Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Exhibition Edit: Ballgowns at the V&A Museum and Hermès Leather Forever

Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950
19 May 2012 - 6 January 2013
£11.50 (inc donation)
To celebrate the re-opening of the newly renovated Fashion Galleries, the V&A is exhibiting a retrospective of the well-loved ballgown. The exhibition is displayed over two floors, with the lower floor dedicated to ballgowns since 1950 and the mezzanine showcasing contemporary ballgowns. The gowns are displayed in glass cabinets with enlarged cut-out images of antique clocks, chairs, mirrors and music room wall panels. Some of the mannequins were also wearing masks. There is soft music playing in the background, and all of this adds to the effect of being transported back in time to a debutante ball. A film is projected on the wall, showing decades of evening wear from the 1950s to 1970s. There are also quotes dotted around the room, from people associated with the exhibition, including some words from Anne Heseltine 'the invitation said dress bewitchingly.' 

Dress by Erdem, 2008
Photograph: David Hughes, 2012
As you walk up the stairs (pretending to be draped in the most fabulous of gowns of course), you step into modern times. There was a great selection of contemporary ballgowns upstairs. It was a perfect example of how ballgowns have been redefined over time. The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and Queen Charlotte's Birthday Ball were previously upheld as the events du jour, whereas now a host of red carpet events have taken over. The evolution of the ballgown was evidenced very well here, and the changing silhouettes and design elements show the new requirements that such a garment must have. 
Designed by Owen Hyde Clark for Worth London, 1955
Source: Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 - Postcards
Thoughts: The display cabinets, music and quotes were very atmospheric. The wow moments for me, came in the form of the contemporary ballgowns. Very surprising, as I often pretend to not live in current times. This could also be due to the fact, that I felt the display upstairs was more creative and fun. A very lovely exhibition and the surrounding fashion galleries feature some absolutely stunning pieces. 

Hermès Leather Forever
8 - 27 May 2012
Free Admission
Another celebratory exhibition, this time to celebrate Hermès' 175th year. The exhibition focuses on the lengthy relationship between Hermès and leather. I was expecting a small space, with a few Birkin and Kelly bags and a handful of leather swatches. I was not only mistaken, but thoroughly surprised. It turned out to be one of the most playful and cleverly thought through exhibitions that I've seen for a while. The space is divided up into themed rooms and it provided an exciting transition to travel between each one. As each room was markedly different from the last, this gave a sense of the unexpected and added to the playful nature of the exhibition. 

The first room was Savoir-faire: the library of skins. A room filled with swatches of leather that you could feel, and smell if your heart so desired. They included buffalo skin, box calfskin and doblis calfskin. The interactivity of this room was great, and this was a recurring theme throughout. Room number two, was that of Savoir-faire: the artisan's studio. The classic orange boxes were piled high, with screens showing an artisan at work. But why watch a screen when there were also two artisans in the room working live and answering questions! It was an amazing opportunity to get so close to their work, and to view the techniques used to produce the leather goods of such a renowned brand. On the wall, there were panels to lift up which contained deconstructed elements from their products, such as straps. The Patina of Time emphasised the notion of the long-lasting nature of leather and its ageless quality. The Time Savers room focused on the evolution of time and its importance. The Spirit of the Nomad, was one of my favourite rooms as it was lit in the house's signature orange, and it was very startling indeed. Likewise, Variations on Kelly and Birkin was also a highlight, and it featured a variety of bags on display, with a great pair of binoculars so you can get a closer look. When Dreams become Reality, was a tiny room but garnered a lot of attention with the strands of leather strings hanging from the ceiling to create an entrance. For me, the best room was The Horse, the first client. With white sand under our feet and leather saddles in the surroundings, it was a very imaginative representation of their equestrian heritage. 

Thoughts: An exhibition that focused on theatricality, illusions and pushing the boundaries of curation without losing the importance of the subject material. It was not merely a display, but it gave visitors the opportunity to interact with them in order to gain perspective. The language of the introductions to the rooms was also wonderfully done. There are only a few days left, and I highly recommend everyone to go and have a look. Plus, admission is free and the sun is out! 


  1. i hadn't even considered going to the Hermes exhibition! Now wishing I had gone whilst i was down in London.

  2. It was really good! I don't think it has received the press it deserves, I was only expecting some pretty bags haha. Wish I could have taken pictures to show!

  3. I am stoked that the post is up so quickly. I enjoyed your twitter post a bunch. The Erdem dress is really magical. Did you hear that LV surpassed Hermes as the most profitable heritage brand? I still love Hermes though.