Friday, 18 May 2012

Ballgowns: Dress to Impress

There are certain moments in life when a woman lives the fantasy of a fairy tale, transforming herself into a radiant image of beauty, like a flower blooming. This requires a long planning process as there are no wizards to do the trick.

Alexander McQueen

Most women count these moments on their fingers but others have so many red carpet events that this becomes almost a burden. The paparazzi-lined path now focuses worldwide press attention on how glamorous women are dressed.

Such scrutiny imposes pressure on women in the public eye, who dress with particular care, both to avoid negative publicity and to make a media splash. So they gather a whole team of people, from stylists to hair and make up artists to transform them.


These are the wizards of our time, but the supreme magician is the designer and the supernatural potion is definitely the dress. It can make or break the moment, just as a good photograph, it has the power to immortalise and create an icon.

But what makes magic happen? The woman! Her personality and the dress must combine. Catherine Walker, who designed the 'Elvis Dress' for Princess Diana said no one else could wear it in the same mesmerising way.

State evening ensemble, 'Elvis Dress'

Now you have the chance to see this and other sumptuous ballgowns from the last 60 years at the V&A. Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950 is the first exhibition in the newly renovated Fashion Galleries. 

It features specially-made designs for social events such as private parties, royal state occasions, debutante balls, opening nights and red carpet events. Since the 1950s, occasions for wearing formal attire have evolved from the private event to the public parade.

Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950

In the post-war period, as Europe struggled toward recovery, extravagant, exclusive balls provided glittering backdrops for splendid couture gowns. Coming out balls, where young women were formally introduced to society, were often the first occasion on which to wear a grand gown.

The emergence of the charity ball in the 1980s provided a new platform for a wider society to dress to impress. More recently it is the red carpet that acts as the most important site of fashionable splendour.

Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950

This exhibition captures the enchanting moments in the lives of different women, dressed by a wide range of designers, from Norman Hartnell to Alexander McQueen.

One of my favourite dresses is by Antonio Berardi, which I've written about on my Christmas Red Dress blog post, the fabric, the cut, the colour... It brings to mind the glamour of the 70s, an extraordinary decade that have just lost one of its brightest stars, Donna Summer.

Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950
Curated by Oriole Cullen and Sonnet Stanfill
19 May 2012 - 6 January 2013

Other related blog posts:
Christmas Red Dress
Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston
Schiaparelli and Prada at MET