Special Futures – Behind the Scenes at Manchester Gallery of Costume

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DIY punk outfit made by the donor in the 70’s

Every time you visit a museum you are seeing things picked out for collection and display by a series of curators and conservators, but have you ever stopped to consider why these specific things were chosen? Some might seem obviously beautiful, by a famous artist or designer, others shabby yet with a wonderful story attached. I was lucky enough to visit the Manchester Gallery of Costume archive this week and whilst chatting to curator Miles Lambert we mused how random it can be this collecting of things. Indeed what the hands of fate determine fit for such a ‘special future’ as Miles charmingly put it. Once in the museum collection, each item is cared for and respectfully kept, be it a Charles Worth gown or an H&M t-shirt. Monetary value isn’t important here but the value of knowledge and learning it can bring.

At the gallery you can request to see any item they have if they aren’t already on display, you just need to make an appointment. Anyone can do this, you don’t have to be a researcher, you can do it for pure pleasure. The collection is there for all of us. You can also view the collections online. I’ve wrote about the gallery numerous times, I could never get tired of visiting and if you are in Manchester be sure to pay a visit. The changing exhibition in currently Christian Dior which I reviewed for Style.Etc magazine and will tell you more about soon.

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Jacket with tails by Charles Worth

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Givenchy dress belonging to Audrey Hepburn

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Schiaparelli coat with gilt metal embroidery 

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Exhibition: My Favourite Shoe, Westfield London

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My Favourite Shoe

Have you ever wondered what inspires designers in creating their new collections? Ever wondered which shoes of their own design have a special place in the designers hearts? Or even what their work spaces look like?

The ‘My Favourite Shoe’ exhibition currently at Westfield, Shepard’s Bush, London (due to tour soon), delves into the designers psyche. Asking popular designers Camilla Skovgaard, Joanne Stoker, Mr Hare, Sophie Cox and Atlanta Weller what their design process involves and how they come up with such unique ideas. The Shoe Collection at Northampton Museums & Gallery (NMAG) is home to the largest archive of shoes in the world, naturally it is a place of inspiration to designers and students. In the exhibition curated as part of the museums ‘Cinderella Syndrome project- Displaying shoes in museums‘, each designer has chosen a shoe from the NMAG archive along side one from their own collections to illustrate their favourite shoes.

Situated in the luxe The Village in the shopping plaza the monolithic display cases, designed to resemble the designers desks, stand proud and eye catching. Peer inside and discover shoes from the most sculptural to the most comfortable! Read the designer bio’s and interviews and even take part in the ‘photo booth’ where you can record a snap of your own favourite shoes. A fascinating and fun exhibition, but be quick as it is only there 11-29th September.

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For full information visit the Westfield website “‘NMAG presents My Favourite Shoe’

and the “NMAG information page.

Snapshots from Stoke

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1. Bargain fashion books from various charity shops, Gothic Lolita, Princess Diana, Gok Wan; 2. Graffiti; 3. wearing a casual outfit for the temperamental weather Vivienne Westwood Red Label velvet shorts, Gold Label Pirate buckled boots and Worlds End tee;┬á Vivienne Westwood Winter tartan Derby bag to match my Red Label tartan jacket. 4. There once was a woman who lived in a shoe, she has so many children she didn’t know what to do! One of a few shoes on display at the Potteries museum, this is from 1860.

I am still under a pile of dust and plaster from the house renovations so here are a few snaps from a trip I took to Stoke last week for work. I really enjoy visiting new places and I found some great charity shops along with the fantastic Potteries museum. There is some striking architecture and the beautiful Hanley park full of friendly geese and ducks. A lovely little day out all in all.

David Bowie Is… Exhibition

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┬áI was lucky enough to get to see the David Bowie Is exhibition at the V&A. As I couldn’t make the press preview event, they very nicely let me go along the next time I was in London, as it happened I had a meeting at the V&A so I jumped at the chance to go. Like many of you I have grown up with David Bowie’s presence, my mum would play his records when I was a kid and as a child of the 80’s Labyrinth is always going to be my favourite film – I could recite the entire scrip by heart!

“The V&A has been given unprecedented access to the David Bowie Archive to curate the first international retrospective of the extraordinary career of David Bowie. David Bowie is features over 300 objects including handwritten lyrics, original costumes, fashion, photography, film, music videos, set designs, BowieÔÇÖs own instruments and album artwork.

On display will be more than 300 objects brought together for the very first time Ziggy Stardust bodysuits (1972) designed by Freddie Burretti, photography by Brian Duffy; album sleeve artwork by Guy Peellaert and Jonathan Barnbrook; visual excerpts from films and live performances including The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), music videos such as Ashes to Ashes (1980) and set designs created for the Diamond Dogs tour (1974). Alongside these will be more personal items such as never-before-seen storyboards, handwritten set lists and lyrics as well as some of BowieÔÇÖs own sketches, musical scores and diary entries, revealing the evolution of his creative ideas.”

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I am finding writing about the exhibition difficult, because there is just so much I want to say about it. There are already many reviews and critiques of the exhibit, so instead I will tell you how I experienced it, as a Bowie fan (and not someone who works with museums, although it can be hard to separate the two).

Before I entered the exhibit, I was given a pair of headphones, this had me intruded, would it be audio commentary? I rounded the corner to me met with the famous Kansai Yamamoto wide leg jumpsuit, by this time I am just about ready to burst with excitement! The headphones spring to life and I delved head first into the early years of David Robert Jones’ musical career.

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I won’t go into too much detail as I wouldn’t want to offer spoilers to those of you who are yet to see it.┬á Amongst the song lyrics, photos, costumes and films there are surprises around every corner, tiny holes too peep through taking you to another world, beautifully timed videos which your headphones will belt out classic Bowie songs too, allowing you to loose yourself in the experience. This exhibition is huge, I would recommend 2 hours to really see it all, 3 if you want to read every little snippet. One detail I found charming was seeing the scraps of song lyrics, scribbles and alterations. How would it have been if the famous ‘Fashion, turn to the left…’ lyric had been kept as ‘Shop, shop turn to the left…’

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I am not usually one to be left gob-smacked, but entering the centre piece room of the exhibition, a huge auditorium really took my breath away. I was awe struck, at the sheer size, attention to detail and the drama of it all. If you are set to see this exhibition I would recommend you don’t look at any photos before hand as this is a surprise worth waiting for! I actually am itching to go back and spend more time there.

If you can’t make the exhibition the I can recommend picking up a copy of the book, I will have to order one online as it is massive and I couldn’t carry it all the way home. It is available on the website as is a selection of official merchandise- well it wouldn’t be a museum trip without a pencil and sharpener souvenir would it!

David Bowie is… Online

Gone Roman

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 I admit I have a very cool job, but some days it seems even cooler than usual. Above you can see my Vivienne Westwood toe shoes, directly above is the leather sole from an archaeological Roman sandal- notice anything similar? Yes it too has a toe shape cut out, some of them just have the first toe and others have all five toes defined. These sandals would have had leather straps attached to the sole just the same as our sandals today. Fascinatingly both my shoes and the Roman shoes were made in London.

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In fact the popular ‘Gladiator sandals’ are inspired by their original Roman counterpart. At the Museum of London they have recently included some modern items in the cases to illustrate their purpose. Personally I think this is a great idea, especially for children to help them gain perspective. We often forget that simple, every day items and steeped in history.

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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