I hardly ever write reviews of exhibitions on here which is strange as I visit a lot of exhibitions. I always have done. I really enjoy nothing more than an hour spent meandering around a quiet (or loud in the case of David Bowie at the V&A) space ogling carefully selected objects. However, until the last few years it was tricky to find good fashion exhibitions. The displays were tired and the analysis was dowdy and old-fashioned. So many interesting opportunities for commentary were missed and more often than not I left them feeling frustrated. Thanks to the advent of the blockbuster exhibition and number of smaller more intriguing spaces have been set up in opposition.
The Fashion and Textile Museum is one of them. Although it was founded in 2003 it's not until the last few years that they've really found their stride. I visited their most recent exhibition Liberty in Fashion last Sunday with a friend and I was blown away by both the display and exceptional curation. Liberty holds a special place in my heart; as a child we had a Collier Campbell for Liberty Bauhaus print tablecloth and a Cote d'Azure print bag, and now I always leap at Liberty prints in the chazzas. Having visited the Liberty archive during my BA and subsequently worked with the Liberty archivist, I can safely say this exhibition definitely does the history of Liberty justice.
Nearly all the garments are open display. It's so great when museums are brave enough to do this, it makes such a difference to viewing the objects: being able to see how they catch the light, what the stitching is like and probably most importantly both the front and back! It works particularly well with the Liberty garments as they are so reliant on print and embroidery, having them behind glass would really obscure the intricacies of each piece. Each display cluster also benefitted from having a wallpaper in a famous Liberty print hung behind. From Ianthe to Hera they all helped the clothes to sing. Liberty is known for it's opulent, pleasant grandeur it would have seemed such a waste to plonk the mannequins in a white cube! I love that the FTM always try to create a visually sensory space using every possible surface to tell the story of the exhibition, it really allows the visitor to completely immerse them self in the subject.
The exhibition starts at the very beginning of Liberty and goes right through to the 1970s. It was fascinating to see the ways in which the garments the prints were applied to changed and morphed to suit changing styles, and also how the prints were adapted and modernised.
I SO SO wanted to nab this Collier Campbell for Liberty skirt in the Bauhaus print but I restrained myself and just snapped a hundred pictures (by the way if anyone ever comes across this- or any other Collier Campbell print- please let me know I'm a nut for it!). My mum did come across a pair of Collier Campbell curtains at a boot sale a few months ago which now hang in her library.
The same curtains were hung in the exhibition!
Having wandered around the exhibition I was truly delighted to find there was also a small display in the FTM's conference room put together by Sarah Campbell on her and her sister, Susan Collier's designs for Collier Campbell. I've been completely obsessed by their work for a long long time so it was a real treat to see it in the flesh. The displays were gorgeous wall mounted collages of their preparatory drawings and paintings, magazine clippings, textiles and garments. It was a true feast for any textile nerd (which I definitely count myself as) and I came away feeling inspired in a way that hasn't hit me for some time!
Of course to view the exhibition I wore a Liberty print dress; a Tana Lawn 1970s frock in their Ianthe print. I sadly didn't manage to get a snap of myself in the dress whilst at the exhibition but here I am at home wearing the same ensemble (these were actually taken quite some time ago now and my hair is even longer!).
If you'd like to visit Liberty in Fashion at The Fashion and Textile Museum. It's open 11-6 Tuesday- Saturday, 11-8 Thursday and 11-5 Sunday. The exhibition is on until 28th February 2016 and costs £9 for adults, £7 for concessions and £6 for students. There are also a number of great talks taking part during the course of the exhibition so keep an eye on their events calendar for details.
I'll be visiting again over the coming weeks as I won tickets through the FTM twitter!
1970s Liberty print dress in Ianthe Tana Lawn made by Origin via Oxfam
1970s blue and green cotton cravat from a car boot sale
Brown suede shoes from Etsy
1909 silver bracelet made by Smith & Pepper Ltd, originally my Grandma's
Tights from Primarni