Judith Clark and Amy de la Haye with Jeffrey Horsley,
Yale University Press.
With the recent proliferation of fashion exhibitions and their increasing popularity, Exhibiting Fashion: Before and After 1971 provides a timely look at the practice of presenting fashion in galleries and museums. Identifying the Victoria & Albert Museum’s 1971 exhibition Fashion: An Anthology by Cecil Beaton as a critical point in fashion curation, the authors propose it as a watershed moment indicative of a significant shift in museological attitudes to contemporary dress.
Constructed over five sections Part 1 – Exhibiting Fashion Before 1971 (by Amy de la Haye) provides an historical context to the practice of curating and displaying fashion. Central to this section is a case study of Britain Can Make It, staged at the V&A in 1946, and notable as the first exhibition at the Museum to include contemporary fashion. This is followed by further case studies featuring eminent pioneers of fashion curation; James Laver, Doris Langley Moore and Anne Buck.
Beaton’s exhibition is the axis of subsequent sections. Part 2 – Fashion: An Anthology by Cecil Beaton (again by Amy de la Haye) examines the exhibition from biographic perspectives. First, through a short account of Beaton’s life accenting his activities in collecting and curating fashion, followed by an examination of the exhibition referencing correspondence and anecdotes from contributors and collaborators. Finally, a meticulously researched study of a single ensemble exhibited by Beaton (a black sequined Chanel evening suit from 1937 worn by Diana Vreeland) traces the biography of an object, from its origins in Paris, to its accession into the V&A collection, to its inclusion in more recent exhibitions.
A photographic record of Fashion: An Anthology forms Part 3 – The Exhibition. Here Amy de la Haye compiles 40 images from the V&A archive – many never previously published – in a comprehensive pictorial rendering of the exhibition that reveals the eclectic scope of Beaton’s curatorial style and the inspired creativity of the exhibition designer, accomplished window display artist Michael Haynes.
For Part 4 – 28 Aspects, Judith Clark classifies 28 idiosyncratic properties inherent in Beaton and Haynes museography, and explores each through text and images. Taking features such as Wigs, Perspex, Rotations and Numbers, she traces a captivating web of associations and connections, often linking Beaton and Haynes’ design to contemporary reference points including recent fashion exhibitions.
The final section, Part 5 – An Incomplete Inventory of Fashion Exhibitions Since 1971, demonstrates the legacy of Fashion: An Anthology and provides conclusive evidence that fashion exhibitions have flourished since Beaton’s show. Contributor Jeffrey Horsley has compiled details of over 900 fashion exhibitions, worldwide, held between 1971 and 2013. Analysis of the register contextualises the entries and with 60 colour illustrations, this section will undoubtedly be a valuable reference for fans of fashion exhibitions and future researchers.
Judith Clark is professor of fashion and museology, and Amy de la Haye is professor of dress history and curatorship, Rootstein Hopkins Chair, both at the London College of Fashion. Dr Jeffrey Horsley is an independent exhibition-maker and designer.
Exhibiting Fashion: Before and After 1971 is published by Yale University Press and available from amazon.co.uk.
Exhibiting Fashion: Before and After 1971 is designed by Charlie Smith Design.