Victoria & Albert Museum
19 May 2012 – 6 January 2013
Curated by Oriole Cullen and Sonnet Stanfill
Sponsored by Coutts

As part of Fashion 2012, the official fashion industry activity for the Olympic year,  a spectacular exhibition of more than 60 ballgowns from 1950 to the present day will go on display at the V&A this month. Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 will be the first exhibition in the newly renovated V&A Fashion Galleries and will feature beautiful ballgowns, red carpet evening gowns and catwalk showstoppers.

There is a strong British design tradition of creating sumptuous ballgowns, one that has been upheld in the late 20th and 21st centuries through the work of designers such as Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen. The exhibition will cover more than 60 years of a tradition that continues to flourish.

Displayed over two floors, Ballgowns will show specially made designs for social events such as private parties, royal state occasions, debutante balls, opening nights and red carpet events. Tour de force eveningwear from the V&A’s vast collection by designers such
as Norman Hartnell, Victor Stiebel, Zandra Rhodes, Catherine Walker, Jonathan Saunders and Hussein Chalayan will be on show, as well as dresses fresh from the catwalk shows of Alexander McQueen, Giles, Erdem, Roksanda Illincic, Mark Fast and Jenny Packham.
Innovative designer Gareth Pugh has created a stunning metallic leather dress especially for the exhibition.

Royal gowns, with their luxurious fabrics and exquisite embellishments, always make headlines. A selection of royal ballgowns will be displayed, including a Norman Hartnell gown designed for Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Princess Diana’s ‘Elvis Dress’ designed by
Catherine Walker and gowns worn by today’s young royals. Dresses worn by actresses and celebrities including Sandra Bullock, Daphne Guinness, Elizabeth Hurley and Bianca Jagger will also be shown.

From Country House to red carpet
Since the 1950s, occasions for wearing formal attire have evolved from the private event to the public parade. In the post-war period, as Europe struggled toward recovery, extravagant, exclusive balls provided glittering backdrops for splendid couture gowns, so
helping to stimulate sartorial consumption and aspiration in Britain. Coming out balls,where young women were formally introduced to society, were often the first occasion on which to wear a grand gown.

The emergence of the charity ball in the 1980s provided a new platform for a wider society to dress to impress. Couture influenced the high street and dressing up for events was no longer the prerogative of the wealthy.

More recently it is the red carpet that acts as the most important site of fashionable splendour. From the 1990s, couturiers have competed to dress stars for red carpet events which garner worldwide press interest. Moreover what the stars of a film wear to a premiere can sometimes deliver as many column inches as the film itself.

Preparing for the ball
The ground floor of the exhibition will feature over 30 ballgowns from the Museum's permanent collection. Designs from 1950 to the early 2000s will be shown, including gowns by Hardy Amies, Ossie Clark, Bill Gibb, Belleville Sassoon, Murray Arbeid, Bruce Oldfield

and Julien MacDonald. The space will be designed and styled to evoke the
excitement of preparing for a ball in a grand country house. The display will include film as well as contextual images and accessories such as elegant evening bags, gloves and shoes.

Ballgowns will continue from the ground floor onto the mezzanine, taking full advantage of the newly lit and restored Octagon Court, one of the most architecturally dramatic of the V&A’s galleries.

Contemporary opulence
The mezzanine level will feature a stylised ‘ballroom’ space, with around 30 evening gowns designed by contemporary UK-based makers on open display. It will evoke the glamour of the red carpet or a couture presentation. The gowns will stand under dramatic
pavilions surrounded by oversized pearls. This display will show how ballgowns continueto be the ultimate fashion statement for contemporary designers, and will include unexpected interpretations such as a latex gown by Atsuko Kudo.

Created by the British Fashion Council (BFC), Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 is a central platform under which the industry is able to showcase and celebrate British fashion. It will provide a core focus for the industry and a schedule for the major fashion events and activities throughout London’s Olympic year.

Ticket information
Tickets: £10 (concessions available)
V&A Members go free
For advance bookings visit (booking fee applies)

Exhibition publication
To coincide with the exhibition the V&A will publish Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 with essays by Oriole Cullen and Sonnet Stanfill. It will feature specially commissioned images of a diverse selection of gowns from the exhibition by fashion photographer David Hughes. These dynamic images will also be projected into the alcoves of the gallery’s vast domed ceiling, creating an arresting backdrop to the show.

Image Credits:
1) Artist: Victor Edelstein
Date: 1986
Photo by: David Hughes

2) Artist: Erdem
Date: A.W 2008
Photo by: David Hughes Special
3) Artist: Alexander McQueen
Date: S/S 2011

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