Britain Creates 2012: Fashion + Art Collusion is a new exhibition (briefly on display until July 29) by curator Susanna Greeves at the V&A that explores the connection between contemporary fashion designers and artists. Here’s a video guide through the display by Greeves along with interviews with various designers on display including Peter Pilotto, Paul Smith, and Jonathan Saunders.
During my trip to London, I was able to see the exhibition Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I was lucky enough to get a brief tour of the exhibition from Sonnet Stanfill, the co-curator of the exhibition. The exhibition coincided with the reopening of the newly renovated fashion galleries, which were redesigned by senior curator Claire Wilcox. The exhibition itself was laid out over two stories. The first floor was the center of the fashion galleries, where temporary fashion and dress exhibitions will be held from here on out. This space was previously temporary gallery space and housed a small fashion-centered shop, selling relevant books and materials from the larger V&A Shop. What’s considered “new” is the renovation of the second story and its inclusion into the fashion galleries. The second floor mezzanine previously displayed musical instruments but is now designated space for temporary exhibitions of fashion and dress. I plan on writing three posts on this exhibition as it featured over 100 ball gowns spread over two floors. My first post will focus on the first floor of the exhibition, and the second post will feature the second floor. I will mainly feature the ball gowns on display in these first two posts and in the third I will talk about the exhibition layout and general feel. So here it goes!
Throughout the exhibition, which Sonnet said averages between 6,000-8,000 visitors per week, the ball gowns are arranged by color schemes and general dates; the second floor features mainly contemporary designers. According to Sonnet, no other organization made sense as the ball gowns span over half a century and a wide variety of designers and aesthetics. Therefore, each glass case features an array of dates but the ballgowns share a general color scheme. However, some glass cases featured themes within the overall color theme. This was the case in the displays featuring ball gowns worn by Celebrities and Royalty. On the first floor, my favorite ball gowns included the following:
Matthew Williamson, 2011 - a photo gallery can be viewed over at www.vogue.co.uk and the Matthew Williamson ball gown is the second from the right in the eighth photograph
Other favorites that I couldn’t find images for include: Usman, Autumn/Winter, 2011; Rahvis, 1966; Norman Hartnell, 1965; and Worth of London, 1963, silk and diamante. As the exhibition catalogue featured numerous photographs of garments on display in the exhibition, it did not feature everything. As a frequent visitor to museums, I often find myself wishing I had an exhibition pamphlet featuring nearly everything on display since the exhibition catalogues rarely do. It would be such a benefit to visitors to have a coherently produced exhibition guide featuring photographs and information from the exhibition. I understand the amount of time, money, and effort this would take to produce for each exhibition, but I can dream and hope!
Unfortunately (but understandably for copyright and conservation reasons) I couldn’t take photographs in the exhibition so I have found photographs from other sources. The Ballgowns exhibition was wonderful and definitely fit the mood of the summer in London – one of national pride, with residents and visitors displaying a genuine interest in the past, present, and future of the city.
To enter the exhibition, I went up a flight of stairs which featured a central mobile featuring various shoes designed by Louboutin. This was an enchanting and creative use of the entrance space before the visitor came to the actual exhibition.
Photograph from Personal Collection
After going through two rooms, one which introduced the exhibition and displayed a wall of shoe molds, and another which featured shadowed silhouettes of stilettos, I entered the main exhibition space. Here are a few pictures of the exhibition space:
Throughout the exhibition, wall text featured quotes by Louboutin discussing his inspiration. Each section corresponded with a source of inspiration: travel, music, movie stars, architecture, garden design, and art. The exhibition was well planned out and rather easy to follow. While it was definitely congested due to the popularity of the show, I found I was able to spend the time I wanted in each gallery space.
I was caught somewhat off guard (in a good way!) by the room that focused on fetishism and the role it plays in Louboutin’s creative process. This room, which was curtained off from the rest of the exhibition, featured items from the Christian Louboutin’s collaboration with photographer David Lynch. The exhibition “Fetish” was on display at the Galerie du Passage in Paris in 2007. For this collaboration, Louboutin created shoe-like objects that were never intended to be worn.
The exhibition also featured a reconstruction of Louboutin’s workspace. This is where the exhibition got a bit congested, as there were two pieces of wall text (one centering on The Atelier and the other on the Construction of a Shoe) right upon exiting the fetishism room. However, once I was able to read each wall text and move on, I was happy to see the reconstructed workspace. The wall text was extremely insightful, and provided details on Louboutin’s creative process as well as technical work.
Following the reconstructed workspace was a video gallery, which featured a video entitled “Loubi’s Angels” and another video that I did not catch the name of. The second video featured Louboutin dancing along with two female dancers, all outfitted in Christian Louboutin shoes. This final video was truly infectious and made me wish I knew Louboutin personally. He comes off as a very cheerful, thankful, and appreciative person.
"The Life and Times of Christian Louboutin" featured a timeline of Louboutin’s life. Louboutin’s life was explained through the use of photographs, stories, and of course, shoes. In the center of this room was a life-size mannequin inside a Faberge-style egg, wearing Christian Louboutin shoes. The charming and endearing nature of the exhibition continued into this room.
After leaving “The Life and Times of Christian Louboutin,” the exhibition opened back into the larger room, which featured mirrored displays of shoes. The mirrored displays were an ingenious inclusion, as the famous red soles were always on display.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the exhibition was the illusionary video of Dita von Teese and Christian Louboutin shoes displayed at the end of a runway-like display of shoes. The technology for this display comes from ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ - an illusionary technique used in Victorian times and named after John Henry Pepper. As the lights dim, the music began, and the excitement built, the show began and the entire audience became enthralled.
As a fashion historian I am so glad I was able to see this exhibition. I was delighted, enchanted, and academically inspired by what I saw. I now have a new found appreciation for Christian Louboutin and his craft. While I have been coveting a pair of Louboutin’s for awhile, it’s not quite time to make the financial plunge yet! Maybe I’ll treat myself to the exhibition catalogue, which has a hefty price of nearly $100!