Looking round the costume department at the V&A is one of my favourite lunchtime activities, so I was very excited when the Ballgowns exhibition was announced. This show is part of the British Design Season and celebrates the opening of the newly renovated Fashion Galleries at the V&A.
Wandering round the Victoria and Albert Museum alone is always enchanting, with another magical artefact to discover on each visit. On a sunny Thursday lunchtime, the galleries were teeming with culture hungry visitors. The space allocated to the Ballgowns was very dimly lit with women gathering round each garment nattering away about the material, cut and colour. I tried to dodge the students discussing and furiously sketching to get a good look at the clothes myself.
Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950 showcases some of the most fabulous dresses from the last six decades up to the present day. The collection includes catwalk showstoppers, red carpet attire and beautiful occasion dresses. There are more than sixty designs on display, including several notable royal dresses, of which Princess Diana’s ‘Elvis Dress’designed by Catherine Walker is perhaps the most spectacular. Every dress has a story and it is fascinating learning the history of these couture gowns. Many of them have been designed and made especially for a particular individual or celebrity and so the style relates to their character and role in society, and truly captures a moment.
Interestingly the dresses are arranged and exhibited by colour rather than date. Every ballgown has a timeless elegance and yet the obvious era changes and shifts in society are evident in tailoring and shape. The development of new ideals can be seen in the radical move from tight restrictive corseted dresses to floaty ethereal gowns that skim rather than cling to a women’s figure. I was a particular fan of the bigger more ostentatious dresses, the fairytale princess gowns that would look so uncommon and bizarre at the parties I go to but must suit the society balls that I would love to experience, just once.
On the Mezzanine level contemporary ballgowns are displayed, some of which are straight off the catwalk: luxurious, extravagant and utterly stunning gowns dreamed up and carefully created by world-renowned designers including Alexander McQueen, Erdem, Roland Mouret, Marchesa and Mary Katrantzou. I loved the remarkable feather gown, and the crystal encrusted dress that Beyonce donned for her performance for the Obamas.
This exhibition is certainly the fashion show of the season… I left wishing the dresses were in my wardrobe.