Photograph from theurbanscent.blogspot.com
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!
A glass case filled with pink ball gowns - photograph courtesy of www.isabelleoc.co.uk
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:
Photograph courtesy of www.isabellec.co.uk
The Yuki gown is the last on the left
Catherine Walker, 1989, Elvis Dress
Photograph courtesy of www.vam.ac.uk
Photograph courtesy of www.haute-world.com
John Cavanagh, ca. 1965, black organza satin and net with emerald green sash
Photograph courtesy of www.blog-isthenewblack.blogspot.com
The John Cavanagh ballgown is the last dress to the left
Bellville Sassoon, 1996, silk chiffon and lame
Photograph courtesy of http://patriciawuwu.blogspot.com
Victor Edelstein, 1986
Photograph courtesy of www.vam.ac.uk
Elizabeth Emanuel, 1999, silk, worn by Elizabeth Hurley for an Estee Lauder Pleasures advertisement (which I can’t find an image of anywhere, but one was on display in the exhibition)
Photograph courtesy of www.jessicajennerstylist.wordpress.com
Bellville Sassoon, 1964
Photograph courtesy of www.kerriemorris.blogspot.com
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.