Fashion Origins at the V&A Museum
The V&A permanent Fashion collection is a delightful voyage across four centuries of fabric evolution. Featuring women’s and men’s clothes from as early as 18th century, the exhibition is a lively answer to the question ‘Where do this season’s stripes and florals come from?’
The flowery patterns and symmetrical shapes of the 18th century’s garments, open up the exhibition. Later on, the 19th century woman surprises with a waist caged in crinolines hid under layers of voluminous and overly ornamented dresses. The romantic era ends with the rise of 1920s simple, straight and waistless dress – specific for ‘garçonne look’. Coco Chanel continues this process of women liberation with her trouser suits. In 1960 and 1970 a playful spectacle of vibrant and bold colour in combination to hypnotising geometric patterns is unleashed on the fashion stage.
With sharp geometrical shapes characteristic of Neo-Classicism, the 1770s hand-sewed glittery waistcoat one intriguing piece of the exhibition. The silver tissue woven with silver thread and green silk pleas majestry. Some miniatured appliqués of red and white flowers grow along the waistcoat’s edges, pockets and hem. The foils and silver spangles are embroidered on the fabric, popping up from the flower string.
Elsa Schiaparelli’s dark blue evening coat from Autumn 1937 is another climax of the exhibition. Its back bodice is embroidered with a golden thread that draws the image of two confronting profile faces forming the shape of a vase. Delicate pink silk roses and light-green leafs fill the vase, climb on the coat’s upper back and then flow down the shoulders. The faux pleats of blue eyes and red lips of foil construct a discreet surrealism very specific to Schiaparelli.
Pierre Balmain’s 1954 ‘Devil in Silk’ thistle inspired gown is made of pearl white silk brocade. A metal thread contours the hand painted pastel blue and purple leafs. The strapless siren dress has a wide pink stash crossing its bodice. Infusing femininity, it finishes off in a bow at the small back.
This exhibition with its exquisite creations is an authentic walk in time, and it needs to be seen rather than read about.