Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Women Fashion Power – Design Museum, London (part 2)

DSCF0981The second part of the show continues the chronology but also introduces biography. So for example, various designers are introduced; notably Coco Chanel on the one hand, and Vivienne Westwood on the other. Chanel drew her inspiration from the functional male wardrobe including cardigans, waistcoats, tweeds, trousers, cufflinks, etc. Not forgetting her iconic Little Black Dress of 1926 (left is a version of the LBD from Chanel’s chief designer, Karl Lagerfeld of 1991).

There are some lovely garments capturing the ‘flapper’ period in the 1920s. This seems to have been a opportunity to work shoes into the story. Even I was taken by some of them (see right)DSCF0962.

DSCF0964Elsa Schiaparelli, a name with which I was not familiar before the exhibition, designed on the basis that clothes had to be architectural. The body should never be forgotten and must be used as a frame as used in a building. Whilst I am not entirely sure what this means, and hence convinced, she had a most exquisite jewellery box (left).

Zips arrived in the 1930s along with Rayon, a cheap alternative to silk. There is a whole section on nylon stockings, naturally! And then on to Dior’s so-called New Look. This was, of course, an old look and reverted back to hour-glass figures and generated a market for ‘waspie’ corsets, with Triumph International leading the market.

The 1930s also saw the influence of Hollywood. Female stars were becoming important figures for designers to be associated with. Their ability to popularise designs is familiar to us today. Madeleine Vionnet is credited in the exhibition for introducing the bias cut enabling a flattering cling of clothes to the body and a further release from strict undergarments enabling ever-more revealing evening wear to be worn by the stars. Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers and Bette Davis are three of the stars featured.

DSCF0970However, these clothes were still out-of-reach for many women. Publishing houses like Condé Nast guided women in the art of dressmaking and the Hollywood Pattern Company sold patterns to make the stars’ dresses at home (left). All that was needed was a sewing machine.

This link with fashion, entertainment, industry and machines is fascinating. The power, element, however, short of progressive loosening of undergarments, is less well articulated. The re-emergence of the corset in the 1940s indicates how fashion has power over women rather than the other way around. One way of getting round this for the curators of the DSCF0974exhibition is to dedicate a large section to the dress selection of modern powerful women. A couple of dozen women – for example, designers Zandra Rhodes and Vivienne Westwood, lawyer Shami Chakrabarti, journalist Kirsty Walk, children’s campaigner Camila Batmangehlidjh – donate a garment and explain why it is important to them. This is a bit self-indulgent, a bit of a filler. That said, as the picture (right) shows, one can get up really close to the garments and look at that stitching.

I would say visitors need at least 2 hours to do the exhibition justice. There is a café in the museum, it is worth visiting half-way through to recharge. There is a lot of information to process. A break is needed.

Germany: Memories of a nation exhibition at the British Museum

GermanyNaturally, this exhibition displays an authentic VW Beetle; though you do not need to pay the £10 admission fee to see it. It merely entices visitors in.

First, let me say that I went with my German partner. Her endorsement of the exhibition is praise indeed, knowing all too well that the English, particularly, focus on the country’s Nazi past. This exhibition has something else important to say about the German Nation’s history.

Okay, now to a few quibbles. First, normally I expect to be able to take photographs in an exhibition, not least to upload to this blog. But,book here, photography is not allowed. And it is enforced. One assumes this is to protect the value of the accompanying products that one can buy in the shop including Neil MacGregor’s thick tome (right).

Second, the British Museum is huge. For some reason, the powers that be at the Museum have located this exhibition in, what amounts to, a cupboard. The space is far too small not only for the numbers of visitors, but also the exhibits themselves. And for some inexplicable reason, the British Museum does not seem to have learned too much about exhibiting.

For example, in the years of German hyperinflation, German towns produced their own currencies -they being as valuable as the national currency. Such is the nature of hyperinflation. The towns printed their own bank notes. They were often colourfully printed with very particular designs. In essence, they demanded a very close scrutiny. But the museum has made it virtually impossible to scrutinise these artefacts. They are locked in a glass case set against a wall. They are three or four abreast. Unless one is 2 metres tall, inspecting the detail is impossible.

Strasbourg_clockAnd even those artefacts that are not in glass cases (most seem to be), they are not exhibited at the height that best suits most of us. Take, for example, the exquisite Strasbourg Clock (left). This image features Neil MacGregor, the boss of the British Museum and the author of the book and presenter of the 30-part BBC radio series accompanying the exhibition. The clock enjoys amazing detail in terms of figures and engravings over-and-above the feat of timekeeping technology that makes it work. And rest assured, it is amazing. But actually, I saw more of it on the BBC website (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p028bdxq) than I did at the exhibition. I’m just not tall enough.