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Posts tagged ‘vintage fashion’

Bath in Fashion 2015

Bath in Fashion gives the historic spa city its chance to show, tell and share fashion stories whether historical, bang up to date or revealing what’s coming next. Now in its sixth year, the event attracts some of the biggest fashion players with many talks and events staged in the Georgian Assembly Rooms, where the fashionable set of 18th Century Bath crowded to be seen.

Jolly's window display for Bath in Fashion

This year the city welcomed designers from established names such as Anna Sui and Roksanda Ilinic to the latest Fashion Week sensation Ed Marler, and fashion commentators including Susie Lau and Grazia’s Suzannah Frankel. Unfortunately I was out of the country for most of the events, but was still lucky enough to be one of the first to hear the Dress of the Year announcement, learn more about the art of embroidery and sit frow at one of the catwalk shows.

yarnbomb Bath in Fashion

Fashion permeated the city via these colourful yarn bombs by Emma Leith & creative crocheters raising money for Kids Company.

Dress of the Year reveal

The Bath in Fashion audience was in for a treat as the Dress of the Year 2014 was revealed. Gareth Pugh’s plastic dress was chosen by editor-in-chief of Love Magazine, Katie Grand. The announcement closed an event charting the making of a fashion book, Dress of the Year, celebrating 50 years of the scheme with author Richard Lester, Bath Fashion Museum manager, Rosemary Harden and publisher, Matthew Freedman.

At the end of the talk, Rosemary Harden unveiled the winner, and we were invited downstairs from the Assembly Rooms tea room to the out of hours Fashion Museum for a sneak peak at the Dress of the Year.

Dress of the Year reveal at Bath in Fashion

It had to be the Pugh dress for Katie Grand:

“I’m delighted to have been asked to select the Dress of the Year and to me Gareth’s plastic dress sums up 2014. I like the idea of how fancy and complex the dress is in structure, yet made of something so disposable. I had a super time photographing this with David Sims for Love 12; it was so easy as it gives a couture silhouette yet is ‘punk’, it’s Edwardian, forties, seventies and two thousands all at the same time. It is familiar in its historical references yet utterly new in its execution.”

Watch the Dress of the Year in the context of Pugh’s collection:

 

The sculptural piece comprises a tube dress which has iridescent plastic wrapped around to make a coat tied with a Japanese inspired obi belt. The wedge boots and trousers merge into one twisted around the leg. The everyday material of the dress contrasts with the architectural structure of the design (Rosemary Harden said it was like hanging a Dior).

Gareth Pugh's Dress of the Year in the Fashion Museum

Plastic is a recurrent material in Pugh’s work, and for the designer:

“I love the fact that is has such industrial connotations. The idea of making something beautiful from something that is generally used in a much more heavy-duty way is very interesting. It’s also an innately modern material and implies a mechanized method of production, which I think provides an interesting counterpoint to the labor-intensive handwork and historicism that is quite often present in my work.”

The idea of using throw-away, unwanted materials to create a beautiful garment swishing down the catwalk is appealing – and even better if recycled plastic. What do you think of Katie Grand’s choice of Dress of the Year?

The Dress of the Year story

Initiated by costume collector, Doris Langley Moore (pictured below), the founder of the Fashion Museum in Bath in 1963, the Dress of the Year scheme is a powerful and astute concept.  A leading fashion voice is invited to choose the outfit which encapsulates the year. The scheme works well in PR and marketing terms with a clear story to sell in to the press. But it also adds to Fashion Museum’s collection, as the outfits are donated at no cost ready to delight fashion historians and designers alike.

Embed from Getty Images

The selector of the Dress of the Year is almost as important as the designer. Colin McDowell, fashion writer says:

“But it was the Dress of the Year, initiated in 1963, that was the most exciting thing of all because it took account of a new profession in the fashion world: that of the professional fashion journalist who was an expert in her (or, indeed his) field.

“Previously, newspaper editors thought that fashion could be lumped together with cookery, flower arrangement and knitting as subjects that any female journalists could write about. But, by the time swinging London was born, the role of a fashion journalist was as specialist and precisely focussed as that of a theatre, art of music critic, a position it still holds today.”

For the first three years of Dress of the Year, the Fashion Writers’ Association were the pickers but then, marking their increasing power, fashion journalists were granted the honour. Significantly, Susie Lau of top fashion blog, Style Bubble, was the selector last year, showing the influence of style blogs, choosing the Christopher Kane dress below.

Christopher Kane Dress of the Year

Another quirky feature of the Dress of the Year is that each time a mannequin is designed and donated by Adel Rootstein Display Mannequins and styled to match the chosen fashions – and sometimes has a resemblance to the selector or model of the period.

The art of embroidery

Earlier in the afternoon, Rosemary Harden shared her obvious love and knowledge of fashion history and admiration for embroidery, stressing the art of the craft. I was reminded of artist Hannah Höch, who wrote a manifesto on embroidery urging women to take up the form.

“Embroidery is very closely related to painting. It is constantly changing with every new style each epoch brings. It is an art and ought to be treated like one… you, craftswomen, modern women, who feel that your spirit is in your work, who are determined to lay claim to your rights (economic and moral), who believe your feet are firmly planted in reality, at least Y-O-U should know that your embroidery work is a documentation of your own era.”

(Embroidery and Lace, 1918)

The story of embroidery was told from being an ecclesiastic and royal preserve right up to its appearance in the Dress of the Year in the early 21st century. Embroidery features heavily in Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen in 2011 with her snow queen evening dress combining embroidery with symmetrical cutting to the skirt. Embroidery is again brought up to date in Raf Simons for Christian Dior which won in 2012 (below).

Raf Simon for Dior Dress of the  Year 2012

Vintage Jaeger

Young Jaeger won the Dress of the Year in 1966 with a black and white linen mini dress, worn with a space age visor hat by Simone Mirman and a clear PVC coat by  Michèle Rosier. Ernestine Carter from the Sunday Times was the first editor to choose a Dress of the Year replacing the Fashion Writers’ Association. The Young Jaeger label was very much of its time aimed at 20 and 30 somethings with disposable income, who desired to look different from their parents’ generation.

Jaeger, one of the sponsors of Bath in Fashion, had a display mixing vintage with current trends illustrating the fashion conversations which go back and forth in time.

Jaeger vintage display at Bath in Fashion

Jaeger wool at Bath in Fashion display

Jaeger display mixing vintage and new

Jollys statue

Spring/Summer 2015 Frow

chandelier in the Assembly Rooms Bath

In a spot of mid-week indulgence with my Mum, we headed to Bath in Fashion for a frow seat to view Spring/Summer 2015 designs. The seventies influence was apparent right from the start with high waist trousers, suede skirts and victoriana lace necked blouses, whilst the warm colour palette took us far from chilly Bath. Kimonos, fringing, culottes, head to toe white and bold floral patterns are all wearable versions of the high couture Spring/Summer looks.

Mirror Assembly Rooms Bath

catwalk shot at Bath in Fashion Spring Summer 2015

A fine vintage 

Time to check out your local vintage store for a touch of seventies or invest in pieces which will not date this time next year but still nod to the trends, such as Kitty Ferreira’s colour palette.

After the catwalk show, we headed to Bea’s Vintage Tearoom round the corner for coffee and buttermilk scones. A perfect end to our visit to this fashionable city.

Bea's Vintage Bath

vintage ornament in Bea's Tearoom Bath

vintage mirrors in Bea's Tearoom Bath

If only I could have caught more of the talks at Bath in Fashion… but I will put it my diary for 2016, and in the meantime enjoy browsing through all 50 Dresses of the Year for vintage influences at my leisure.

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Fix Up Look Sharp Pop-Up


tenket

Upcycled fashion at its best – the tenket. Last used perhaps to shelter revellers at a festival, now still keeping them dry, but in a little more style.

Tent and t-shirts Fix Up Look Sharp Popup

The tent was sartorially transformed by fashion label, Fix Up Look Sharp, whose upcycled and vintage fashion will be on sale today and tomorrow at Cabot Circus in Bristol. The pop-up proceeds will all go to CLIC Sargent, a charity for children and young people with cancer and their families.

Fix Up Look Sharp is run by the charity, and a large donation of tents lead to the tenkets, while other unloved, donated fabrics from bed sheets to curtains are used to create one-offs. The Fix Up Look Sharp fashion brand was created by Ruth Strugnell, fashion graduate and deputy manager of the Bishopston CLIC Sargent charity shop, and her partner Gemma Pope.

The pop-up shop got off to a flying start yesterday, opening earlier than planned with passersby keen to have a browse, and selling a tie-dye fix in the first five minutes. I attended the launch event on behalf of Bristol Ecojam, an online space to share green events, jobs and organisations in Bristol.

Fix Up Look Sharp popup shop

Upcycling is certainly a greener way to indulge in fashion. Research by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) shows that around £140 million of textiles are sent to landfill every year in the UK, around 350,000 tonnes. Reusing fabrics is cheaper than recycling, and reduces this shocking amount of waste languishing in landfills and the resultant greenhouse gases. And of course in fashion terms, upcycling means that you get a one-off so you won’t turn up to the party in the same chain store outfit.

The designers will be ready to create bespoke pieces in the store, so that you can see how the fix happens and get involved. Choose your hitherto unwanted fabrics, and go home with an original piece.

Mood board Fix Up Look Sharp popup

sweatshirts at Fix Up Look Sharp

Bikini and skirt Fix Up Look Sharp popup

The upcycled range includes playsuits, sweatshirts with reused fabrics, tie-up shirts and menswear, as well as vintage clothing, accessories and retro bric-a-brac. With the pop-up’s sunny, relaxed vibe, I couldn’t resist grabbing a vintage summer frock (which I’ll need to nip and tuck a little). Only because it’s for a good cause of course…

So if you’re in Bristol, head to Fix Up, Look Sharp’s pop-up in Cabot Circus Glass Walk One today and tomorrow. Enjoy seeking out your own upcycled outfit or vintage piece, and raise money for CLIC Sargent. Let me know what you find…

If you can’t make in person, you can still get your hands on upcycled style at asos marketplace.

Sewing machines Fix Up Look Sharp

Couture in Colour: Abraham’s silks in Antwerp at the Fashion Museum

Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Balenciaga… you may know their haute couture designs, but how much do you know about the fabrics that give body to their creations?

On a recent visit to Antwerp’s fashion museum, I learnt a little more about the luscious fabrics that give couture its colour. The Musée de Mode’s (MoMu) latest display is ‘Silks and Prints from the Abraham Archive: Couture in Colour.’ This fashion exhibition combines beautiful fabrics hanging like works of arts, key haute couture pieces and photographs from the Abraham Archive – a Swiss silk company, whose work is intertwined with couture from the 1930s onwards.

Haute couture and Abraham Ltd

Abraham Ltd meant nothing to me before attending the exhibition. The origins of this Swiss silk company can be traced to 1878, but it was not until after World War II that it became an international fashion heavyweight. In the 1930s, Abraham was run by Gustav Zumsteg, who mingled in the artistic environment of 1930s Paris with the likes of Georges Braque, Marc Chagall and Alberto Giacometti, and famous fashion designers, including Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Yves Saint Laurent. This creative atmosphere influenced his designs, helping to position him as one of the top fabric suppliers to haute couture designers.

swatches of Abrahams fabric

Abraham archives interactive swatch files

Prêt-à-porter from the 1960s ushered in a new era for Abraham Ltd; as the demand for high quality silks diminished, they adapted to the high-end ready-to-wear market. In 1995, when the firm’s collaboration with Yves Saint Laurent ended, Abraham’s time was numbered. The company may have closed in 2002, but they left behind an extensive archive of textiles, sample books and fashion photographs telling a vibrant story of twentieth century extravagance and couture.

Christian Dior and Abraham partnership

Dior’s New Look, with its luxurious and excessive fabric contrasting with war-time austerity, was a perfect match for Abraham’s high quality silks, and thus an important fashion partnership was born in the 1950s.

Dior exhibit Fashion Museum Antwerp

This sweet, but nonetheless grown-up, Dior cocktail dress exemplifies the 1950s silhouette and style. Abraham’s flower print, “Apricotine” could hardly be more aptly named.

Dior orange dress

Yves Saint Laurent and Abraham

Yves Saint Laurent met Gustav Zumsteg at Christian Dior’s funeral in 1957, marking the start of a working relationship and lifelong friendship. The red and black silk satin dress from 1985 was the stand-out piece for me, with its bustle and large exotic flowers spreading across the fabric.

Yves Saint Laurent dresses

Balenciaga and Abraham

Balenciaga also came to Abraham for fabric, in particular for gazar (a crisp, sheer, plain-weave silk cloth), which was a speciality of this silk manufacturer, and was perfect for Balenciaga’s sculptural creations.

Fashion Museum Antwerp Balanciaga and monochrome display

Balanciaga black dress in the centre

Balanciaga blue dress Fashion Museum Antwerp

Fabrics everywhere

Fabrics weaved throughout the exhibition providing, not just a pretty backdrop to the fashions on display, but literally the material for them. From checks and animal prints to monochrome, from matte to sheen, a wide range of Abraham textiles, textures and patterns were on show.

monochrome fabrics hanging

Monochrome fabrics

Checked fabric fashion museum Antwerp

animal prints - fashion museum

Fashion Photo from Museum of Fashion Antwerp MoMu

Luxurious fabrics hanging Fashion Museum Antwerp

Flowers, and in particular roses, were a recurrent motif in Abraham’s designs, from traditional bouquets to more abstract, larger patterns.

Roses fabrics

roses catwalk

Fabricand shadows Fashion Museum Antwerp

Luxury shines through these heavy, glittering cloths. The high production costs of such fabrics meant that they were often the preserve of haute couture.

Luxurious fabrics Fashion Museum Antwerp

Givenchy and Abraham

Givenchy, whose fashion idol was Balenciaga, also collaborated with Abraham Ltd. Givenchy has become synonymous for dressing two stars in particular: Audrey Hepburn appeared in Givenchy on screen, for instance in Sabrina (for which costume designer Edith Head won an Oscar), and Jackie O wore one of his designs to JFK’s funeral. The yellow evening dress and cape below is from 1973 in silk gazar, and the similarities in shape between it and the blue Balenciaga dress (pictured above) are apparent.

Givenchy evening dress in yellow gazar

Givenchy dress black and green

The Givenchy piece above from 1987 is made from Abraham silk in crêpe de chine falconné imprimé. Although the puffball feature would probably be best avoided by almost everybody, this dress with its 1940s silhouette stood out for me (perhaps a nostalgia trip to the 1980s and reminiscent of a dress that my Mum wore and loved).

Kronenhalle

Towards the start of the display, this sweet table-for-two tableau greeted visitors. It represents Kronenhalle restaurant, a Zurich institution with a guestbook of the big names of the time across the spectrum from politics to art. Gustav Zumsteg helped his mother, Hulda, run the business and used the restaurant to house his growing art collection. His artistic connections helped in designing the restaurant: Alberto and Diego Giacometti designed lamps and other furnishings for its bar which was designed by Robert Haussman.

Kronenhalle Zurich at Fashion Museum Antwerp

Before Pinterest…

Long before Pinterest, the pleasure of preserving memories and aspirations was played out through cutting out and sticking in scrapbooks. On display were twenty scrapbooks from between 1947 and 1996 creating a picture book history of fashion, textiles and Abraham Ltd. 

Scrapbooks at Fashion Museum Antwerp

The Abraham Textile Archive is housed at the Swiss National Museum. Abraham Ltd began archiving professionally in 1955 preserving 50 years of creativity, and I imagine this collection would be invaluable to fashion students and designers now.

Fashion Museum Antwerp Musee de Mode MoMu

I would recommend an Antwerp adventure full stop, and if you do, check out the Fashion Museum (MoMu). “Silk and Prints: From the Abraham Archive: Couture in Colour” is on until 11 August 2013.

Michael Jackson’s costumes by Michael Bush

Watching Michael Jackson’s Thriller (Landis, 1982) for the first time at a friend’s birthday party as a kid must rank as one my earliest cultural treats.

Videos were much more of an event in the 1980s anyway, and with music videos still in their infancy, there was an aura of anticipation of watching this extended horror pastiche. Primarily it was the dancing that we loved, but with Jackson, the style is as stage-crafted as the moves.

Michael Jackson costumes at Michael Bush talk

So I was intrigued to hear more about the man behind the King of Pop’s costumes, Michael Bush, who was interviewed by Ali Vowles as part of Bath in Fashion. Bush (as the other Michael called him) has just written, The King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson – the first art-driven book about his costumes. Although it was Deborah Nadoolman Landis who derived the iconic red jacket from Thriller, Bush along with his late partner, Dennis Tompkins created 800 to 900 costumes for Michael Jackson over a 25 year period, and was the only person whom the iconic pop-star would allow on stage with him. Indeed Bush and Tompkins’ names have been sewn into all the costumes at Michael Jackson’s insistence.

Back in his childhood home of Ohio, Bush used to watch his grandmother dress-making, thinking it was the last thing he wanted to do with his life. However it must have been in his blood, albeit with a showman’s twist, as he headed to Las Vegas to work in show business, which gave him valuable experience in creating fashion designed for performance.

Dressing Michael Jackson was a constant challenge to combine elaborate show-stoppers with functionality. Jackson wanted outfits that were ready for ‘showtime’ and matched his performance on stage, with his outfits “as entertaining on the hanger as they were on him”. Complex dance moves necessitated costumes that could absorb sweat without damaging the fabric, and multiple versions of his outfits were created as during a stage performance Jackson could lose four to five pounds, so needed different-sized trousers for the beginning and end of the show. It was also useful as Bush admitted that Jackson would often give his outfits away to fans or friends. Costume changes were designed to fit in with the songs and energy levels, so they might start with a lightweight piece for the vigorous numbers, heavier jackets for ballads, and returning to lighter fabrics for the finale. The belt pictured above may look too heavy to dance in, but Ali Vowles picked it up for the audience to prove it was actually lightweight, created from thin gold.

Michael Jackson red heels boots

A regal fashion influence was only fitting for the ‘King of Pop’, for instance pearls nod to King Henry VIII’s, while red heels are drawn from Louis XIV (pictured above). During Louis XIV’s reign, red signified wealth and power as the cost of red dyes was high, but he went further and created an edict so that only nobility could buy red heeled shoes. Emphasising strength and masculinity, military styles with embellishment and wide shoulders are another Michael Jackson staple. Authenticity was important to Jackson, so Bush sourced originals such as military buttons. He once discovered 300 military buttons from a dealer in Camden Lock without name-checking Jackson. The dealer would have been pleased with the final owner as he confided in Bush, “if only Michael Jackson could see them!” Bush told of how he and Tompkins were paid by Jackson to visit the UK to get inspiration from the Crown Jewels – it was important to soak up the aura of majesty. Movie influences are also evident from gangster films, hence the fedora hat and spats shoes (pictured below) as well as taking inspiration from street style.

The costumes were also part of the ‘Michael Jackson’ performance. Short trousers (which grew shorter and shorter) helped draw attention to his dancing feet and rhinestone socks which sparkled under the stage lights, and he liked to ensure that people at the back of large auditoria could see the tiny details too. Jackson also wanted to illicit a questioning response from the audience, by adding quirks, such as a band on one arm.

Michael Jackson shoes

The craftsmanship and technical effort that went into creating the costumes was immense, such as the single glittering, sequinned white glove, or the anti-gravity shoes. These high-tech shoes, which were patented by Jackson, Bush and Tompkins, allowed Jackson or his dancers to lean beyond their centre of gravity via a special heel which slotted into the stage. Despite all this fancy footwear, he always wore loafers to practice dancing – an everyday brand called Florsheim.

At the end of the interview, an audience member asked Bush where he’d got his cowboy boots. (I’m sure we’d all been wondering… ) He answered London, and asserted it was the best place to buy them. There, I have to disagree – it’s Bath. My boyfriend bought my trusty cowboy boots in The Yellow Shop, and they have been re-heeled and re-heeled. It will truly be a sad day when the cobbler finally says, enough.

Over 1,000 lots of Jackson items were auctioned last December, and 55 of them caught the eye of Lady Gaga, who is keeping them Stateside in the public domain. You can find out more about Michael Jackson’s costumes by reading Michael Bush’s book, King of Style: Dressing Michael Jackson. There is also a interesting piece on the influences on Jackson’s style in ‘Worn Through‘.

Who’s your fashion pop idol? Let me know in the comments box below.

A young dance troop gave a surprise performance before the interview to a mash-up of ‘Thriller’ and the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs’, ‘Heads Will Roll. But I’ll finish with the original Thriller moves…

Vintage Fashion fair – Bath in Fashion

What better way to spend a spring Sunday than a meander around a vintage fashion fair? And that’s exactly what I did last week at Bath VA Fashion Fair during Bath in Fashion week. The vintage fashion fair was the culmination of a week of fashion in the city, and over 50 traders came along to enjoy a vintage day out. Victory rolls were curled on demand courtesy of Artizan, tunes from yesteryear (and now) belted out, and vintage cocktails were supposedly supped (which alas I missed). Here are some of the styles and vintage-lovers I met along the way…

Summer is coming…

Straw hats and sunglasses embody vintage glamour, and made me yearn for summer days.

Vintage fashion fair - sunhat with sunglasses

Vintage Fashion Fair - big eyed dummy in a sunhat

vintage glasses

Refound Reloved

Refound Reloved was the first stall I stumbled upon, full of vintage fashion and objects for the home to covet. I just had to snap one of its owners in her fabulous 1950s rock ‘n roll style.

typewriter

refound reloved woman

Vintage dolls and toys at Bath Antiques Vintage Fashion Fair

Charmed by two ladies in vintage

Kate’s Cottage stall-holder and my lovely friend Emma (on the left) from Come Step Back in Time look gorgeous in their vintage outfits I think you’ll agree. Emma is a clever seamstress, and her dress was made using a modern Butterick Retro pattern ’55 (B5556). The gloves are original 1950s, belonging to her late grandmother, whilst her handbag (pictured below) is courtesy of me. Her ‘make do and mending’ is inspirational – in a previous life the faux-fur hat she is wearing, was a large hat brought from M & S, but she cut-off the rim (which she used as a collar on a black cardigan) and this left her with a 1950s style pillbox faux leopard hat.

Kathryn and Emma

fake leopard skin bag

vintage fabric and mirror

70s blue lady photo

Cock-a-Doodle Vintage

This pitch of 1940s and 1950s men’s and women’s fashion really stood out for me. Partly because of the cool Americana style mannequins, but mostly due to the smiling faces and vintage style of the owners. If you fancy an outfit from the post-war rock ‘n roll years, go and meet them at several upcoming vintage events.

Cock a Doodle Do  stand

couple

Baseball shirts from Cock a doodle vintage

Vintage reporter

It was a pleasure to meet Kate, Junior Vintage reporter for Vintage Explorer. Her faux-fur coat and vintage-coiffed do by Artizan at the event, completed her glamorous look perfectly. She also created the cute vintage tap rings below, which could help you make stylish hand signals.

Kate

Kate's button rings

hat on mannequin

Colour everywhere

Camera in hand, I enjoyed browsing the fair taking snaps of the colours, shapes and styles.

Vintage fashion stand

Pink

Coloured threads

vintage hat

red velvet hat

vintage military style

Time for tea

On any vintage shopping trip, there comes a time when you just need to take off your gloves, powder your nose…

vintage gloves and compacts

… and enjoy tea and cake. On this occasion with the lovely people from Velvet Teas.

cupcakes

vintage tea cups

Vintage tea rooms

A very vintage romance…

I loved the way this couple’s style seemed to match up. And indeed it was more than just compatible looks, Lucy and David were at the fair to declutter and save for their wedding. Congratulations!

engaged couple

kids books and bags

vintage bags

Gin and It Girl 

The prize for vintage store name of the day would certainly go to Gin and It Girl. And there are lots of ‘It’ girls on display as backings for these wonderful vintage brooches below.

Gin and IT Girl Brooches

Gin and It Girl Looking at Clothes

Shoes

The shoes on the right seem to be trying to step away from the others… and asking me to buy them. But I resisted.

shoes set apart

Thanks to Bath in Fashion and Bath VA Vintage for a perfect Sunday trip down vintage lane…

Bath VA Vintage Fashion Fair at Green Station for Bath in Fashion

Vintage fun to try at home or at a fair near you …

Fifty fabulous frocks – Bath Fashion Museum

Think of the biggest names in fashion, and you’re likely to see their creations have made it to the party to celebrate 50 years of the Fashion Museum in Bath. Fifty Fabulous Frocks curates pieces from the top fashion designers from Vionnet, Schiaparelli and Chanel to Quant, McQueen, and Erdem, as well as historical creations.

Frock may mean dress to us now, but it actually has a wider meaning:

“Frock: historically referred to an article of clothing; in the 17th century specifically a workman’s outer garment; in the 18th century a man’s loose fitting coat; a religious robe; more typically a woman’s dress.”

As a keen frock lover myself, I headed to the museum for some vintage fashion inspiration. Here are my top five from the collection, not in any particular order…

1. Red mini, André Courrèges, 1960s

Andres Courreges red mini dress

Swinging sixties chic with the optimism of the decade is conjured by this simple, angular mini dress in block red by André Courrèges. A designer for Balenciaga before establishing his own fashion house, he introduced a radically different line in 1964 with dresses like this worn with flat boots, goggles and helmets – outfits ready for the ultra-modern space age. This frock was worn by Ernestine Carter, fashion editor for the Sunday Times (1955-1972), who called 1963 the Year of the Leg. Indeed, as Courrèges  started to shorten skirts at the same time as Mary Quant, the debate on the mini’s originator rages on. An engineer by training, his designs are functional and in heavier fabrics, and he also helped to popularise trousers for women. Go back to the future in ’60s style with this footage of one of his fashion shows. (I’m unsure whether the girls are being locked away for another fashion show or being sent into space…?)

2. Mickey Mouse Dress, 1930s

mickey mouse dress

This quirky dress from the late 1930s made it into my top five, despite a dislike of product placement or branding on clothes, and an ambivalence towards Disney. The maker of the dress is unknown but according to the exhibition, from its skimpiness and narrow seam allowances, it appears to have been mass-produced for wholesale. Without the Mickey motif, the puffed sleeves and fitted waist make it a style I would wear today. Fashion seems to maintain a fascination with cartoons from Minnie Mouse hairstyles at Zac Posen to Manga inspired fashion at Gucci

3. Opera Coat, Christian Dior, late 1950s

Dior coat

The Dior New Look was such a fashion shift that this red satin opera coat had to make it into the top five. Dior’s lines marked a return to a ‘feminine’, curvaceous shape and a luxurious look using lots of fabric after war-time’s less restrictive lines and scrimping on fabric. The bar was the ultimate hourglass outfit with narrow shoulders, nipped in waist and padded hips and full, flared skirt.  Dior was also a marketing innovator by devising theatrical shows, creating trends every six months and diversifying his market. This coat is not couture, but from Dior London, through which his designs were licensed and sold at cheaper prices.  I can just picture this coat modelled in one of Norman Parkinson’s photographs, epitomising effortless glamour.

4. Opulent mantua, 1760s

Mantua 1760s

To show the breadth of the collection, I wanted to include a pre-20th century piece, and so opted for this mantua from the 1760s. Although highly impractical, its sheer opulence and beautiful embroidery made it fit for a top five. This piece was created around the same time as the Assembly Rooms in Bath, home to the Fashion Museum today, but it would have likely been worn in even grander venues, perhaps weddings or birthdays at the Royal Court. The expensive fabric and design would signify the wealth and status of the wearer immediately, and although the owner is unknown, the Museum thinks it is likely it was worn at the court of King George III, who succeeded in 1760.

Before ‘make do and mend’ and the resistance to fast fashion, in the 1760s, fabrics were re-used and clothes ‘upcycled’. The exhibition quotes from a Mrs Papendiek in the 1780s:

“Fashion was not then… the matter of continual change. A silk gown would go on for years a little fashioned up with new trimmings.”

5. Green silk dress, Jeanne Lanvin, 1919 

Jeanne Lanvin dress 1919

This green shot silk pannier dress by Jeanne Lanvin illustrates the word ‘frock’ perfectly. The influence is 18th century with the full skirt requiring panniers, which are sewn into the dress. Lanvin began designing for children, and this fashion house’s logo remains a mother and child. As the Museum suggests, this dress certainly has a child’s birthday party feel. I love the way that now looking back it’s going against our idea of the period with its streamlined flapper look. Alber Erbaz now heads up the Lanvin label, and one of his dress won the 2005 Dress of the Year award showing some affinity with this dress. The footage below features the designer herself in fittings. Don’t miss the pockets in the first dress shown – the detail is absolutely beautiful. 

Happy Birthday Bath Fashion Museum

Fifty Fabulous Frocks is just part of the Fashion Museum’s fiftieth birthday celebrations. The museum was established in the sixties (initially called the Museum of Costume Bath) by Doris Langley Moore and Bath City Council. Fifty Fabulous Frocks runs until the end of 2013. If you’re in Bath next month, check out Bath in Fashion 2013 too.

In case you can’t make the exhibition, look out for another post featuring the next top 5. After all, there are another 45 fabulous frocks to choose…

Fasting fashion for Lent – Culture Chic of the Week

How do you know when you need a fashion spring clean? Maybe when your wardrobe explodes… After a whirlwind tidy before the arrival of a guest, my overstuffed clothes cupboard just couldn’t take any more and made itself heard. My cover was blown as with a bang, handbags, gladrags and all, freed themselves, and I was somewhat shamed into sorting it out.

And this may not only save my embarrassment but also my vintage purse. “Valuing our clothes, research from WRAP, in July last year showed that in the UK we have around £30 billion worth of clothes, which haven’t been worn for at least a year, hanging in our wardrobes. The report claimed:

“The average UK household owns around £4,000 worth of clothes – but around 30% of clothes in the average wardrobe have not been worn for at least a year, most commonly because they no longer fit.”

I’ve been guilty of buying clothes that have never or infrequently been worn, and a fluctuating waistband has meant that at times clothes go to the back of the cupboard… and come back out again. Although I’ve never been tied to the high street, the quick-fix charms of fast fashion have lured me in the past. With fashion seasons speeding up, shorter lead times and more frequent deliveries, consumers are encouraged to buy the latest trends before they leave the rails to make room for the next must-haves, rather than looking for quality or durable items. Implicit in the buzz of commodity fetishism is that it rarely lasts long or fills the gap but that only means the next thrill is round the corner.

For the past year I’ve been making a conscious effort to curtail my fashion spending. To save money is definitely in the decision mix but it’s also just about reducing consumption for both environmental and social reasons. According to WRAP, “… by increasing the active use of clothing by an extra nine months we could reduce the water, carbon and waste impacts by 20-30% each and save £5 billion.” And of course it is not only environmental harm caused by the fashion industry but unethical working conditions and deunionisation which are exacerbated by the demands of ‘Mcfashion’.

At the very least we can think about what we buy, and reuse, repair and recycle. Fashion innovator, Vivienne Westwood at London Fashion Week this month encouraged austerity Britain to buy less to maintain its individuality:

“People have never looked so ugly as they do today, regarding their dress. We just consume too much… I’m talking about all this disposable crap. What I’m saying is buy less – choose well. Don’t just suck up stuff so everybody looks like clones.”

Quality over quantity makes sense as clothes will be less likey to join the tonnes of used up products in landfills (UK consumers send £140 million / 350 tonnes of clothing and textiles to landfill each year). They’re more likely to be durable and to be recycled in charity shops (often the trendy, low-cost, seasonable items cannot be resold easily). But for people wanting to be in ‘now’ without lots of disposable income, quality items may not feel within reach (and I still feel uncomfortable paying too much for one item). It comes down to revealing the actual lack of consumer choice and homogenisation of major fashion chains. Vintage and independent retailers are not working outwith the commodified fashion system and key into fashion trends too, but at least these may be at a slower pace. And of course the major plus for consumers, apart from a clearer conscience, is that the chance you’ll be caught at the office or a party wearing the same item as your contemporaries is much reduced.

With Lent coming up, I thought I should formalise my resolve to tidy up my wardrobe, and there are no shortage of projects to inspire us to rethink our addiction to fashion. The 333 project challenges participants to use 33 items of clothing for 3 months. Or how about A New Dress a Day where the stylish and inventive Marisa Lynch, transforms an oversized, seemingly unwearable vintage item each day?

Six Items Challenge

Could you manage with only six pieces of clothing? That’s what Labour Behind the Label, a not-for-profit raising awareness about garment workers’ rights, asks us to do every Lent with their Six Items Challenge. It’s a fashion fast to highlight the impacts of fast fashion. The idea spins around choice. Those involved in providing Western consumers with their fashion fix do not necessarily have a choice about working longer hours for low wages to meet increasingly demanding fashion brands, and by narrowing the apparent choice of items, participants are encouraged to get creative and think about what they actually need.

Six Items Challenge - what will you give up for Lent?

Follow the fashion fasters to see how they get on over the next six weeks. Even if you’re keen to continue to wear more than six items, I’d certainly encourage you to join Labour Behind the Label’s campaigns too.

The Uniform Project

The Uniform Project is a few years old but it’s still inspiring, innovative and shows how social media can be used for good. Sheena Matheiken pledged to wear one little black dress for 365 days of the year styled up with accessories from vintage and thrift shops. (Don’t panic, she did have a few versions of the same dress…) Her efforts raised over $100 million for the Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots organisation in India, which seeks to educate children from low income communities. I love the way that she turned her disillusionment with the advertising sector around and used her skills to make a difference. In the UK, when we are being fed ‘Big Society’ philanthropy to disguise public service funding cuts, her quote from Martin Luther King (which you’ll hear in the video below) about philanthropy is timely – “Philanthropy is commendable, but that should not stop the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice that make philanthropy necessary.” Like Labour Behind the Label, which seeks to help educate the industry and improve workers’ rights, here by providing education for children through this campaign, in theory at least, new, sustainable opportunties are being created.

Profitting from my wardrobe 

Part of the reason I have so many clothes is that I don’t tend to throw things away and have bought clothes to last – just too many of them and often rash purchases rather than planned staples. Many are vintage or charity shop gold dust, even from way back to when I was a student, and pieces passed down from stylish relatives. Indeed I still feel pangs of guilt about wearing a camel coat to death that my great aunt had kept ‘for good’. Although, better loved and worn, than wardrobe bound.

My challenge is inspired by J. D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly, and is not so much about reducing the use of items but more about maximising what I’ve got. My wardrobe is being cleared and clothes only get back in, if they’ve been worn by Lent time next year.

So I’ve started to sort into charity (two bags gone already), eBay helped me out at Christmas, Mum (she’s already rejected two tops but taken a coat) and a swishing party bag.  Some items go season after season without being worn as they’re at the bottom of my wardrobe, repairs get left after I stuff them back in the cupboard on realizing that the hem is down or a button missing on the mad whirlwind rush to work. Now the cupboard is becoming bare, who knows what I’ll find?

Are you giving up something for Lent? Could you manage the six item challenge or even one dress for a year? Let me know if you come across any projects that have made you rethink fashion consumption.

Bohème Sauvage: back to Berlin 1920s style

The time is 1926. The place, Berlin, and the atmosphere smoky, bohemian with a touch of big band swing and burlesque. Absinthe is being sipped at the bar by a distracted cabaret dancer, whilst a speakeasy gangster cavalierly gambles Reichsmarks away, and a young flapper shimmers with delight as all eyes follow her to the dance floor… We’re at  Bohème Sauvage , a night of fun for vintage lovers in Germany. Actually before you read on, why not get in the mood and tune into Radio Dismuke?

I was invited by my 1920s-loving friend for her fortieth birthday to Berlin with six others with Bohème Sauvage on the agenda for a night of dress-up, dancing and who knows what else in a vintage playground. The support acts of swapping accessories and styling tips, washed down with deliciously authentic Russian vodka, were almost as much fun as the main event.

Bohème Sauvage is a postmodern mash-up of periods, styles and locations: bohemian Berlin of the 1920s, the Belle Epoque Paris of Toulouse Lautrec, burlesque and Moulin Rouge, and the American thirties with speakeasies, jazz clubs and gangsters. Whether we were dancing the Charleston, foxtrot, swing, waltz, tango, mambo, rumba… it hardly seemed to matter. As the website says:

“Bohème Sauvage does not try to copy this era; authenticity is not the highest aim… It is made for people who enjoy to express themselves, who like to dress up and wear costumes, who like playing with identities and basically for everyone who is open for experiments and adventures.”

As the birthday girl loves the 1920s – the decadence, the androgynous looks, the Louise Brooks do – we all dressed in clothes of that era. And where better to celebrate the style and culture of the twenties than Berlin. Between the two world wars, despite being wrecked from defeat, for a brief time the city was a cultural and intellectual capital of Europe, a Bohemian centre, with intellectuals and artists from all disciplines (including Bertolt Brecht, Walter Benjamin, Christopher Isherwood, Fritz Lang, Marlene Dietrich, Otto Dix) making the city their home. Rainer Metzger in Berlin in the 1920s goes as far as arguing that Berlin at this time was the nearest to capture the Modernist idea of art and life becoming one.

Caberet photo - two women dancing.

With a creative surge in the arts from cinema to cabaret and a more relaxed attitude to sexuality, in retrospect the post-war mood was about enjoying the transience of the glitter now. The Charleston, the shimmy and the foxtrot were hugely popular and Metzger says, “there was a strong desire to lose oneself in the rhythm, and to let one’s body react to the syncopation and feelings engendered by the beat.” This was the time of androgynous dressing, Josephine Baker making top billing at the Femina-Palast, or at the Troika, in Christopher Isherwood’s “Goodbye to Berlin” where girls dance behind gauge, assignations are set in motion via the telephones lined up on the dancing hall, and dancers stream with sweat. Indeed, the decadent Sally Bowles, not anticipating the rise of Fascism to come, is the Berlin of our popular consciousness. The Cabaret element is alive at Bohème Sauvage with an Emcee character hosting the entertainment, including a burlesque dancer and a female three-piece band.

The mix and match attitude to vintage dress-up suited me as I love wearing vintage clothes without pandering too much to period detail or authenticity, and I enjoy the experience of dress-up rather than a particular period or scene. As Ted Polhemus says, “…sampling and mixing diverse, eclectic, often contradictory elements into a unique, personal statement.” Part of the pleasures of this event undoubtedly was being admitted and thereby told that we had dressed the part – although not necessarily “authentic” (I was wearing a 1920s style dress via the 1980s). Subtle dress code boundaries were prescribed on the website:

“…quite apart from any modern clothes such as jeans, t-shirts, sneakers etc, kitschy, glitzy and tasteless carnival costumes, plastic products, flashy wigs, pink feather boas and all of the time from 1880 to 1940 are obviously not appropriate. We appeal very specifically to your sense of style and aesthetic.”

Admittance depended on your (sub)cultural capital which cannot necessarily be learned – you either have that sense of style or you don’t. Even if you’ve bought your ticket online, we’re told you can still be refused at the door (but you will get a refund to soften the affront to your sense of style). During the night, we all commented on how wonderful everyone looked – all shapes and sizes, a range of ages – and how pleasurable it was that there seemed to be a group affinity and that people had entered the spirit of the party. It almost felt like a ‘scene’ but was more like a shared affinity with people who would place themselves outside mainstream culture ranging from weekenders to those who have a vintage lifestyle.

Bohème Sauvage was created by “Miss Else Edelstahl” who started hosting private 1920s salon parties in 2004, which have now has grown to monthly gatherings at large ballrooms across Germany. Ours was held in Meistersaal in Berlin, a prominent artistic venue in the 1920s.  We were attending Bohème Sauvage as it was being incorporated into to the mainstream, being mentioned as a not-so-secret travel tip. This decade is in, in, in with the hotly anticipated Great Gatsby and top designers picking up on the styles, not only for women but in menswear too, which will be highlighted in the vintage store and filter to the high street. There may be people who think that Bohème Sauvage has become less authentic, filled with “tourists” like our group…

It was not just in fashion terms that people could express their subcultural capital but also on the dancefloor. We were too late for the dancing lessons at the start of the evening to help people learn the Charleston, swing or foxtrott. I loved dancing (and waltzing very badly) but also enjoyed watching the couples swing, spin and twirl round the floor. As there were language barriers, I am not sure how many people were taking on particular roles or characters but it certainty felt like an environment where you could do this without fear of being laughed at, in fact it may add to your subcultural capital.

Dance card (Tanzcarte) Boheme Sauvage, Berlin

A 1920s revival may be of the moment with its echoes of economic, political and cultural uncertainty, and the sense of decadence and shifting gender roles is perhaps more appealing than certain recreations of the 1950s with more secure home-making attire and lifestyle. We could all fritter the hyper-inflated Reichmarks at the mock casino and drink and dance the night away as if all was lost. There may have been a whiff of decadence, but of course it’s played out within safe boundaries. However it was glamorous fun, and my inner flapper certainly enjoyed being released.

Anyone else been to Bohème Sauvage? Do you enjoy dressing up in the clothes of a particular era? Are you part of a vintage ‘scene’? Please share your thoughts in the comments box.

Look out for a blog about my flapper outfit but for now here’s a taster of the party…

Books I’ve mentioned…

Isherwood, Christopher, (1939), Goodbye to Berlin, Vintage: London

Metzger, Rainer, (2007), Berlin in the Twenties: Art and Culture 1918-1933, Thames & Hudson: London

Polhemus, Ted, (2010), Street Style, PYMCA: London.

Vintage treasures Rayne

One of the key pleasures in vintage clothes is the moment when you find that treasured item. It may have been once loved, neglected or never out of its wrapper but it’s just right for you now. Usually a bargain adds an extra frisson but at the very least it shouldn’t be overpriced. This discovery could be after 10 empty-handed visits to the same thrift store but therein lies the pleasure, it’s not something that you or anyone else can simply pick from the shelf on demand. Last weekend I had that moment in Salisbury whilst meeting up with one of my best friends (a vintage fan too but on that occasion she had her moment with a bookshelf-quaking pile of second-hand cookery books!)

I uncovered from the window a luscious magenta bag which I thought would make the perfect Christmas pressie for one of my friends. She would be drawn to the shade and, whilst she’s not an everyday vintage wearer, she would still appreciate its 1960s sensibility without it being too ‘period’, way-out or worn (or ‘characterful’ as I’d say).

So it was a vintage treasure. But it was doubly so as I found out it was made by Rayne, the famous shoe company, which I’d spotted earlier in the year at an exhibition about British glamour.

Rayne in the label of the vintage bag.
H & M Rayne was the British monarchy’s shoemaker being granted a Royal warrant by Queen Mary in the 1930s and famously, designing Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding shoes. The royal connections don’t impress on their own but these shoes were hand-made involving 136 processes by a skilled workforce. Watch this video to see behind-the-scenes of royal wedding shoes:

In the 1950s Rayne, fronted by Edward Rayne, was one of the most glamorous shoe brands with collaborations with top couturiers such as Hardy Amies and Norman Hartnell and the famous British pottery firm, Wedgwood. At this time, the appropriate accessories were key to the look with Rayne offering matching handbags and shoes in a range of colours to maintain order in the post-war consumer’s outfit. It wasn’t just royalty they’d charmed with their shoes, film star clients included Marlene Dietrich and Tallulah Bankhead as well as Vivian Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor in their roles as ‘Cleopatra’.

With the rise of youth culture in the 1960s, Rayne extended the brand with ‘Miss Rayne’ to attract a younger crowd pulling on the design talents of Mary Quant, for instance, who created Shirley Temple ankle straps and stiletto heels for them. Another icon of sixties’ pop culture, Emma Peel from The Avengers (played by Diana Rigg) sported Rayne boots, surely a sign of a shoe-maker that was in touch with the times.

However, the Rayne family business did not always mix in such high circles. It was founded in 1885 by Henry and Mary Rayne as a leading theatrical supplier. An Irish immigrant, he changed his surname from Ryan to avoid anti-Irish prejudice.  With flapper fever in the 1920s, women who could afford it wanted the latest styles as worn by their favourite movie stars. To cater for this demand, their son Major Rayne opened a shop in Bond Street to extend the market for their exclusive lines. As an early example of celebrity endorsement, actress Lillie Langtry modelled for this family business. Henry and Mary Rayne’s grandson, Edward Rayne, continued to be a fashion leader and headed up the British Fashion Council in the late 1980s to promote home-grown talent overseas.

I love that this bag holds unknown memories that my friend can imagine and augment with her own, that the person sitting next to her on the bus won’t have this bag and that we can chart British cultural history through a fashion brand from the immigrant experience to the rise of celebrity endorsement.

What vintage clothes treasures have you come across recently? Do you shop in vintage stores for Christmas presents?

Rayne Shoes Logo

And now I just have to be strong and make sure that this bag makes it into my friend’s hands for Christmas…

Vintage bag by Rayne

Fancy finding out more about Rayne?

Visit Rayne’s website, check out Sheep and Chick where Miss Rayne reveals lots of vintage pieces and the showcase at Ballgowns: 50 years of British Glamour.

If you do happen to find yourself in Salisbury in the UK, seek out Foxtrot Vintage for the potential treasures inside!

Ballgowns: playing dress-up at the V & A

Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950.

Ballgowns are the ultimate dress-up fantasy. For most, they are not for wearing but left for red carpet dreaming. I haven’t ever had the occasion to wear a classic ballgown before, even at university balls, anything too formal or unashamedly feminine made me uncomfortable. The prom dress a la riot grrrls was more my style, however, a couple of weekends ago, I had a self-indulgent day of dresses. Although you can’t actually play dress-up at ‘Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950’ at the Victoria & Albert Museum, you can get up close to 60 gowns showing the changes in silhouettes, fabrics and styles over six decades.

‘Ballgowns’ is very much a showcase of British fashion, appropriate in the year of the Queen’s Jubilee and London 2012 Olympics. Curated by Oriole Cullen and Sonnet Stanfill, the exhibition charts the changes in ballgowns from the private sphere of dressing for royalty to the global, public glare of flashbulbs on the red carpet. Although the royal link has not disappeared. (I heard one person comment that Diana in the Elvis dress looked like a “proper princess.”) The ballgown with its romantic princess connotations are part of fashion’s wish-fulfilment. Gareth Pugh is quoted in the catalogue by Oriole Cullen,

‘That’s what fashion’s about… you’re transforming yourself from something that you are to maybe something that want to be… that’s the crux of what we do, it’s selling people a dream’. 

And although the exhibition is a social history through a particular garment, in truth the pleasure is in looking at all those dresses from the stylishly simple to the eccentrically attention-grabbing.

Fabric fetish in the ballroom

The exhibition is on two levels with the ground floor showing the preparation for the ball upstairs, where the contemporary designers are displayed. Fabrics stood out for me in these latter designs. From Alexander McQueen’s feathered dress to Atsuko Kudo bringing fetish to the ballroom with a stunning latex lace effect.

If you feel that you need body armour to go to the ball, then Gareth Pugh’s silvered leather gown is the one for you, where even the face is shielded. The beautiful busted dress with full skirt and casual pockets by Erdem (in the catwalk video below at 33s) couldn’t be more different but again makes innovative use of fabric to create an autumnal print using appliqué, quilting and beading.

Debs to swinging 60s

These dresses are designed for celebrities (Beyonce, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Annette Bening…) but back in the 1950s, the upper class girl would come of age at the débutante ball, often her first chance to don one of these fancy frocks. Reinforcing the relationship of ballgowns to old money, the designer was compelled to make their creation work with the family jewels. At fittings, fearing theft, some would draw the shape of a necklace on their skin to ensure the dress still work once they were bejewelled. I could just picture Matilda Etches’ dress from 1956, wonderfully named “Spinning Crystal“, being worn by young deb of this time. This pale green silk gauze dress has one shoulder sash with a pleated full skirt that I can imagine flowing and swirling during a dance.

With the likes of Mary Quant and Foale and Tuffin on the Kings Road, young debs of the 60s could wear mini-skirts as day-wear and so desired styles different to their mothers in the evening too. To cater for this shifting market, designers such as John Cavanagh and Bellville Sassoon, extended to boutique ranges for younger women.  The pink embroidered organza dress with cute bow at the front by Bellville Sassoon stood out for me as being particularly evocative of a ballgown from this period.

Kaftans rule 

In the 1970s the debutante ball changed to the charity ball where access was given to those who could pay the ticket price, encompassing the new royals – celebrities. One of the first dresses on display in the exhibition is a kaftan from the label Yuki worn by the actress Gayle Hunnicutt. Designed for dramatic entrances, it even looks stylish in the static case of the exhibition. This decade also saw trousers becoming an acceptable garment for women. Skip to the ‘oos and the Stella McCartney piece featured is a ballgown cum jumpsuit with pretty floral embroidery and casual pockets.

Bigger and bigger in the 1980s

Gold, extravagant and glitzy, Zandra Rhodes’ dress from 1981 seems to usher in that most decadent of decades. ‘Renaissance Cloth of Gold’ was modelled on Elizabethan styles and at the forefront of the corseted and hooped fashion revival of the time. The gold lamé of Craig Lawrence’s piece from 2010-11 again feels excessive but looks rather shapeless until movement gives it form. (see the video below at 01.50s)

At the turn of the last century the mixing of celebrity, commodity and the ballgown is exemplified in an Elizabeth Emmanuel romantic silk floral dress worn by Liz Hurley in an Estee Lauder advert.

Going to the ball

When I saw Patti Smith perform earlier this year (no less cool for wiping sweat off her face with her t-shirt), I would not have thought her an admirer of ballgowns. She can, however also pull off a Christian Dior.

“People wouldn’t know this about me, but I adore ballgowns,” she said. “I love their cut, their architecture and the thought of the hands of so many seamstresses working on them.”

If I was going to the ball…I’ve love to try Giles Deacon’s pleated “carwash” dress… or maybe this beautiful Worth dress

What about you? Which dress would you pick?

Have you been to the exhibition? What did you think about it? I’d love to hear from you.

Ballgowns: British Glamour since the 1950s is open until 6 January 2013.