V and A British Design: exhibition review

So last weekend I went to see the new show at the V&A – British Design, 1948-2012.

This exhibition definitely wins on the ‘oohs per square inch’ factor. Everywhere you look there’s something that makes you shout across to whoever you came with ‘ooh, come and have a look at this one!’.

There are some beautiful clothes on display, including one little section with dresses by Alexander MacQueen, John Galliano, and Hussain Chalayan. The Chalayan  dress is breathtakingly great and insane, this huge, bleeding, tulle egg which probably has like 500 metres of fabric in. The picture below does it no justice. It just goes to show how different it is seeing things in real life and seeing them on screen, something I often forget (I blame Pinterest).

Hussain Chalayan tulle dress
Tulle egg dress by Hussain Chalayan

I was also pleased to see an Ossie Clark/Celia Birtwell dress which I always visit in the V&A fashion galleries, which are currently being renovated. It was like bumping into an old friend who is now famous, I felt so proud that it was getting a moment in the spotlight. Hope they put it back on permanent display, along with my other favourite, a green velvet Elizabethean riding jacket I always go and say hi to.

Rubbish artist's impression of the dress from a few years ago
Rubbish artist's impression of the Ossie Clark V&A dress from a few years ago

Another highlight was the small clutch of stagewear from rock stars. I loved these because they looked so worn-out and used. The Marc Bolan gold lame suit (below) had a rip in one sleeve that had been patched up with safety pins. There was also a David Bowie knitted jumpsuit, rather scandalously high-cut in one leg, which was all bobbly. That jumpsuit has definitely seen some action.

Marc Bolan gold lame suit by Granny Takes a Trip

The first room in the exhibition is packed full of all this lovely public British design from the 50s. Things like re-designed road signs which are easier to use, and new unified rail signage for a new nationalised rail service (now fragmented into expensive privatised pieces). The weirdest thing were these gorgeous 60s posters for Milton Keynes, which somehow made it sound like a modern utopia, full of trees, space, culture and light. Now MK seems like a punchline for every suburban joke. Where did all the optimism go?

There’s even a photo in a later section which makes motorways look glamorous – a couple leaning against an E-type Jag on the newly opened, totally empty M1. The caption said that it seems to ‘predict all the youthful excitement of the coming decade’. This made me a bit sad. Any trace of glamour along the M1 has long long ago vanished into oblivion. Although I can see a fashion shoot taking place in a motorway service station now, I suspect it would be of the ‘Look at the beautiful model amongst the hideous, chip-eating proles!’ style.

E-Type Jaguar on the M1 Mororway, 1960. Photo by Brian Duffy.
E-Type Jaguar on the M1 Mororway, 1960. Photo by Brian Duffy.

The exhibition also features the classic Robin Day polyprop chair which we bought two in the John Lewis sale last year (one is my sewing chair!). It’s such a great design and the bright yellow always cheers me up. They’re selling them in the V&A shop.

Robin day polyprop chair (in my house, not in the exhibition obvs)

Last but not least, I had to mention this fabric by textile designer Shirley Craven. It’s called Simply Solar and I love it.

Simply solar by Shirley Craven
Simply solar by Shirley Craven

An exhibition worth a visit, I reckon.

4 thoughts on “V and A British Design: exhibition review

  1. Anna April 11, 2012 / 5:24 PM

    Thanks for this review. I was a little on the fence whether I wanted to go, but now I know I do. My desire to see paid fashion exhibitions at the V&A has waned a bit after the cramped couture show and the very ungenerous Yamamoto show – I couldn’t believe he had expressly said no sketching (as well as the more usual no photos) and the V&A, such a great public educational resource agreed to it. Time to suck it up and return.

  2. MariaDenmark April 8, 2012 / 12:29 PM

    Well, that settles it: I have to go to London this year as well (but NOT during the Olympics, though). When will I find the time before August 12 (when the exhibition closes) I don’t know… But I must see this!

    • yesilikethat April 8, 2012 / 2:25 PM

      I don’t think I want to be in London during the Olympics either! Hope you get to see the exhibition, it’s really good.

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