I was hooked from the word go. Well actually the word ‘fashion’ did it for me! It was the late 70’s, clothes where flamboyant and bright, and I was a young teenager being brought up in the grey dark valleys of South Wales. I was lucky enough to go on a school trip to the Victoria and Albert museum in South Kensington and Liberty’s of Regents Street, London, a short tube ride away from one another. What a treat for someone who loved sewing, fabric, colour, art, textiles, and anything to do with Art Deco, which was quite the rage in the 70’s.
At the V&A there was a vast display of crinoline dresses, tantalisingly close but protected in their display cases. The bustles on the elegant and richly decorated dresses were unusual and looked awkward to wear comfortably, but elegant none the less. The bright scarves and up to date fashion at Liberty’s were a treat to see, and the building with the black and white façade was part of old London that had been plonked in the middle of the psychedelic 70’s and stood out like a sore thumb!
I lapped it up, from the first to the last experience, each colour and smell a treat to the senses. Each different face walking past was someone for me to memorise, and recall in the weeks and months after. It was all new to me, loud, very bright and a real shock to the senses!
Move forward 40 years to October 2016, a similar exhibition is being held at the V&A. A not so young but equally enthusiastic woman takes it in her stride to visit the exhibition. The train is just as crammed as 40 years ago, the noises and smells are just as vibrant as the late 70’s and the faces of the other travels are just as interesting.
Navigating out of the station, through the long corridor of Victorian cracked tiles, and overhead windows encased in wrought iron, I walk with other like-minded men women and families. The gate for the Museum comes up on the right hand side, a pair of pillars in an art deco style, open and welcoming. A sign of the times I suppose is the security guard who checked each and every bag as we walked through, for things that shouldn’t have been taken into the museum.
The exhibition is full of young students, taking pictures of the beautiful clothes, some sitting drawing rough sketches, and busy chatting about they are seeing. Of course to those who are under 20 years old- the clothes of the 70’s and 80’s must look very odd! Those of us who had lived through this era, it is the old feeling of familiarity and possibly embarrassment at the realisation that some of the clothes were off the scale!
There is a vibrant psychedelic coloured and patterned 1970’s Mary Quant dress. Shirts with wide sleeves and enormous collars and ties with feminine colours and patterns! The famous BiBa style of Margaret Hulanicki with the iconic gold and black Art Deco style of her advertising. And the outrageous punk rock style of Vivian Westwood’s 1980’s fashion. Brash and in your face, anti-establishment, hard and as far removed from the 1970’s as you can imagine. And even more of a shock to the generation that came before it – the love-ins, short mini skirted, doe eyed beauties. They were soon morphed into a generation of loud, shouting anarchists who seems to be against everyone, and everything – their fashion reflecting the harsh life the country was experiencing at the hands of the woman prime minister and the striking or unemployed worker of the 80’s!
What a contrast to the chic and glamour of the 60’s with Christian Doir, hand stitched clothes, intricate designs, flowing skirts, and bright silk and satin colours. As films were so very popular before tv had been introduced, the film stars were the promoters of this life style, but it was in fact a world away from this life style for most humble people!
Of course the women and men of the 1950’s were just coming out of the war years where austerity and fear had rules their lives. The clothing reflected this way of life, recycling, making do and mending, mending and mending till there was no material left, only thread! Rough and ready materials, clothes cut to maximise the little that was available. The secret loves and lives of men and women who had no idea if they were to survive the ferocities of the war were reflecting in the styles and colour of the clothes.
After the stifling fashion of the start of the 20th century, the innocence of the 1920’s with the flapper dresses brought liberation and fun to the fashion of the time. It was a time when fashion became casually chic, dropped waists, and trousers for women in all in vogue. Velvet and satin, a match made in heaven!
Then back to the 1800’s that famous dress with the wide crinoline skirt that had attracted me to this incredible museum in the 1970’s, and when I look at the fashion of the time then I’m amazed at their skills, weaving, dying, sewing, making buttons – the list goes on.
The V&A what a great place to visit, doesn’t matter what exhibition you are planning to see.