Tuesday, 5 June 2012

British Ballgowns at the V&A: Drawn

British Ballgowns, V&A: Nicholas Oakwell
 Nicholas Oakwell's sculptural astronomy piece was unmissable.

I was determined to draw this dress as it was such a feat of engineering. The exaggerated front section, with a sharp point and seemingly unending folds fell away to reveal densely packed layers of black tulle. Contrasting with a flash of a nude slip, this was a complicated piece that surely makes many of us realise why people crave the excitement of dresses over jeans and trainers every once in a while.

British Ballgowns, V&A: Vivienne Westwood
 Deliberately punchy, with some of the frenetic energy of Westwood's designs.

Anything but a wallflower, this was Vivienne Westwood's most attention-seeking gown in the exhibition and it deservedly overshadowed its neighbours. I'm not sure it's one that us mere mortals could carry off, but it certainly rejects the idea of British formal-wear design being about stuffy Etonians and cucumber sandwiches. Featuring feathers, over-sized leopard print and a heavy dose of Angelina-style leg, this is one for making an entrance.

British Ballgowns, V&A: Yuki
This Yuki dress was pure 70s glamour.

It may have opened the exhibition, but I wanted to save the orangey red glow of Yuki's voluminous dress until last. What might have looked like a tent on the hanger somehow came to life on the mannequin, alongside the story of its original owner, Gayle Hunnicutt, who wore it to Windsor Castle. This was a brave move considering she was basically wearing a giant kaftan to a royal property. Clearly she put design over decorum, and it paid off.

British Ballgowns runs until 6th January at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (nearest tube: South Kensington).

[All images are my own sketches, based on my visit to the V&A. Please ask before reproducing].

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