A Tale of Two Wedding Dresses

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Something which I have always been interested in, and that now forms part of my new job (I know, I know will tell you all about that soon enough), are the different ways museums and galleries choose to display exhibits. These two dresses might be the last things you would expect to find in an art gallery, but here they are in Manchester Art Gallery, Mosely Street. The small exhibition illustrates how the designer Vivienne Westwood took inspiration from the 18th Century by showing one of her dresses in a room full of period paintings and of course a dress from 1765. Designers often state times and places of inspiration, yet it is difficult to get inside their mindset without having prior knowledge of what they are quoting. This exhibit lets the viewer envelope themselves in the art work of the time, whilst also having the rare opportunity to compare an 18th C dress with a Westwood design it inspired.
I am particularly interested in peoples history, so was delighted to read that the Westwood dress was in fact the wedding dress of the museum director. How wonderful to see your wedding dress everyday in your place of work, than have it hidden in the back of your closet!

 Raiding History: Vivienne Westwood and the 18th Century

‘..it’s so important to look at the past. Because people did have taste, and they did have ideas of excellence, and those things are not going to come unless people look at the past.’ Vivienne Westwood

British fashion designer Vivienne Westwood is famous for her re-interpretations of historic dress and textiles. Here we have displayed one of her couture gowns with a dress and portraits from the 1700s to show how the art inspires her.

Wedding dress 2010 designed by Vivienne Westwood (1941-)

Evening gown in printed blue and silver chine silk. The delicate fabric, pastel colours, full skirts and corseting of this gown recall the open and sack back  dresses of the 1700s. Typically of Westwood however, the dress is not a copy or pastiche. The past is combined with her own ideas to create new and original clothes for our time. This dress was worn as her wedding dress by Maria Balshaw, Director of the Manchester City Galleries. Dress on loan from Maria Balshaw to Manchester City Galleries.

Wedding dress (Open robe) 1765

(Sack back) gown or ‘robe a la francaise’ in pale blue and silver figured silk. The ‘Sack back’ gown was the most formal type of women’s dress in the late 1700s. It was reserved for official occasions such as receptions, weddings and appearances at court. Like many silk dresses from the period this example has been altered a great deal. The dress is said to have been worn as her wedding dress by Sarah Gamson from Gringly-super-Montem in Nottinghamshire. Sarah was born in 1750 and married age 15 in 1765. Manchester City Galleries 1947.137.

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Funnily enough, the day I saw this exhibition my friend Chris gave me these two books on historical fashion one including dresses from the 1700s!

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Kobi Levi Shoe Exhibition

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From top: Flamingo, Cheerleader, Coffee, Market Trolly, Slide

Kobi Levi is most famously know for his quirky, often cartoon-like footwear designs. The Israeli designer pushes boundaries by taking every day objects and interpreting them into shoes. Most of the designs are fun (‘Blond Ambition’ and Banana’) however some are sexual (‘Blow’ and ‘XXX’) others somewhat disturbing (‘Mother & Daughter’ and ‘Double Boots‘). From court shoes to mules, wedges to boots Levi’s imagination has no limits.

“In my artistic footwear design the shoe is my canvas. The trigger to create a new piece comes when an idea, a concept and/or an image comes to mind. The combination of the image and footwear creates a new hybrid and the design/concept comes to life. The piece is a wearable sculpture. It is “alive” with/out the foot/body. Most of the inspirations are out of the “shoe-world”, and give the footwear an extreme transformation. The result is usually humoristic with a unique point of view about footwear. Another aspect of the creation is the realization.” Kobi Levi

You can see more Kobi Lev designs on his blog or visit the exhibition and other displays of shoes, at the Northampton Shoe Museum.

A Vivienne Westwood Country Gent

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Vivienne Westwood ‘Savile’ jacket in tartan tweed,┬á with wool trousers and waistcoat. Velvet smoking slipper ‘Rocking Horse’ shoes, 1996. Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

A striking ensemble in the V&A fashion gallery. Classic Westwood tailoring featuring a ‘drunken’ tailored waistcoat and ‘Teddy Boy’ structured jacket. The tartan and velvet slippers for a real country gent look -with a twist!

This outfit always reminds me of my fabulous friend Chris as I could just see him wearing it. I also like seeing continued use of traditional tartans in Westwood work, the dark green, blues and greys have been a firm favourite Even this season the Menswear featured a stunning selection of suiting in the Black Watch tartan. The Smoking Slipper Rocking Horse shoe is not longer produced however the slipper style has been back with a bang this past year thanks to Mr Louboutin’s ‘Rollerball’ studded slipper. Westwood have produced the most stunning Union Jack printed slipper which would be the perfect finish to a dark tartan suit. I admit if they had come in smaller sizes I would have bought myself a pair. Good job I have so many male friends I can play dress up with!

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Do you ever dress up your friends in your mind? Or imagine who might have worn the clothes on display?

Taking History Outside the Museum – Opinions Please!

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Vivienne Westwood exhibit some of their vintage shoes in the Conduit Street store window for a Fashion Night Out event. Image courtesy Vivienne Westood Ltd.

What do you think about museums?

That might seem an odd question, I bet almost everyone reading this has been to a museum in their life time. Perhaps you frequent you local museum often, take a special trip for new exhibitions, appreciate their air-con when on holiday or remember seeing the dinosaurs on a school trip when you were young. But, what do you really think about them? Are they something you get excited about? Or a place which only enters your thoughts on a rainy day?

How about with regards to fashion? Do you imagine them full of dusty old clothes from the Victorian ere, irrelevant today? Recently there has been something of a shift in the way fashion and museums relate. There have been more current fashion exhibitions such as the Valentino exhibit on right now at Somerset House, the Ballgowns at the V&A and the Christian Louboutin exhibition at Design museum. The exhibition may seem a little more current but they are still being held in traditional museum contexts. In contrast to this there are some exhibitions which are bursting out of the box so to speak. The Chanel exhibition at Harrods, Vivienne Westwood shoes at Selfridges. Would you feel more inclined to visit an exhibition if it were in a more accessible location? Do you think it seems less formal holding an exhibition in a retail space? Would it seem more fun perusing displays as you would do on a clothes shopping trip rather than gazing at traditional museum cases?

I have included some photo’s here of some traditional and more edgy exhibition spaces. I would really like to know your thoughts.

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The Sneaking into Fashion temporary exhibition hosted by Javari.co.uk, displayed the shoes in cases along the main walk way in convent garden making it easy for people to view as they shopped

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The Louboutin exhibition displayed the shoes in innovative ways, no glass cases here! Image via ibtimes.com.

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The V&A recently acquired a set of Japanese Lolita fashion outfit to show the diverse trend in their ‘Kitty and the Bulldog’ exhibition, it is displayed amongst the traditional Japanese history collection.

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A traditional museum display at Northampton Shoes museum however this display has bright and colourful information boards behind the shoes to give them context and tell a story

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Northampton Shoe museum show a blown-up photo of Naomi Campbell taking her famous runway tumble in the Vivienne Westwood ‘Super elevated Gille’ shoes. Do you like to see the background to the shoe illustrated rather than just lots of text?

If you have any other thoughts or opinions on museums at all I’d like to hear them. Is there anything that puts you off visiting? Do you think museums should be there for education or entertainment?

Which of the displays above is your favourite and why?

Wearable Art: Milly J Customised Shoes

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Last week I went to visit Northampton Shoe Museum. The Museum is one of the largest collections of shoes in Europe and covers the entire ground floor. There are two permanent exhibition rooms, a changing exhibition space and the ‘Shoe Lounge’. The lounge is an a gallery which also boasts comfortable couches so you can have a coffee surrounded by fabulous shoes. The show space in the gallery at the moment is filled with the awe inspiring creations of Milly J, from shoe sculptures to wearable art, they are a thing to behold. I particularly liked the pink wedge ankle boots and the court shoes covered in orange slices. Enjoy!

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The Original Crinoline

Crinoline 1860-65, sprung steel frame covered with wool and linen, Victoria & Albert Museum, London

I saw this beautiful crinoline at the V&A during my last visit. Looking up close at all the wire involved, made from steel and how it would hang from the waist by a slim belt really makes you reaslise how uncomfortable, even painful they could have been. Yet wear them women did. It doesn’t seem to matter what decade or country you look at in history, there will always be people going to extreme lengths for fashion.

The Importance of Displays

Or a post alternately titled WTF!

My friend took these photo’s on her iPhone and sent them to me whilst visiting Coventry’s Herbert Museum. She knew I would be appalled by the way this Chanel wedding gown was displayed. I really just cannot see why anyone in their right mind would curate such a piece with so little disdain? Surely illusion wire or simply covering the mannequin with muslin if it was dirty would have be cheap and simple enough, but a white ‘Primark’ t-shirt is just insane, it actually takes the focus off the dress as it is so bright and lurid!


On the other hand this fabulous display at the Textiles Dept, University of Manchester is a wonder unto itself. The garments are printed in 3D and the 3D glasses suspended on the window so you can view the print in all its glory! Absolute genius, in my opinion.

Please can someone give me a job as curator of a costume / fashion / textile gallery, or let me win the lottery so I can set up my own, I am sure it is my life’s calling.
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P.S Thanks so much for all your comments on the last post, I love you guys and feel much better after a good old rant LOL xx