After my visit to the Club to Catwalk exhibition I needed more of a fashion fix, so I took a look around the V&A fashion galleries. The galleries were full of school children sketching and filling out worksheets and it reminded me of school trips to museums, the V&A is great for contemplating the displays because there are so many seats so you can sit and observe people and how they behave in the galleries, as well as thinking about the objects. I found the accessories and fashion plates really captured my interest, a lot of the clothing was very similar to other garments I’ve seen before, so I was excited to make a few new discoveries. I was surprised by this fan from the 1750’s, both by the bright colours of the scene and also that it was in such great condition the colour didn’t seem faded at all.
I also thought the detailing on this ball dress from the 1820’s was beautiful with the metallic threads round the neckline and arms to catch the light, and the pattern of the sleeves and the overlay on the bust. This was a lovely pale pink colour as well and a lighter fabric, obviously made for a summer event.
I found the men’s clothing really interesting, especially that several of the pieces had been donated to the V&A by Harrods, including this lovely fitted riding coat and waistcoat from 1790, that look as though they’ve never actually been worn as they are immaculate. They were in a display cabinet with other upper class men’s country wear and the background was a lovely painted scene of the countryside. I think this made it easier for visitors to visualise the lifestyle of the wearer of the clothing.
While I was looking at a collection of brightly coloured mid 19th century dresses a label caught my eye explaining how dyes could be harmful at this time. I know Elizabethan ladies suffered lead poisoning from their makeup, and that corsets often made ladies faint, but who knew wanting a fashionable dress could be fatal? Apparently the British Medical Journal warned of the dangers of magenta dye if ladies were caught in the rain, got a little hot, or were even just washing their dresses. Arsenic was used in the formation of the magenta colour so could easily poison the wearer! On a slightly safer note the detail in this Viennese lace caught my eye because it is so intricate.
I also spotted some stunning fashion plates from the early twentieth century. I paid a lot more attention to them on this visit as I’d already seen a few on my recent trip to the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin, where there’s an exhibition of Parisian fashion plates. This fashion plate is from ‘Les choses de Paul Poiret vues par Georges Lepape’ 1911 printed in collotype and pochoir. This is a very time-consuming way to print the plates, firstly the collotype black and white outline is printed onto the paper, then a different stencil for every colour needs to be cut. Then each colour is applied by hand to the final print one by one with short, animal hair brushes, giving really vibrant colours and bold shapes. The method fits well with Paul Poiret’s fashion collections, which were inspired by bold prints and turbans from the east, and had very simple shapes to the garments.