Wednesday, November 28, 2007

London Calling - The Lure of Couture

Tuesday, I woke up feeling refreshed after having a good night's sleep in my lovely double bed at Janine's. After a hearty breakfast and cups and cups of tea, I headed out to the Victoria and Albert Museum for the Golden Age of Couture exhibition. The V&A is one of my favorite museums and I always try and go there whenever I'm in London. It's like comfort food for me. There's always a fun fashion exhibit going on, probably because the museum is dedicated to the decorative arts and there's nothing more decorative than clothes, clothes, clothes!
Last year, they had a really groovy exhibition on clothing in the Swinging 60's and also Black British fashion which was interesting. I even made upstairs to see the rooms of 18th and 19th century furniture.
Now the museum has the complete collection from the Theatre Museum which closed in Covent Garden, so I'm hoping that they'll do more exhibits apart the most recent one they did on Kylie Minogue!
The couture exhibit was fascinating. I had seen a similar one about ten years ago at the Imperial War Museum but that one was more about clothing during the war. This exhibit covered the years 1947 through 1957 when Dior died, and showcased his New Look, Balenciaga, Chanel, Givenchy and the few English courtiers Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies. One of the most interesting part of the exhibit were a few of the dolls from the Theatre de la Mode that were created to showcase French fashion after the war.
It was a touring exhibition of nearly two hundred dolls in sets, created by Christian Bérard and Jean Cocteau among others. The Théâtre brought together a community that was still suffering hardship. The Théâtre toured to Britain, Scandinavia and the USA, raising funds for war victims and promoting French fashion.
See before the war there had been there were seventy registered couture houses in Paris, including the grand establishments of Chanel, Schiaparelli and Balenciaga. The industry was disrupted by the wartime occupation of Paris. Private clients dispersed, international sales almost ceased and many couturiers closed. The Germans planned to move couture to Berlin but Lucien Lelong, president of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne, objected, saying, 'It is in Paris or it is nowhere'.
What struck me about the exhibit was not just how exquisite the clothes were but also how time consuming it must have been since pretty much everything was sewed by a small band of seamstresses and I'm sure a lot of it was done by hand. There were some women who only wore one specific designer for all their clothes! Imagine if I could only wear Diane von Furstenberg! I love her but I think I would be bored if I couldn't wear other designers, even if John Galliano was designing for me himself.
You got to see sketch books and then some of the finished dresses so that you could get a sense of how the dress went from concept to creation. The old newsreels from fashion shows were also interesting when you consider what spectacles some of the couture shows are nowadays in Paris. Images of women walking down the Seine or exploring Paris and showing off the clothes. And the footage of women walking the runway, nothing like it is today where the models are not just emaciated but look like they're stoned. No giraffe walk for these women.
At the end of the exhibit there were fashion spreads from British Vogue among other magazines. These glorious black and white photos taken by Irving Penn, Cecil Beaton and Richard Avedon. It was truly art what these photographers were doing back then. Generally magazines at the time used fashion illustrations to show off the clothes not photography, since the illustrations could give more of a feel for the clothing than just a flat photograph but these pictures were just stunning.
In the gift shop, I was dying to buy the book that went along with the exibition, but it was 25 pounds which is over 50 bucks. Plus it was heavy even in paperback, so I left it. I might try and find it online at Amazon or order it direct from the Museum if I decide that I still want it. They were running Funny Face with Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn in the gift shop, the Think Pink number which I love. What was interesting was that the museum was selling clothing inspired by the exhibit. I loved that.
All in all, it was a good first second day in London, topped off by spending time with the Impossibly Handsome British Friend at the theater seeing The Country Wife with Toby Stephens and David Haig at the Theatre Royal Haymarket where I got to see Maggie Smith in college in Way of the World and ogle Christopher Reeve during the intermission (he was theere in the audience) and sharing a glorious bottle of French champagne during the interval.
Thanks for reading,

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