It seems as if practically every launch, store window or product release is Diamond Jubilee or Olympics themed at present but the advantage to the UK's special year is that many brands, galleries and museums have used the timing as a focus. None more so than the glorious V&A, renowned for their fashion exhibitions and hell-bent on making "Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950" a must-see.
Firstly, the museum has re-worked their permanent display and geared this to the exhibition in their newly renovated Fashion Galleries, which makes for a rush of blood to the head and heart with a trawl through the past 150 years in textiles. Categorised in designers and periods, the history is easy to follow. There are exhibits from Norman Hartnell, Victor Stiebel, Zandra Rhodes, Ossie Clark, Bellville Sasson, Catherine Walker and Mary Quant as well catwalk gowns from current luminaries, Jonathan Saunders, John Galliano (not featured enough to my mind), Antonio Berardi, Mary Katrantzou, Giles, Erdem, Vivienne Westwood, Gareth Pugh and Roland Mouret.
The exhibits bring together a slice of life of each of the periods, featuring jewellery, magazines, accessories and chairs (as the changing lines of ballgowns depict how a woman sits 'just so') which adds to the feel of each decade.
Displayed over two floors, 'Ballgowns' shows specially made designs for social events such as private parties, royals state occasions, debutante balls, opening nights and red carpet affairs - showing just how much grand occasionwear has changed to meet the end function. The setting on the upstairs gallery is awe inspiring. Contemporary meets classic with a progressive display of 30 current designers shown in a 'ball' setting on a mezzanine level with giant projected images of the works shone onto the alcoves.
This is by no means a 'best of' collections, which is my only downside. The ballgowns shown by current designers are more a snapshot of their work rather than their 'piece de resistance' that many of us can quote from memory. And, seeing as the exhibition will attract a tour de force of fashion industry (past and present), it is worth pointing out that others may feel the same.
Nevertheless, the combination of history past and history being created is omnipresent and what better way to enjoy than in the bastion of Britishness itself, the Victoria & Albert museum.
"Ballgowns; British Glamour Since 1950" is open from 19th May 2012-6th January 2012. Open daily from 10-1745 and until 22.00 every Friday. Tickets are priced at £10 (with discounts for senior citizens and students). V&A members go free. A "Ballgowns; British Glamour Since 1950" book is available priced at £20.
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