Fashion exhibit review: The Golden Age of Couture (Paris and London 1947-1957)
Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)
Until 6 January 2008
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Review by: Alexa Williamson
Following the end of World War II – and the practical garments that were designed for that lean period – the fashion world again began to whirl with excitement, creativity and lavishness as there was once more the freedom and resource to create spendid clothing.
In this well thought out exhibit that spans several rooms at the V&A, we explore, as Christian Dior called it, The Golden Age of Couture, which kicked off with his New Look style on 12 February 1947and centred around ladies’ suits that comprised a jacket with sloping shoulders and long pencil skirt that was cinched high at the waist. According to fashion experts, Dior’s aim with this style suit was for it to be the antithesis of the “masculine” wartime fashion and the look was summed up by London couturier John Cavanagh, as “a total glorification of the female form”.
After the exhibit begins with an exploration of the New Look, it delves into the world of high couture – the dazzling and ornate dresses from the period. Mainly a sumptuous display of ballgowns and cocktail dresses, this is the most exciting part of the exhibit with offerings from the leading Parisian fashion houses of the time – Christobal Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain and Jacques Fath. Each dress, seems to have been created in a painstaking manner as if it were a delicate and richly decorated cake. However these creations are made of mouthwatering layers of heavy silk, organza, velvet, chiffon, satin or chenille, which are bedecked in pearls, diamante, feathers, and lace.
Shoes of the period are also explored including the invention of the comma heel (which literally looks like one) by Roger Vivier and interestingly, that the stiletto was created by Dior. Plus, other exhibit highlights include Theatre de la Mode dolls, photography, and the legacy of the period (ie how The New Look has affected today’s fashions).
For those who are looking for a delightful afternoon, looking at pretty things and learning something historic, then this exhibit is worth checking out.