V&A Wedding Dresses, Abram Games – Jewish Museum, Women Fashion Power – Design Museum.

Just back from a couple of days break in London before the unpleasantnesses of next week (see end of previous post).
   Started out in the V&A.  Philosopher had wanted to see an exhibition of  Russian theatre designs, but we started with the Wedding Dresses, which I had fancied seeing. Battleaxe would recommend it. No photographs were allowed, which is always annoying, but there are plenty on the internet. Here are a few:

Cotton – 1841. Wedding dresses weren’t always white, and were designed to be worn again.
Norman Hartnell, worn by Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, 1933
Dita von Teese in her Vivienne Westwood wedding dress, loaned to the exhibition
Kate Moss – Galliano

     Then we ate in the cafe – it has to be one of the worst laid out and most crowded eateries in the UK – before seeking out the Russian Avant-garde theatre designs, which were tucked away at the top at the back of the museum – I had never been up there before. Philosopher is very interested in the radical Russian art which emerged after the Revolution, and some of the stuff was indeed wonderful:

Costume Design, Vladimir Tatlin 1915
Constructivist stage set, Alexander Exter

    The V&A is the most amazing place. On our way from the theatre section we passed through the Jewellery, which again I had never visited. It was absolutely, totally, stunning….. The gallery itself is a positive glitter palace, obviously redesigned quite recently – totally recommended for a visit.

Beautiful V&A Jewellery Gallery

     We stayed the night in the Premier Inn near Tate Modern – have stayed there before, and last time we invoked the Money Back guarantee because the room was noisy. This time it was fine – just as well, because we would not have dared ask again!
     Next day, we started off at the Jewish Museum, in Camden Town. Philosopher had wanted to see ‘Designing the Twentieth Century’, the Life and Work of Abram Games. Many people may not have heard of Games, but he designed some very familiar images, including the 1951 Festival of Britain logo. The exhibition was excellent.

Wartime – this poster was withdrawn because the woman was ‘too beautiful’/
London Zoo
Festival of Britain logo

     We had a look round the rest of the Museum. It is well worth a visit, but felt more than a little strange for me because I am currently ploughing through the most disturbing, powerful – and brutal – novel about WW2 I have ever read. ‘The Kindly Ones’ by Jonathan Littell looks at the Holocaust and Nazism through the eyes of an SS officer. Hastings Battleaxe would recommend this book with a health warning – not for the faint-hearted. It drags you into an unspeakably evil, chaotic world.
      Lastly, we went down south again for my final choice, the ‘Women, Fashion, Power’ exhibition at the Design Museum. It was one of the most annoying and pointless exhibitions I have ever seen – just totally fatuous. It just seemed to be an opportunity for a load of luvvy women to present their favourite outfits, rather than any sort of reasoned examination of why women choose particular clothes in order to look/feel powerful. Is it about projecting femininity and sexuality? Is it about apeing men? Is it about clothes as armour? As disguise? About attracting attention?
      For example, they had a display of corsets, with no narrative or interpretation – no mention of the paradox inherent in wearing such garments. On the one hand, the constriction makes the wearer faint – not powerful. On the other hand, the constriction makes the wearer feel stronger, more grounded. A corset projects a powerfully sexual image – dominatrices, burlesque dancers – and so on. When women left off their corsets in the 1920s, they were freer – but they bound their breasts to appear like young girls….
     Another example, at the start, they had a parade of pictures of apparently powerful women. Hatshepsut in her male Pharoah’s outfit – fine. Joan of Arc in her armour – fine. Then opposite, Maggie Thatcher, in her suit – fine, but next to Jackie Kennedy, the ultimate victim…
     The exhibition was designed by Zaha Hadid, and one of her very distinctive outfits was on show. But why does she choose to dress as she does? What do her clothes do for her? We aren’t told.
     I felt really fired up with rage, and ranted unstoppably to Philosopher for about the next hour….
     I’ll finish with a woman dressing for power who was not even referred to in the exhibition – Elizabeth I. This is the ‘Ermine Portrait’ by Nicholas Hilliard. For scholars of symbolism, every aspect of her ensemble conveys meaning, and yet the black and white outfit was also one of her own personal favourites.

Elizabeth I – The Ermine Portrait


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