September 15, 2007

The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957 at V&A London




Victoria and Albert Museum, London

22 September 2007 - 6 January 2008


‘A golden age seemed to have come again’. Christian Dior, 1948

The V&A’s exhibition, The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957, explore one of the most glamorous and remarkable decades in fashion history. Starting with the impact of Christian Dior’s New Look after the Second World War, it looks at the work of Dior and his contemporaries during the period when haute couture was at its height.

Coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the launch of the New Look in 1947, the exhibition will show how Dior’s ballerina-skirted dresses signalled the return to luxury and elegance after wartime austerity. It will examine the world of couture, highlighting the work of Dior, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain in Paris and their London counterparts Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies. Other successful designers of the time - such as Fath, Griffe, Stiebel, and Michael of London - will feature in a broad survey of the decade.

More than 100 dresses will be on display including daywear, cocktail and evening dresses made for society and royalty alongside photographs by Cecil Beaton and Richard Avedon and original Hollywood and documentary film. There will be audio recordings, textiles and archival material such as bills of sales and letters. More than 95 per cent of the dresses are from the V&A’s own fashion collections.

In a decade when Dior set the popular style, with couture’s ripple effect influencing women’s fashion at every level, the exhibition will trace how Dior created the most successful fashion business model of the 20th century through advertising, licensing, perfume and publicity. It will reflect the sense of pride in Parisian couture that emerged in France after the war and examine the world of haute couture: designers, the history of couture, the houses, practices, clients, workshops and dissemination into popular fashion. A section will focus on handcraft and techniques, with undergarments and the insides of dresses on display.

The exhibition will show the distinct characteristics of the London couture houses, their strengths in tailoring and the formality of court and debutante gowns. Several dresses made for the Queen and Princess Margaret and other aristocratic clients by British designers will be on display.

The V&A has tracked down and purchased several couture gowns for the exhibition. One is a Givenchy blue cape (1957), identical to the one worn by Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Another is a Givenchy black wool dress suit (1955) worn by Leslie Caron. An exciting find is a red version of Dior’s glamorous Zemire (1954), a full length skirt, bodice and long jacket discovered in a cellar near the Seine in Paris, and previously known only through archive photographs. Other purchases include a red silk Dior Ecarlate cocktail dress (Autumn/Winter 1955-56), a Givenchy two-piece print day dress (1956) and a rare Jacques Griffe halter-neck evening dress (1950). New research has been carried out on many of the dresses for the exhibition, and around 70 have been especially conserved.

Mark Jones, Director of the V&A, said: “The exhibition celebrates an important decade in fashion history which had a huge influence on the way women dressed and the way the fashion industry evolved. The V&A is lucky to have a superb collection of dresses from this period. This exhibition has been an exceptional opportunity to research the V&A collections and to tell the story of the couture industry after the war.”

The exhibition will finish with a small selection of pieces of contemporary haute couture taken from the Autumn/Winter 2005/06 collection of designer John Galliano for Christian Dior in Paris, a collection which was an homage to the skills of Dior.


The Golden Age of Couture: Paris and London 1947-1957
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
22 September 2007 - 6 January 2008

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