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Saturday, 19 July 2014

Couture Dresses of Paris and London, 1950's to present day - The Fashion and Textile Museum

A wonderful lecture given by Dennis Nothdruft of The Fashion and Textile Museum, London.  I believe this is done 7 times a year.  Well worth the effort of travelling there and actually getting your hands on some fabulous couture fashions of the past.  Attendees were given white gloves to wear, so that the pieces could be touched and handled.

The lecture began by setting the scene of how couture began.  French couture would have started around 1850 with Worth - an Englishman.  He developed a collection, displayed on mannequins, to order from and was the first to do this.  Before that, dressmakers made individual pieces.  A whole industry was set up around him.

The first item we were shown was a 1947 Dior dress.  Dior was a designer from a wealthy family who worked as a sketch artist initially.  He developed his own collection after World War II, financed by a large fabric company.  Fashion was moving towards The New Look.  This dress is from the last collection he designed and is the most valuable piece in the museum.  It comes in 2 pieces, which was typical of Dior, consisting of an underskirt and overskirt with embroidery.  This would have been done by a specialist embroiderer - probably Lessage.  Lots of regulated industries such as embroidery grew around couture.

Detail of the Peasant Scene embroidery 

The season, year and style number is included on the label.  This dress would have cost around £2,000 at the time of manufacture and was aimed at the middle class.

Another Dior dress from 1954.  Constructed from a cream coloured fabric with applied raffia knots.   You can see the wide seam allowances on this, for letting out if necessary.  Straps on the inside also hold you in ...

1958 and Yves St Laurent heralds a new, youthful look in this pin tucked and boned dress with bow details .....   Again, this had wide seam allowances for letting out.

Next up, Chanel.  Her designs were, of course, produced for ease of wear and stylish details.  You can see the gilt chain stitched along the inside of the jacket hem for it to hang correctly.

Chain links line the outer sleeve edge along with a rouleaux bow.

Beautifully tailored jacket pockets and pleats in the skirt match up perfectly.

This skirt suit would have cost £750 in the 30's.

Another Chanel.  This time a day dress or tea dress, sold by Berfdorf Goodman.  It was sewn in New York using Chanel's toiles.  The white collar is another Chanel detail, thought to be flattering and light reflecting worn around the face.

Beautiful embroidery detail ...

Now a green velvet coat by Balenciaga, a label aimed at a high end customer.  It sports a distinctive collar with bound buttonholes in the same fabric, which would have been very difficult to achieve. The front has braided Chinese knot buttons and princess lines.  As few seams as possible have been used on this textured fabric and it is cut into a trapeze shape.

This Indonesian Sarong from the mid 60's is an evening dress style in pink and white with a matching stole.

It looks deceptively simple on the outside - inside is a mass of boning to achieve shape.

This Princess Galaczini dress in chiffon again has an impressively structured inner.  I'd seen this name before in The Glamour of Italian Fashion exhibition at the V&A.  She invented palazzo pants. Dressmaking was an acceptable profession for any impoverished aristocratic classes with wealthy connections!

Courreges from the 1960's.  A simple, slightly A-line dress in thick blue fabric with one of the new space age materials - a white plastic trim.

It was short originally, but enough fabric included in the hem has enabled it to be let down.

Next up, an Yves St Laurent suede leather jerkin with knitted sleeves ...

This would have been worn with thick knitted tights and knee high boots.

This cream quilted coat in heavy cotton is by Pierre Cardin from the mid-60's.  It has a matching sleeveless shift dress.  Cardin made most of it's money from licences rather than couture.

A Balmain blue dress with cut-out details flared sleeves and bound velvet edges ....

A Lacroix couture sample made for a very tiny model ...

At the time of manufacture in the 80's/90's, this would have retailed at £25,000.  Everyone wanted to touch this ...

Lanvin, and a simple wool and wool jersey draped  little black dress setting you back £4,000 ... what price glamour?

This very beautiful appliqued lily dress on maroon net was worn by Halle Berry at the 2002 Oscars. Designed by Elie Saab, a previously unknown Lebanese designer and donated to The Fashion and Textile Museum.

Image found on web - not sure who to credit ....  for review only ....

Last, but by no means least, a little showcase of work by Zandra Rhodes to celebrate that she is now Dame Zandra Rhodes.  She left the Royal College in 1965 and has designed continually ever since.  Foale & Tuffin, the 60's design duo first utilised her fabrics.  Then Zandra formed a company with Sylvia Ayton before going solo.  She is of the 'Pop Artist' generation and crowd, re-interpreting all manner of objects ...  embroidery from the V&A, shell boxes, advertisements.  The textiles dictate the shape of the garments.

1967 Chevron Shawl Coat, inspired by shawls seen in the V&A

It's reversible - this is the inside
Classic wiggle and check pattern dress constructed around a circle.  The circle is a favourite design motif of Zandra Rhodes.

One of my favourites - Chiffon dress with Field of Lilies skirt and Knitted Circle bodice.

A satin padded jacket inspired by a visit to the USA (most of her work is inspired by travels), Busby Berkeley films and a homespun wooden box decorated with shells ... It's easy to see the connections ... I really love this and have only ever seen it in pictures before.  So wonderful to see it and touch it!

Finally, some designs from the present day and others developed from sketches done at the beach near Zandra's home in San Diego....

If you're in London, do go and see all this if you can - it's amazing!  I've heard that the dresses are changed each time, so there's always a chance of seeing something new.


  1. squeeeeeeee! thank you for sharing this, what a treat!

  2. Truly amazing! Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. This is soooo interesting, dear Diane, Thanks for sharing all this beauty.

  4. Gosh, what an amazing experience! To be able to see these beauties, inside and out, but also to be able to *hold* them!

    I really must visit the Fashion & Textile Museum website, and find out what they've got on, because I can see myself wanting to visit!