The Fashion and Textile Museum has brought a much-needed splash of Riviera style to London’s Docklands with its latest exhibition. It traces the history of beachwear from the late 19th century to the present day, from the slightly horrifying, knitted swim suits of the 1920s and 30s right up to Speedo’s Fastskin suits.
What really struck me about this exhibition was the way that each decade seemed to be definable by a certain style influence. The 1920s costumes seemed to bring to mind the closing scene of Tender is the Night, the emotion and alcohol-ravaged Dick Diver administering his benediction to the bathers on the beach below him.
The 1930s belonged to Chanel, recalling the iconic picture of her, dressed in white beach pyjama trousers and dripping pearls, sitting on the shoulders of the dancer Serge Lifar.
The 1960s brought Pucci and the glamour of the jet-set life-style lived by Europe and America’s elite style troops. I could happily have taken this beautiful Pucci dress home with me – a Pucci print just defines summer.
Alongside this show there is a small gallery showcasing Nautical Chic, as depicted in a new book of the same name by Amber Jane Butchart. I found this part of the display fascinating. It takes five themes of nautical style and shows how the original article went on to inspire fashion. So we see the officer’s jacket used by Alexander McQueen; the fisherman’s striped jersey adopted by Jean-Paul Gaultier; sailor’s trousers with their rows of buttons used on 70s flares; the East-Coast elitist’s preppy blazer drawn into fashion mainstream; and the pirate’s skull and cross bones appropriated by Vivien Westwood. If you ever wanted to know where and how these pillars of modern dress became so embedded in our popular culture, then do try to see this great exhibition or get the book.
Both exhibitions are at London’s Fashion and Textile Museum until 30th August.