Monday, 4 August 2014

V&A Wedding Dresses: 1775 - 2014


As an early birthday treat from my sister I finally got the chance to visit the V&A's latest must-see exhibition at the weekend. Wedding Dresses: 1775 - 2014 takes you warmly by the hand and guides you through the history of the white (and not so white) wedding - starting with a very wide court mantua, which calls to mind 'here comes the bride more than 40 inches wide', and ending with more current creations by Vera Wang, Vivienne Westwood and Jenny Packham . With 70 dresses on display there are more highlights than I can mention, but I'll try.

If anything can challenge the view that once you've seen one white wedding dress, then you've seen them all it's this exhibition. There's a huge variety on display depending on the bride's personal style as well as her status before you even start to consider the zeitgeist. But that's not to say there's not a running theme when it comes to wedding dresses. The late 19th Century saw the medieval revival that has given us the princess dress - so it would appear that fairy tale meringues are not a product of the 1980s after all. The idea of looking to the past for a wedding dress has been with us longer than that.

In contrast a couple of dresses from the 1930s could have passed for much more modern creations. One in particular with wide lace sleeves and 18ft train by Norman Hartnell has more than a hint of 70s hippy chick about it.

Of course, I was expecting tiny waists from the early dresses, but what surprised me was the bridal footwear. The shoes were larger than I'd envisaged - showing the wearers had long and narrow feet.

Not every dress will have you swooning - be warned there are some shockers. A space age silver collared coat from the 60s now looks like an Austin Powers costume even though it must have been cutting-edge at the time. And then there's an embroidered dress coat and pointed gold headdress that we are told were designed by friends of the bride - one has to wonder if they remained friends afterwards!

Upstairs it's onto the celebrity dresses, with gowns borrowed from Dita von Teese, Lisa Butcher, Gwen Stefani and the Duchess of Cornwall. Camilla's Anna Valentine dress coat looked a darker shade and the gilded Philip Treacy headdress appeared smaller but no less impressive. However, for me the highlight had to be seeing Kate Moss' Galliano dress in the flesh. The detail is so intricate it took 710 hours to sew on the 120,000 sequins and the effect is stunning.

Wedding Dresses: 1775 - 2014 runs at the V&A through until 15th March 2015, so if you get chance to go I'd definitely recommend it.


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