Whether you’re a dedicated follower of the fashion world or you simply want to look at some pretty dresses (and trust me, they don’t get much prettier than this) then the Victoria and Albert Museum’s current exhibition, ‘The Golden Age of Couture’, is well worth a visit. Anyone who dares to claim your interest in all things fashion is nothing more than a simple preoccupation with clothing, is about to be proved wrong. The exhibition offers a real insight into both the production and business side of the fashion industry in London and Paris, looking at the beginnings of couture fashion houses such as Dior, Balenciaga and Chanel. The historical detail is impressive, especially if you get the audio guide, which offers an account of couture from the ‘golden age’ of decadence in the post war years, to the artistic creations of John Galliano in the present day. There is an array of dresses to drool over donated by some of those most notable faces of the last 50 years, including Princess Margaret and Lady Alexandra. Alexandra also gives her accounts of the fitting sessions, the designers and the events she wore these amazing outfits for.

But you’d be mistaken to think this is all about frocks, the exhibition also displays undergarments including corsets and petticoats, as well as hats, gloves, bags and even perfume. There is also a vast show case of couture tailoring, ball gowns and cocktail dresses as well as a section on magazine representation of couture, displaying covers and fashion shoots from all the most prestigious titles in fashion journalism.

But where this exhibition really has value is in the way it charts the development of fashion across the time period and examines the place of couture in a changing society. The upper class of the 1950’s had strict dress codes to observe starting in the morning with day wear, followed by afternoon dresses, then cocktail dresses, and ending with dance and evening dresses. As social codes began to break down so did the success of the couture industry, with couture lines now being more about the designer show casing their artistic talent, with many pieces never intending to be bought or even worn. Although the breakdown of classes has been a positive social movement, its impact on the fashion industry has been mixed. Now designers produce ready to wear and diffusion lines so their clothes are available to all, (even desperately broke students!) but the role of couture wear has unfortunately died out. This exhibition is a fantastic celebration of what made fashion so great, something that our generation may otherwise never be aware of. So if you’re looking for the perfect excuse to spend a whole day looking at clothes (and this will be one of the only times in doing so that you manage to spend only £5) then the exhibition is running right up until 6th January 2008 or go to the website for more details-www.vam.ac.uk.

By Ruth Hazard
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