WEDDING DRESSES 1775-2014: Victoria and Albert Museum

Silk_satin_wedding_dress_designed_by_Charles_James_London_1934._Worn_by_Barbara_Baba_Beaton._Given_by_Mrs_Alec_Hambro_c_Victoria_and_Albert_Museum_London_reverse Showing at the V&A until 15 March 2015, Wedding Dresses 1775-2014 is a fascinating insight into the history and development of the wedding dress. The exhibition displays 70 beautiful creations made by the very royalty of fashion design, names like John Galliano, Vivienne Westwood, Norman Hartnell and Vera Wang amongst others,take us on a tour through the centuries of changing styles revealing on route fascinating details into the lives of the famous women that have worn them.

Its estimated that world wide, wedding dresses alone contribute £43 billion per year to the already monster sized fashion industry, so why do we place such importance on a dress that by tradition is only worn  once. For a indication of the importance placed on this single item of clothing it necessitates a short history lesson.
Throughout history marriage has meant far more then the union of two hearts, in many cases it has been the union of powerful or influential families, businesses, even countries. Love it seems is a fairly recent development, but with more and more couples signing prenuptial agreements romance it would seem is a commodity with a short shelf life. The wedding dress is symbolic of the goods on display, the better the fabric the wealthy the bride, the happier the suitors family.
White is by no means the traditional colour of bridal gowns, in fact around the world it is seen to many as the colour of mourning, which brings us nicely on to the first recorded royal white wedding between Mary Queen of Scots and the fourteen year old Francis Dauphin of France in 1559. Now France was one of those countries who considered white weddings unlucky and Francis proved the point one year later when he died of mastoiditis meningitis from a ear infection. It was Queen Victoria who brought the white gown back into fashion when in 1840 she married Albert of Saxe-Coburg and the rest is fashion history which brings us back to this wonderful exhibition.

Susanna Cordner, assistant curator of the exhibition spoke of her delight in being involved in such a exhibition of such historic dresses and extended her thanks to the people who contributed these most personal of items that span from the Duchess of Cornwall to Kate Moss.
“Wedding dresses are an institution, they’re part of every culture and they run throughout history as something you continue to refer back to.. there’s probable not a item of clothing that you are going to put as much thought and as much emotion.”
Along with the displays there is a film clip of five royal weddings from the Queen Mother to the latest high profile royal to tie the knot the Duchess of Cambridge in her Anna Valentine dress but perhaps even she is upstaged by the most memorable of those special moments, Lady Diana leaving St Paul’s Cathedral, the long train of her David Emanuel designed dress extending forever down the long staircase like a river of silk as she greeted the waiting public she so loved.
There are many highlights to this exhibition and something for every taste from the sophisticated and formal dress worn by the Duchess of Cornwall befitting the more mature lady to the dip dyed pink and ivory creation for Gwen Stefani by John Galliano who also contributes the piece de resistance for Kate Moss’s wedding to Jamie Hince, that it is said took no less then 700 hours to finish. The V&A is fast becoming home to fashion exhibitions and the lay out and lighting is superb.

Words David Coomber
pictures courtesy of the V&A

Prices £13.50 including donation
Senior £11.00 ditto
Student £8.00
Family £20.00
Book by (0) 800 912 6961
Exhibition opening times
Daily 10.00-17.50

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