Inside The 'Ballgowns: British Glamour' Exhibition At The V&A — It's Dress Heaven!

16 May 2012 by

Love red carpet fashion and all the glitz and glamour of the ball? Oh my - have we got an exhibition for you! And even if you don’t think you like the glitzy glam side because you’re a serious design fan, you will still adore the latest exhibition at London’s V&A Museum. Take it from us: it is heavenly and provides both history and escapism all at once.

We are, of course, talking about the 'Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950' exhibition, which opens this Saturday 19th May. It features more than sixty designs for social events such as private parties, royal balls, state occasions and opening nights spread over two floors and, since it’s the V&A, the display cabinets are almost as thrilling as the frocks!

On the ground floor are the historical creations – a veritable Who’s Who of British design since 1950, including plenty of royal frock action from the Queen’s couturier Norman Hartnell to some extra froufy numbers from David and Elizabeth Emanuel (the duo responsible for Princess Diana’s wedding dress) as well as an absolutely amazing ‘Elvis’ pearl-encrusted cocktail dress by Catherine Walker worn by the late Princess of Wales. Other pieces selected from the V&A’s extensive archive include eveningwear by designers including Victor Stiebel, Zandra Rhodes and Belleville Sassoon.

Progressing up the sweeping, Hollywood-set staircase to the mezzanine level, things get very modern, and a tad more experimental, though no less decadent. The next generation of ballgowns include gorgeous creations fresh from the catwalk by the likes of Alexander McQueen, Giles Deacon, Erdem and Jenny Packham. There's a Gareth Pugh masterpiece which was created especially for the exhibition - so this is the first time it’s been seen and the only one of it’s kind! The magic of celebrity touches many of the gowns; with previous inhabitants of the dresses including Daphne Guinness, Elizabeth Hurley, Bianca Jagger and Sandra Bullock (not to mention the supermodels who swished them down the catwalks.) Osman Yousefzada, one of the designers who contributed to the contemporary section said ‘as a young British designer it’s such an honour to be part of this exhibition and show alongside this illustrious calibre of designers’.

What we were left thinking though was how the ballgown, unlike so many beautiful creations of the past, has not become obsolete as technology and culture have changed. It’s still as relevant as ever, and from queens and duchesses wearing them to debutante balls in the olden times, now it is movie stars and pop princesses wearing them on the red carpet that keeps this incredible industry in production. Even in depressing times like these (or maybe more so) the public’s appetite to see such beautiful creations is massive. Just wow.

The 'Ballgowns: British Glamour' exhibition runs at the V&A museum from 19 May 2012 until 6 January 2013; see vam.ac.uk for more details.


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