Visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum

Last week I did one of my favourite things; spent a couple of hours in the Fashion Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This has been a star destination for me for yonks, but at the moment I’m enjoying it afresh because they’ve just overhauled the displays in the Fashion section. And, as if that wasn’t enough, at the moment there’s also a display of British Ballgowns from 1950 to the present day. *sigh*……this is heaven for me.

First things first – after a drift through the main gallery I headed straight for the Ballgowns. What girl doesn’t dream of swooshy couture gowns afterall? The display was interestingly laid out, with dresses from different decades displayed side by side rather than taking the vistor through the decades chronologically. The one exception was that the very recent dresses wer displayed on a separate mezzanine level. The display concept worked well for the relatively short time period included in the exhibition. It wasn’t confusing at all, in fact it was great to see dresses of similar styles from different decades side by side.

My niece, sister, and I wandered around playing ‘Which dress would you take home?’ And with so many pretties to choose from it was a tough call.

I picked a Vivienne Westwood satin and tulle number made in 1994 for the Queen Charlotte’s Ball:

Vivienne Westwood Ballgown 

Bodice detail of Vivienne Westwood Gown

Hem detail of Vivienne Westwood Ballgown

I also liked feeling like a wise aunty by being able to answer my niece’s questions about how they achieved the shapes of the 1950s gowns. You know the style – nipped in waist, full skirt. Go me!

And truely, those 1950s gowns are dreamy. Whilst I’m aware that all that boning, corsetry, padding, and petticoats can’t be the most comfortable thing to wear, there are occasions when its worth sacrificing comfort for the all out glamour of a jaw-droppingly stunning dress.

Hartnell design from 1953; silk satin with beading

Not one I hanker after, but you have to admire the skill in the making of this crinoline-silhouette design for the Queen Mother (1953).

Hartnell design 1953; silk satin, tulle, beading

And of course, no exhibition of the British Ballgown in the Twentieth Century would be complete without mention of Worth.

Hardy Amies satin and velvet ballgown on L (1961)
Worth ballgown in silk dupion, crystal beading and taffeta on R (1955)

Mooching on up the stairs to the modern ballgowns we played the game again: ‘which would you risk V&A security and years in prison to take home?’ Should I be worried that I share my taste in ballgowns with a 15-year old? Both myself and my niece fancied the Galliano number, for its interesting drapey shape and beautiful justapositions of textures (the pale blue one in the image below)

Galliano design in pale blue. Also loved the Felicity Brown draped design at the front.

While my sister loved the colours of the Erdem gown

Erdem gown 2009

Watch the V&A’s videos to give extra insight on the exhibition here

Once we’d taken in everything within the Ballgowns area we moved out into the main fashion galleries for some more lusting over things we could never afford.

I was fascinated by the case displaying Dior’s ‘Zemire’ evening ensemble. I thought it was fantastic that all the individual parts were displayed separately, so you could really get a sense of how much structure went into the creation of the shape.

Dior ‘Zemire’ evening ensemble 1954

Dior ‘Zemire’ bodice

Dior ‘Zemire’ corset and petticoat

I had princess dreams over this Balmain gown made from silk, sequins, rhinestones, and ostrich feathers:

Balmain, 1950

and sighed a little over the cuteness of mini-scale dresses by Fath and Dior:

Dior 1950s

Fath 1950s

Before heading out of the museum via one last peep at Lanvin’s fun and flirty polka dot number.

Lanvin 1959; crepe-de-chine, net, and felt

Ah…feeling cultured, 1950s dresses, cake to follow. What’s not to like?!

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