Fashion and textiles: must-see exhibitions

In the words of Bill Cunningham “Fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life”. Fashion is life-enhancing and this summer museums and galleries are offering an exciting programme of stylish exhibitions, a visual feast to revive our hopes and our dreams.

Cunningham (1929 – 2016) was both legendary American fashion photographer and cultural anthropologist. Chronicling an era’s ever-changing social scene for the New York Times he focused his lens on what people wore, the stylish and flamboyant, as well as the downright sensible. For over 30 years, cycling around the city to work his magic, Cunningham documented the social fluctuations, trends and impacts of everyday life on the streets through fashion and style. It is not simply about the popular, or the latest style of clothing, hair, decoration, or behaviour. Fashion is about how we live, love and travel through life, individually and collectively. It’s about communicating who we are, who we want to be, where we are going, and where we have come from in an artistic manner.

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser

“Fashion is very important. It is life-enhancing and, like everything that gives pleasure, it is worth doing well.” Vivienne Westwood.

A new exibition opened this week at the V & A staging an immersive and fantastical journey down the rabbit hole that delves into the origins, adaptations and reinventions of Alice in Wonderland. The cultural impact of the book over 158 years has inspired creatives from Salvador Dalí to The Beatles and Vivienne Westwood. Displays of over 300 objects feature the distinctive silhouettes of the Christian Dior 1947 collection. Also on display are Tim Burton’s and Colleen Atwood’s inspired costumes recreated from the 1860s, the decade in which Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece was published. The costumes were designed by Tom Piper, stage designer for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the V&A and the Tower of London poppies installation in 2014. Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser runs until 31 December at the V&A. Tickets £20 adult.

Royal Style in the Making

Above and post header image. Wedding dress of Diana, Princess of Wales​, © Royal Collection Trust / All Rights Reserved.

This summer the newly-conserved historic Orangery at Kensington Palace will be opening with a temporary exhibition exploring the intimate relationship between fashion designer and royal client. Find out more about the intriguing process behind the creation of some of the most important couture commissions in royal history. On show for the first time at Kensingston Palace in 25 years will be the unforgettable wedding dress of Diana, Princess of Wales. In addition a rare, surviving toile for the 1937 coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother; consort of King George VI will be displayed. Royal Style In The Making runs from 3 June to 2 January 2022. Tickets £23 adult. Concessions available.

Couture Royal wedding dresses: in conversation with Justine Picardie

Justine Picardi is a former Contributing Editor at Harper’s Bazar and author of Coco Chanel: The Legend and The Life and a new book Miss Dior coming soon. In a live conversation from their individual homes, Picardie and Caroline de Guitaut, Deputy Surveyor of The Queen’s Works of Art at The Royal Collection Trust, explored the history of Royal wedding dresses. More…


Shoephoria! at the Fashion Museum Bath.

Shoephoria! will feature 350 pairs of boots and shoes that make up the history of footwear. Many exhibits on display will be from the Fashion Museum’s world-class collection, alongside those on loan. The exhibition follows the evolution of shoe style over the last 300 years and will include shoes worn by iconic figures from British cultural life and including footwear worn by actors Noel Coward and Margaret Lockwood, ballerinas Margot Fonteyn and Alicia Markova, and Nicola Adams in Strictly Come Dancing 2020. From the oldest shoes in the collection, a pair of red velvet mules from the 1690s, to sneakers and trainers from the 2000s. Delight in a close-up view of shoes belonging to Queen Mary and Queen Victoria to designer shoes by Vivienne Westwood, Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo. Shoephoria! runs until 2022. Free with museum admission ticket, £9.50, adult. Concessions available.

Cecil Beaton: Celebrating Celebrity

A range of iconic photographs by the celebrated British fashion and portrait photographer feature in Cecil Beaton: Celebrating Celebrity. Beaton, best known for his elegant photographs of high society, was a familiar guest at the Palace, attending parties and weekend breaks alongside a host of aristocrats, artists and writers. The images feature huge 20th century figures from Picasso and Salvador Dali to Marilyn Monroe, Mick Jagger and members of the Royal Family; including the Queen, Princess Margaret and Prince Charles. In total, the exhibition features more than 50 stunning images and profiles spanning six decades from the Roaring Twenties to the Seventies. Cecil Beaton: Celebrating Celebrity at Blenheim Palace. Tickets, £29.50 Adult Palace, Park and Gardens Day Ticket. Concessions available.

Haute couture will travel

This is about more than fashion. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience normally available only to royalty, heiresses and celebrities. There are only 14 designers who bear the label of haute couture, with one item taking up to 700 hours to create. Gaining entry into the haute couture circle of around 4,000 members worldwide requires an invitation. More…

Lee Miller: Fashion in Wartime Britain

Judy Campbell Actress 1940. Copyright Lee Miller Archives.

Known for her World War II reportage and surrealism imagery, Lee Miller’s photography of British fashion for Vogue during World War 2 was prolific yet relatively unknown. Following the completion of the archiving of 3,500 negatives of Miller’s fashion work, a new exhibition focuses entirely on her fashion photography in Britain during the war. Many of the works have not been seen since they were published in British Vogue almost 80 years ago. Lee Miller: Fashion in Wartime Britain at Farley House & Gallery runs until 8 August. Tickets, Exhibitions & Gardens May 2021, adult £10.

Chintz: Cotton in Bloom

Women’s jacket. Cotton, painted and dyed using the chintz technique. India, 1775-1790. Fries Museum Leeuwarden – loan Ottema-Kingma Foundation. Photo Studio Noorderblik.

Chintz: Cotton in Bloom will tell a story of the complicated technical craftsmanship required to fix bright dyes to cotton, devised across centuries and using complex chemical formulae. For this reason chintz was a closely guarded secret, a preserve of the elite for many years. As the daughter of a leading Sixties’ textile chemist who worked on developing formulae to fix the bright colours in jersey fabric (first used by Coco Chanel to produce fashion items for women in 1916) for Courtaulds and other manufacturers, the complex work and the passion involved resonate.

By the 18th century chintz had become more widely accessible. The lightweight, washable, brightly coloured and boldly patterned cottons eventually became highly popular throughout England and Europe and used to make everything from mittens to wall hangings and from extravagant 18th-century hats to mourning dresses. Thankfully many chintz fabrics have been preserved and the exhibition will showcase around 150 examples from all around the world. Chintz: Cotton in Bloom Chintz: Cotton in Bloom runs until 12 September. Tickets £12.65 adult with donation. Concessions available.

Please note openings dates for museums and galleries may be subject to change in line with governement guidance so please check the relevant web site for updates before visiting.

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