Thursday, 28 June 2012

V&A Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950

The first time I really ever visited the V&A was last summer. And I went especially to visit their fashion galleries. I clearly hadn't quite read their website properly and was met with a sign on the entrance to the gallery stating it was closed. I was pretty gutted but had a wander around the museum anyway.

I went back in April this year, the galleries still closed, and rather enjoyed the British Design 1948–2012: Innovation in the Modern Age exhibition. This contained many textile exhibits and this got my imagination going as to what the Ballgowns exhibition would be like and how wonderful it was likely to be. The only negative thought I had was that I may not get a chance to see it as at that point I didn't know I was going to be spending my summer in London.

So when I did find out I was coming here and thinking about how I was going to spend my weekends, I knew that I would most definitely be visiting this exhibition at some point. And that point was last Saturday.

I arrived just as the main entrance was opening and headed straight to the fashion galleries. As I had never seen them before their refurbishment, I had nothing to compare them too but I've read on a few blogs that they really aren't any different to before. They are simple and well laid out as a walk around the past 200 or so years of fashion evolution. As much as I appreciate pre-20th century garments, they are not my personal favourites. However as soon as I'm around anything from the 20's onward, I'm in my element! What impresses me the most is the craftsmanship of vintage clothing. Considering that most technological advances in garment production have happened since the latter half of the 20th century, I am always interested in the construction of before this. I love 1940/50's couture and have read countless books on the subject yet I never fail to be amazed. Take my favourite ever dress for example:

It's currently on display within the V&A fashion galleries and was a delight to see in real life! It's Balmain from the 1950s and is encrusted with crystals and ostrich feathers. It is incredible to think that someone hand embellished this dress with such care and attention. We live in such a mass produced, throw away society that it is easy to forget that only a generation or two before us produced such beautiful items without the technology we take for granted.

Now onto the actual exhibition.

It truly is a beautiful display. Downstairs was the 'traditional' Ballgown area with more contemporary designs upstairs. I liked that vintage dresses were displayed alongside modern counterparts in dressed cabinet dispassion downstairs. This made them feel like works of art although it would have been nice to see 360degree angles of some of the dresses to get a better idea of the draping within the garment. There was also a short film reel of vintage in-house catwalk shows and accompanying text panels for the majority of the displays. Upstairs was a more modern display of the contemporary dresses. I would argue that these dresses were. Not Ballgowns as such, but stunning examples of modern red carpet couture. The display itself was an ingenious idea. You were able to walk around and see all angles of every dress. This was what I wanted! To be up close to see these garments and their construction was really inspiring. The fabric snob in me enjoyed playing guess the fabric before reading the notation to see if I was correct which I couldn't do downstairs with the dresses behind glass.

So in conclusion, to this rather wordy post, go see this exhibition! If you're into fashion or sewing, I'm more than sure it will be a perfect day out for you. I'm a sucker for a good exhibition book and Ballgowns definitely is. It features specially commissioned images of the garments shot by David Hughes and essays from the co-curators of the exhibition. I have every intention of going back to see Ballgowns again before I go home in August!

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