Sunday, 3 June 2012

Fashion Sketches: Quick Response to Ballgowns at the V&A

 Sketch of Victor Edelstein dress, 1986, silk satin, worn by a politician's wife.

Here are a couple of sketches I made today, based on Saturday's trip to the 'Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950' exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum. It contained a huge range of gowns, from the dynamic duo Bellville Sassoon and the mighty House of Worth, to the big contemporary names of Mary Katrantzou, Stella McCartney and the genius that is Gareth Pugh, who used metallic leather to create a stark and striking gown with a severely high neckline. 

In the museum itself it was really hard to capture the mood and feel of the dresses and accessories, because there was no photography allowed, but I also got told off very rudely for 'sketching', even though I was literally drawing one minute stick figures in my notepad with basic silhouettes, and was in no way trying to run up an unethical warehouse full of pattern copies in the space of 60 seconds. Even in my recent trip to the Design Museum's Christian Louboutin show, we were proudly told that 'sketching is encouraged' (hooray!).

As it happens there was no appropriately displayed signage in the V&A saying that drawing was strictly verboten, so I had no idea this was going to result in being left to feel like a naughty schoolgirl who'd tried to walk off with an exhibit. I was really surprised that my very crude and frankly terrible images, which would help to jog my memory when writing exhibition reviews for various websites, were deemed so devious. I had a press pass in my hand and have been to the V&A as a journalist on many occasions, where my notes are crucial in order to give a specific and vaguely intelligent write-up. This was a really poignant and fascinating exhibition and it deserves more than the casual glance of the average tourist.

Sketch of Nicholas Oakwell dress, A/W 2011, with constellation print and nude bodice.

Three highlights of 'Ballgowns':
  • Alexander McQueen's elegant and timeless angel print dress, from his final collection in Autumn/Winter 2010. With a major focus on handcrafted elements, his print took on the form of a relief sculpture of two angels. It's the kind of thing you'd kill to wear.
  • Anouska Hempel's wonderfully graphic and stark monochrome dress from 1991, with angular shapes that fit around the body and turn you into your own work of art.
  •  Zandra Rhodes' 1981 'Renaissance of Gold Cloth' dress, made to explore the panniers that were fashionable in Elizabethan times. So many onlookers at the exhibition were taken aback by this piece, calling it tacky or embarrassing, but it was really playful and inventive. Zandra herself wore a version of it in 1982.
 Although I found the exhibition absorbing, it was incredibly difficult to enjoy the beautiful gowns with such a transient viewing experience. The free guidebook we were given had no images in it, meaning that unless you were confident in connecting designer names and years with dresses then you'd have a hard time accurately remembering anything from 'Ballgowns' in the long term. It was sad that the entire thing seemed to be one long advert for the expensive hardback book in the shop, which is not accessible enough for Joe Public to consider buying after they've already invested in their ticket. I had hoped that we'd be allowed to take home a little more of the magic with us, instead of being left to feel like outsiders looking into this glamorous and unobtainable world. Please, V&A, rethink your sketching rules here, or at least display them more prominently and then give us a strong selection of affordable postcards at the tills.

[All images my own, based on rough sketches and produced afterwards using the Paper app. Please ask before reproducing - though sketching is not forbidden...].


  1. love the second one, i definitely want to go and visit the v&a soon for all the fashion things they have going on!xx

    1. Thanks, Ronan! Yeah, it's totally worth visiting the V&A - they have a really cool permanent collection of fashion as well as the temporary exhibitions.

      Polly x

  2. Brilliant sketches! Would love to see the designs in fruition!


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