Sunday, 29 July 2018

Ocean Liners at the V&A

My dissertation is due to be handed in 9 weeks on Tuesday (gulp) and the Dissertation Police* have made it very clear that attempting to get an extension to this date is not acceptable. So blog posts for the next couple of months are likely to be short and sweet - and getting shorter as the deadline approaches!

As a result, this week's post consists of photographs from the recent Ocean Liners: Speed and Style exhibition at the V&A, which I managed to visit a couple of days before it closed. Naturally I was most interested in the clothing on display, but I did take some other shots.

Advertising posters

I was fascinated by this poster advertising something I had never thought about; the first voyage of the Titanic - from New York. I wonder what happened to people who had bought tickets, other than feeling a strong sense of relief?

Sailing on 20 April - or not

This tiara belonged to Marguerite, Lady Allan, who was travelling on the Lusitania when it was torpedoed and sunk in 1915. Her two daughters were among those drowned, but she survived along with her two maids. One of the maids somehow managed to keep hold of the tiara, even though none of the party was in a lifeboat and the ship sank beneath them.

Tiara! (Gina - one for you!)

There was strong competition between the various liner companies, and as part of this they were keen to publicise any stars travelling on their ships. Marlene Dietrich was filmed on one voyage, and photographed wearing this Dior suit when she arrived in New York on the Queen Elizabeth in December 1950.

Christian Dior day suit, wool, 1949

Film still of Marlene Dietrich in a fabulous hat

Fashions for lounging by the pool were displayed in a suitable setting.

Swimwear from various eras

Most of the clothing on display however was evening wear.

'Salambo' dress belonging to Emile Grigsby, Lanvin, 1925

Close-up of the dress, showing the beading on silk georgette

Evening wear belonging to Emile Grigsby, pieces left and centre by Poiret

A feature of ocean liners was the 'grande descente'; a large staircase down which passengers could parade to dinner each evening, dressed in their finest gowns. For the exhibition the V&A recreated the three ensembles shown above, to create film footage of the clothes in motion. You can read more about it here.

With the 'grande descente' film showing in the background

Post-World War II liners had a very different look. This display featured an illuminated panel from the private restaurant on the SS United States, and a dress used in an advertisement for the Andrea Doria.

Even the table has stars on it

Also in the exhibition were some of the souvenirs which were sold on board the liners. Unfortunately I forgot to take a note of any of the details.

'Queen Mary' blouse

Clutch bag, quite literally 'ship-shape'

* - The Dissertation Police are two of my friends who (with occasional input from my mum) have taken it upon themselves to demand regular updates on my progress, and generally make sure that I'm not slacking. One of them has even got her cat to join in; he has proved remarkably adept at texting, and regularly gets in touch to enquire how many words I have written!

This is the baleful look I get if my output is considered unsatisfactory!


  1. Good luck with the dissertation. Yes, the "police" are right: your delightful and much anticipated blog posts will be considered displacement activity (i.e. procrastination!) until the research is handed in. I will *really* look forward to their resumption at that time, though!!

    1. Thank you! There will be some blog activity - my late husband wanted me to keep the blog going, and I promised him that I would, but it will be short and sweet.