We know what our clothes are made from, you only have to look at the label, but do we know which materials are the least and most damaging to the environment? Probably not.
The new fashion exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Fashioned From Nature, gets serious about the impact fashion is having on the world. It starts off fairly simply, looking at the raw and natural materials used in clothing and decoration from the 17th century onwards, and quickly charts the growing appetite for the rare and exotic to decorate the wealthy’s clothes.
Left - Historical dress inspired by nature and new discoveries
Right - Fashion protesting against itself
It’s interesting how our love of nature and the beauty we see in it has made people want to wear it and at the same time destroy it. It's very difficult to strike a balance.
This isn’t your standard fluffy fashion exhibition or one dominated by big names, it’s a thought provoking look about what things are, where they come from and their impact on the environment. But, it’s done in a way that isn’t preaching or has a strong agenda.
It’s sponsored by the European Confederation of Flax and Hemp, but I feel they could have done more to highlight the benefits of wearing flax. (I didn't see hemp mentioned at all). Most commonly made into linen, flax is one of the easiest and least damaging forms of materials to grow and is definitely something we should be wearing more of. It would have been nice to see more with regards to how you can use it, different finishes and something more than being the material of a few seasonal summer shirts and suits. There’s a wall you can touch at the very beginning made of flax. It feels like really dry horse hair.
Left - Lace Bark grown from a tree
Right - Toxic Evening Coat, Madame Grès, 1936
Things I learnt from this exhibition: I’d never heard of ‘Vegetable Ivory’ or ‘Lace-Bark’ before. I didn’t know the bones used in corsetry are called ‘Baleen’, after the type of whale.
Upstairs there is a lot going on. Some pieces are simply inspired by nature while others show new materials made from by-products or waste. ‘Vegea’ uses grape waste from the wine industry to form a leather-substitute and their ‘Grape’ gown is on show, as well as a Ferragamo piece made from ‘Orange Fiber’ derived from waste from the Italian citrus industry and an H&M Conscious dress made from recycled shoreline plastic.
I think educating people - cotton uses ridiculous amounts of pesticides and water - about what they are wearing is important and it would have been good to have seen different materials: wool, flax, cotton compared with one another. These are the main choices people have when shopping.
Fashion in its nature is wasteful and destructive. There’s no logic to moving on from perfectly wearable clothes and buying new ones other than to stay ‘fashionable’. But, that’s how it works and it’s also a huge business employing many people.
We need to be realistic, the odd dress made from recycled plastic bottles isn’t even scratching the surface. We need to look at clothing like other recyclables. Take the components and raw materials apart and reuse into new garments. This would require less fresh materials and would also close the loop on the fashion industry.
Left - Vegetable Ivory
Right - The flax wall
I think it’s naive to ask people to buy less. We need to improve environmental practises, push less destructive options and reuse and recycle more.
Fashion is dictated to by money. The minute it becomes more cost effective to do something, then it will happen. Let’s just hope that's sooner rather than later.
Fashioned from Nature - Victoria & Albert Museum - Fashion, Gallery - 21 April 2018 – 27 Jan 2019 #FashionedFromNature - £12
Below - The 'GuppyFriend' which stops micro particles being released from your washing machine into the environment
The first ever UK exhibition on the Spanish fashion designer, Cristóbal Balenciaga, and his continuing influence on modern fashion opens at the V&A. The exhibition marks the centenary of the opening of Balenciaga’s first fashion house in San Sebastian, Spain and the 80th anniversary of the opening of his famous fashion house in Paris.
Left - The man himself, Cristóbal Balenciaga
TheChicGeek says, “While I love the V&A’s Fashion Gallery, the big exhibition space, where Pink Floyd currently is, is usually larger and something to get more excited about. But, this exhibition feels less cramped than previous exhibitions in the space - see Underwear here - and upstairs has a nice, spacious flow.
Balenciaga, as a designer, was serious. Those black voluminous gowns seem to sum up his lack of fun. He feels strict in that Spanish Catholic way, manifesting itself in his designs using lace and the Spanish Mantilla. You don’t get much feel for the man or his personality, but I think that’s how he liked it. He only gave one interview in his life, and that was just before he died.
Left - Known for his elegant volumes, Balenciaga was one of the great couturiers of the 20th century
The name disappeared into the history books when he closed his house and only came back into common culture with its revival around 20 year's ago when Gucci’s parent company, Kering, bought it alongside Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen.
Downstairs is a collection of pieces, mostly coats and dresses, from his most prolific period the 1960s. These are sculptural clothes for pictures and striking as they are, when they become practical, to enter the real world, particularly the commissions by the rich Americans, they look dated and frumpy. His volumes work on their own, but on people they add bulk and often swallow the wearer. These aren't easy wearing pieces.
Some of his pieces aren’t practical either. The wearer couldn’t sit down or go to the toilet in 'Envelope' dress, for example, but this doesn't detract from its beauty.
This was the golden age of 20th century of couture and while he produced ready-to-wear with his 'Eisa' range, his heart was in his exacting standards and the fine fabrics he used.
Left - The 'Envelope' dress, 1967, a design you couldn't sit down or go to the toilet in
Balenciaga is more a collection of one-off greatest hits than themed seasons in the vain of Saint Laurent. These weren’t particularly well documented, even though they were huge, between 150 to 200 looks, as the press weren’t allowed into his shows, so the main imagery is striking black and white shoots in the magazines at the time which have entered in the common psyche of 20th century fashion images.
Upstairs is a large display with a varied selection of designers, both old and new, paying homage to the volumes that Balenciaga pioneered. There are a couple of men’s pieces by JW Anderson and Rory Parnell-Mooney to illustrate that his influence isn’t restricted solely to womenswear.
Left - JW Anderson paying homage to Balenciaga with his tulip trousers
There are a couple of pieces from the new Balenciaga, under Demna Gvasalia, who is producing great things and referencing the house while making it feel contemporary. Unfortunately, there isn't a blue Ikea bag in sight!
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion until 18th February 2018. Admission £12
This major exhibition at the V&A will explore the era-defining significance and impact of the late 1960s upon life today. From global civil rights, multiculturalism, environmentalism, consumerism, computing, communality to neoliberalist politics, the world we live in has been vitally influenced by five revolutionary years 1966 – 70. You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 70 will investigate the upheaval, the explosive sense of freedom, and the legal changes that took place resulting in a fundamental shift in the mindset of the Western world.
Left - Examples of 60s fashion including this striped suit by Mr Fish
TheChicGeek says, “What a trip! We can never get enough of the sixties; a decade we look back at so fondly and one that defined modern Britain and revitalised London. The Victoria & Albert Museum certainly know where the money is these days: the baby-boomers who have all the time and leisure can reminisce here and let the memories come flooding back, or not depending on how hard they went for it during that decade.
Right - The moves like Jagger! Ossie Clark's velvet jumpsuit for Mick Jagger
Tuning in and dropping out was for the wealthy, but we won’t let that spoil a good story. What makes this exhibition is the headphones and the soundtrack. Much like the Bowie exhibition before it, it allows you to be fully immersed and get lost in the sights and sounds of the decade.
Left - Two of the Beatles suits from the Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover
There’s nothing here that is particularly new, but it’s so well put together it’s a bit like watching a favourite film: you know what is going to happen but you still love it. From Carnaby Street to Vietnam to Black Power to Woodstock and finally Lennon’s Imagine, the exhibition looks at the idea of challenging the establishment and looking for alternative ways of thinking and living, many of which still resonate today.
Right - The Woodstock area features fake grass, bean bags and costumes and footage from the 1960s most famous festivals
There is plenty of menswear here too. From Mr Fish to Ossie Clark’s jumpsuit for Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix’s festival costumes.
I can’t recommend this exhibition enough. I think it was the longest time I’ve ever spent in a V&A exhibition. There is so much to look at and read, plus the headphones really allow you to zone out and tune in!”
Left - The jacket John Lennon wore in the Imagine video
Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear at the Victoria & Albert Museum displays more than 200 examples of men’s and women’s underwear from about 1750 to the present day.
Left - An example of 18th century men's underclothes. I'm guessing this just feel off, eventually!
In particular, it investigates how underwear design combines the practical and personal with the sensory and fashionable, in the process both protecting and enhancing the body.
Right - Not so much underwear, but Michelangelo's David's Victorian modesty leaf
TheChicGeek says, “Situated in the centre of the V&A’s fashion room, this exhibition starts with a room explaining the different constructs and changes in time of men’s and women’s undergarments up to the present day. Ultimately, underwear is there for support and keeping your clothes clean. Sexuality and feeling attractive does play a part, but this room is a clinical look at the architecture of underwear. Men’s examples included 18th century underclothes, underwear in those days meant anything worn next to the skin, Jockey Y-Fronts from the 1950s and Aussiebum's bulge enhancing pants.
Left - 1950s Jockey Y-Fronts & David Beckham for H&M
"Upstairs there was a loose idea of connecting fashion to underwear. What resulted was a disjointed collection of random items including loungewear and corseted outerwear. While nice, it didn’t really pick out the key points or moments in fashion that involved underwear or underwear gravitating into outerwear. Where was the famous Jean Paul Gaultier conical bodice of the late 80s or the 90s Dolce & Gabbana dresses with the bra straps? The exhibition needs a little more sex, there was no Bruce Weber for Calvin Klein images from the 1980s which pioneered the objection of men or the hyper-sexual male images that we’ve seen over the last two decades from the likes of Tom Ford or DSquared. While the underwear is here, the body that goes into them seems to have been forgotten and the two definitely go together."
Until 12th March 2017
A new exhibition charting the emergence of the modern male wardrobe has opened at the Jewish Museum in Camden, London .
This new exhibition tells the story of men’s fashion and the emergence of the modern male wardrobe – taking visitors on a journey from the tailoring workshops of the mid-19th century to the boutique revolution and mod culture of the Swinging 60s. The story is told through the huge number of Jewish companies who were at the forefront of the major developments and changes in the design, manufacturing and retail of men’s clothing from the mid-19th to late 20th century.
Right - Cecil Gee, who helped bring the 1960s Italian Mod look to London, in his Shaftesbury Avenue store in the 1960s. I love the birdcage
For over 100 years British menswear set trends which led the world – and many of the most influential figures of that period were Jews, from Montague Burton and Moses Moss to Cecil Gee and Michael Fish.
Left & Below - Mr Fish outfit & label on a 'Kipper' tie from his store in Mayfair
TheChicGeek says, “I hadn’t been to the Jewish Museum before and, as far as I know, this is the first exhibition they’ve had dedicated to menswear. It’s a concise and compact exhibition starting with the early mass suit producers such as Burton and Moses Moss up to the colourful Peacock Males of Carnaby Street.
It’s a simple timeline with lots of images and a few films illustrating the processes these manufacturers invented and also giving a feel of the time these things were happening.
I didn’t realise so many of the Carnaby street sixties brands such as Mr Fish, Granny Takes A Trip, Lord John etc. were all Jewish and it’s always a joy to see this colourful chapter in British menswear.
The exhibition is perfectly timed as the Mr Fish label is set to return under new ownership. The original Michael Fish is said to not be very well and he doesn’t have many examples of his own work left, unfortunately. The exhibition does has a couple of pieces, including one of his famous ‘Kipper’ ties, lent by the Victoria & Albert museum. While Jewishness doesn't necessarily have an influence on the product, this is a celebration of the Jewish community's input into British menswear over the last 150 years."
Until 19th June 2016