and celebrate British design talent was in perfect fitting with this years Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee.

The lower floor is a maze of glass fronted display cases, containing some of the most intricately made gowns ever witnessed. The exhibit began with dresses worn by the British Royals including Elizabeth the Queen Mother and the late Princess Diana, featuring designs by Norman Hartnell, Catherine Walker and Victor Stiebel. Following this were designs by Vivienne Westwood and Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, favoured by today’s younger royals.

In addition were creations by well known names such as Zandra Rhodes and Julien Macdonald, as well as gowns worn by famous stars such as Bianca Jagger. Alongside these dresses were small anecdotes that recalled the designers relationships with their famous clients; Bruce Oldefield recalling Jagger’s “exacting eye for detail”.

Amongst the cases full of detailed embroidery, show stopping silhouettes and luxurious fabrics, old films were projected onto the walls, showcasing fashion from the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. Accessories such as evening gloves, bags and shoes also accompanied the collection featuring the work of  Rayne, Anya Hindmarch, Lulu Guinness and many more.

Throughout the exhibit, photographs specially produced by David Hughes in collaboration with curators Cullen and Stanfill, were projected onto the great domed ceiling. These images can also be seen in the exhibitions accompanying book and feature head pieces co-designed by set designer Vincent Olivieri.

The upper floor focuses on the ballroom gowns – staging the exhibits more contemporary pieces. As you wonder through the mannequins, stood upon over-sized pearls and jewels, the experience resembles being on set of a Tim Walker shoot. The collection included a silk tulle Marchesa gown alongside a structured Mary Katranzou piece and an Erdem dress designed specially for the exhibit.  An asymmetrical Roland Mouret dress worn by Maggie Gyllenhaal to the 2012 golden Globe Awards appeared next to a quirky Vivienne Westwood creation. A Christopher Kane dress designed for, and worn only last week at the Met Ball, Shailene Woodley had been flown in especially for the exhibition. The two highlights of the show, emphasised highly by the exhibition curators, are the feathered McQueen dress worn by Daphne Guinness and a Gareth Pugh piece made completely of silver leather.

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