Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950

Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950: 19 May 2012 - 6 January 2013

Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950: 19 May 2012 - 6 January 2013

Every little girl dreams of one day attending a fairytale ball and catching the eye of Prince charming; the glitz, the romance, the promise of living happily-ever-after, and most importantly, the dress. Loathe though many may be to admit it, the Cinderella fantasy never dies. Such is the hope of the organisers behind the Victoria & Albert Museum’s newest exhibition which opens this weekend, the highly anticipated Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950.  

Set in the newly renovated fashion galleries, the exhibition spans sixty years of unadulterated glamour. Dresses on display include everything from the work of early British couturiers such as Norman Hartnell, Catherine Walker and Victor Stiebel, to contemporary confections by London’s current fashion leaders including Stella McCartney, Jonathan Saunders and Christopher Kane. 20th century gowns are showcased in an array of picturesque country house backdrops, especially designed for the exhibition by Emily Pugh. More modern versions are placed around a scattering of oversized pearls, the ultimate ballroom accessory.

A fitting tribute to English pride during the Golden Jubilee year…

Originally associated with debutante balls and royal state occasions, evening wear has come a long way since 1950, but whilst the aesthetics of the ballgown has changed considerably over the years, the long-standing tradition of designers closing their catwalk collections with their tour de force evening wear piece will never change. The ballgown acts as a bigger and altogether more impressive canvas for the designer to demonstrate intricate work: exquisite embroidery and painstaking beadwork, layered on to luxurious fabrics to vreate a spectacle.

The royal ballgowns in the exhibition include dresses by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood, as favoured by today’s young royals. That’s not to say the royal hits of the past don’t get a look in and Princess Diana’s unforgettable ‘Elvis’ dress by Catherine Walker is hard to miss. Also on display are gowns by Hardy Amies; the British intelligence officer turned dressmaker to the Queen; and couture creations by John Cavanagh.

Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950 offers a beautifully presented and visually arresting synopsis of the styles and silhouettes that have been popular over the past sixty years. Over the span of six decades, the mighty ballgown has represented many different things. During wartime it symbolised escapism. When peace had returned it stood as a sign of prosperity. In times of severe hardship, the sight of a lady in a dazzling dress could bring hope. This particular exhibition serves as a stunning celebration of the sartorial splendour offered up by British dress-designers and a fitting tribute to English pride during the Golden Jubilee year.

By Theodora Barker

Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950: 19 May 2012 - 6 January 2013

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