Spring is in the air and this means (amongst other things) some enticing new exhibitions in London and Paris.
Top of my list is the long-awaited re-opening of the Palais Galliera, Paris’s museum of fashion and perhaps the greatest of its kind in the world. If, like me you have been following the tantalising glimpses of the basement refurbishment on Miren Arzalluz’s and the Galliera’s own instagram, then you’ll be champing at the bit to know what delights they have in store. Watch this space.
Meanwhile, back in London I’m looking forward to comparing the arcane monochrome drawings of Aubrey Beardsley with the equally monochrome early portrait photography of Cecil Beaton. Beardsley’s drawings were considered shocking in the late nineteenth century and still pack something of a punch today. Similarly Beaton’s early work was influenced by surrealism and, even whilst documenting London’s social whirl in the roaring twenties, his anecdotes teetered on the edge of wicked wit, always managing to stay just the right side to deliver teasing flattery. Aubrey Beardsley is at Tate Britain from 4 March until 25 May and Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things is at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 March until 7 June.
I’m intending to try to see both on the same day as I think it will offer an interesting comparison. I might also try to fit in a third show to complement Beardsley’s orientalism as the V&A are mounting a show about the kimono.
This garment offers an interesting perspective on fashion as one of the occasions when an article of national dress, and not a terribly practical one at that, has become embedded in mainstream fashion. Anyone who saw Elizabeth Debicki in The Night Manager will remember the beautiful kimono she wore (sourced from the glorious Fuji Kimono) as beach apparel, but it remains a form of dress that continues in use in its original form.
This show spans the kimono in all its incarnations and promises to be a fascinating cultural insight. See Kimono: Kyoto to catwalk at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 29 February to 21 June.
Who doesn’t love an accessory? The Fashion Museum Bath offers us a whole year of shoes with their Shoephoria from 28 March 2020 until the 31 March 2021. If I were a Bath resident, I’d be tempted to enjoy a daily dose of shoe love for the whole year. With a collection of over 3,000 pairs and dating back to the late seventeenth century, this promises to be a show that will tug on my heartstrings and require some serious restraint to keep me from bursting through the glass.
Staying with the theme, the V&A will offer us Bags: inside and out from 25 April until 31 January 2021. I have high hopes of this one as the V&A seem to be interested in tapping into the mystery of the handbag and its contents as well as its aesthetic and practical design. All life exists (sometimes literally) in a handbag and this makes them endlessly fascinating. From Ernest Worthington’s infant abandonment (‘A Handbag?’) to Grace Kelly’s famous adoption of the Hermes handbag to hide her pregnancy, they are with us every step of the way.
Finally, if the clash between fashion and culture of the 1960s and 70s is more your thing then you will be pleased to know that London’s Fashion and Textile Museum is offering Beautiful People: the boutique in 1960s counterculture from 3 July until 4 October. If you can’t wait until then, Paris’s Musee Yves Saint Laurent is offering a glimpse of just one of those beauties with a show focusing on YSL’s muse, Betty Catroux, Yves Saint Laurent feminin singulair from 3 March until 11 October.
The endless fascination of fashion is the way that we all use it to communicate and express personality, or as Beaton himself put it, ‘we all have enough of the peacock in us not to be able to dismiss it entirely.’ These shows promise to hold up the looking glass to ways in which fashion has shaped and been shaped by society. There is an exciting year of discovery ahead.