What’s practicality got to do with it?

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One of my favourite exhibits in Fashioning Winter is the Winter Mode room in the East Wing of Somerset House. It shows a series of fashion illustrations from magazines of the 1910s and 1920s. The illustrations were original artworks by artists such as Iribe and Thayaht and show beautifully the line and shape of the Belle Epoque and flapper age. Though it includes more practical and sporting styles, it is the totally impractical that always draws my eye.

This illustration shows an incredible opera coat in white velvet encrusted with pearls and designed to drape and trail behind the wearer. It is utterly gorgeous but utterly impractical even for the use shown in the illustration. But to focus on its impractical nature misses the point of such a garment. It is fairytale embodied: all our winter, Narnia, Snow-queen, frost-glinting, ice palace fantasies made real.

Who on earth would wear or want such an item? Oh me, please.

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