“Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950” Exhibition at the V&A Museum in London

Words by:

Nyssa P. Chopra

I love London. I love British culture. I love fashion. Fuse all three and you get the new exhibition–Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950–at the Victoria & Albert Museum in Kensington, London.

Pardon me, while I let out an effusive scream. *unrestrained excitement*

The exhibition opened on May 19, but it runs until January 13, 2013, which gives you just enough time to make it over there and witness the spectacular visual chronology of British glamour.

On display, sprawled over 2 floors, are more than seventy designs for various social events such as private parties, royal balls, state dinners, and opening galas. Displays include film and contextual images tracking the progression and history of ballgowns from the era of coming out balls to today’s celebrity events. You’ll also find immaculately styled accessories–bags, gloves, shoes–right beside the masterpieces.

Nestled on the ground floor are the historical garments, created by the finest in British high fashion since 1950. You’ll find a slew of royal frocks, haute snazzy masterpieces of David and Elizabeth Emanuel (the duo that designed Princess Diana’s wedding dress), and Norman Hartnell’s gown specially designed for the Queen Mother. To top it all off, my favorite was the absolutely stunning ‘Elvis’ pearl-encrusted cocktail dress by Catherine Walker, worn by the late Princess of Wales. Other pieces selected for the V&A’s extensive archive include evening dresses by designers such as Victor Stiebel, Zandra Rhodes, and Belleville Sassoon.

As you ascend the cascading oak staircase, you’ll find the inventory become progressively modern and experimental, but still unbelievably glamorous. Enter the next generation of exquisite ballgowns, fresh off the runway, and exclusively created by the likes of Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Giles Deacon, and Erdem and Jenny Packham. Keep an eye out for the one of a kind Gareth Pugh masterpiece, exclusively designed for the exhibition. Rounding out the gallery is the contemporary celebrity collection, worn by supermodels and A-list celebrities such as Daphne Guinness, Elizabeth Hurley, Kate Moss, Bianca Jagger, and Sandra Bullock.

As I strolled through the halls adorned with striking ballgowns, one thing that struck me was the relatively unchanged role of ballgowns. Ballgowns were icons of high-society glamour, and they still are today. Even with the advent of technology and the changes in our culture, ballgowns are still as relevant as ever. The only difference is that they’ve garnered a wider audience, so while it was exclusively reserved for queens and duchesses and debutantes before, you now find celebrities and dignitaries strutting down the red carpet in their exquisitely designed creations, scaling the industry to new heights.

I was absolutely blown away by how the styles and fabrics of the ballgown have evolved over time to adapt to the current social and cultural landscapes. The intricacy of the fine details was awe-inspiring.