There’s nothing quite like a bit of escapism on a dreary Tuesday morning. When I first heard that Ballgowns – British Glamour since 1950 was to be the main exhibition at the V&A this year, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d relate to it. I do like a good designer retrospective and had hoped that the museum would treat us to one of those this time around, but nevertheless I was still excited to be invited to the press preview last week. I must admit the fashion area of the V&A tends to be my first port of call when visiting the museum and it’s long hiatus means that I’ve discovered a few other areas in its absence. The gallery has had a bit of a refresh and it’s wonderful to finally see some new pieces to learn more about. In keeping with the Cool Britannia theme of 2012, this exhibition focuses purely on British creations from the last 60 years. Although much has changed within fashion during this period, ballgowns still continue to be relevant and reinvented with the country house occasions of yesteryear being replaced with red carpet events.
As you enter the space, you are transported into a world of sophistication with the ground floor displaying over 30 gowns from the museum’s permanent collection laid out as if you’ve just managed to sneak into a secret dressing room. The traditional layout complements the dresses within this section, though I was partial to the open space of the mezzanine level featuring gowns from 30 more recent designers and a stunning ceiling. Finally, I was able to be within touching distance (though of course I didn’t) of the McQueen dress Daphne Guinness wore at the Met Gala all those years ago and the Christopher Kane dress Shailene Woodley wore just a couple of weeks ago.
In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by the exhibition and came away with a few favourite designs. You have to really appreciate the amount of knowledge and craftsmanship that goes into making such a piece and it really does give modern designers the chance to show off their skills in a world where fast-fashion is so popular. One metallic-leather piece by Gareth Pugh was even created specifically for the exhibition and there is a lace-printed latex gown by Atsuko Kudo (you can see a hint of in the picture above), which is an interesting take on the traditional concept. I’ve never really thought about the evolution of ballgowns much before but it’ll be intriguing to see how they adapt with changing trends and whether new events will arise.
One think I love about going to exhibitions is having a mooch around the shop afterwards and buying some affordable memorabilia. The Fashion gallery now has it’s own dedicated shop, which isn’t as vast or chaotic as the main one next door, but still worth a look. I’d pretty much given up trying to get one of these bow rings after hearing that the Whistles version sold out way before Christmas, but lo and behold they were in the V&A shop in silver and gold for a mere 8 quid! It was the ideal memento of the morning and really made my day. Expect to see it featured here on a regular basis…
Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950 takes place in the fashion gallery until the 6th of January 2013, giving you plenty of time to catch it before it goes. I think it’s worth a look due to the pure fantasy element and hopefully one day I’ll have an occasion where I can wear such a dress and am forced to be a bit graceful!