Sunday, 15 December 2019

Contrasts at the Fashion and Textile Museum

Two very different styles currently on display

The V&A wasn't the only costume-related visit I made on my most recent London trip; I also went to the Fashion and Textile Museum.

Their current exhibition is Zandra Rhodes: 50 Years of Fabulous, which marks the 50th anniversary of the eponymous fashion house. I must admit that I tend to think of Zandra Rhodes designs as frilly, loud, often shiny, and frequently pink - so pretty much the antithesis of my own preferences! But, I also think it's worth exploring beyond your own preferences.*

Archetypal (for me) Zandra Rhodes, from 1981

The ground floor of the exhibition displays a number of Rhodes' designs, and I must admit that at this point, I wasn't getting a lot out of it.




But then upstairs I came across this display.

The design process

Rhodes is at heart a textile designer, who turned to fashion design when she felt that others weren't making the best use of her fabrics. This display shows just how much the textile and clothing are linked.

Once a design is created, it is handpainted onto kodatraces, which are then used to transfer it onto silk screens for printing, and pattern cards are created to indicate the colour combinations. The fabric is then printed, and a garment created from it using a combination of fashion sketches and draping on a dress stand.


Silk screens

Pattern card

Chiffon panel

The designs can be revisited, and very different garments produced. The pattern illustrated here is from Rhodes' 'Mexican' collection and dates from 1976, but was reused in 2019.

Dresses from 1976 and 2019

Also upstairs is the 'Chiffon Forest', a selection of textiles dating from 1969 to 2019.

Silk chiffons in pinks and yellows

It seemed a shame to imagine cutting into this one

Once I understood the process, dresses like this one made a lot more sense.

From 1976

A different designer, and a very different aesthetic is on display in the small downstairs room.

Norman Hartnell - A Tribute looks at the first British 'Fashion Knight'. He is now mostly known for being a royal dressmaker and for his beautifully embroidered and beaded clothes.

Evening coat, circa 1940

Embroidery for the royal wedding dress, 1947

Blue and white embroidered dress and short evening coat, circa 1953

Publicity shot of the same designs

However he also designed clothes for the government's Utility scheme, and the display includes a Pathé newsreel film about the collection. I recognised the dress on the left (apologies for the poor image quality) as being one of the ones I included in this post.

The dresses being modelled in the 'salon' . . .

. . . and photographed outdoors

The film also includes alarming (to me, anyway) footage of a cutter using a bandsaw with absolutely no safety features whatsoever to cut through multiple layers of fabric. I did wonder how many of these people ended their careers with the same number of fingers as they had started with!

Aaaargh! I do love how they are using irons as weights, though

If this hasn't put you off, you can watch the whole feature here.

Both the Zandra Rhodes and Norman Hartnell exhibitions continue at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 26 January 2020.

* - A few times I have been to an exhibition and come out feeling that my prejudices were both justified and confirmed, but this only happens occasionally. It's very rare for me to get nothing at all from my attempts to widen my interests.

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