A week by myself in London, and Mr. M tied to the desk, meant that I had the opportunity to organise a girly outing to the Fashion and Textile Museum on 83 Bermondsey Street. I arranged to do the visit with my good friend, Sue, whom I met beforehand for a leisurely walk from London Bridge Station. Having used this area for commuting to and from for the last 25 years, there is a mixture of feelings in seeing that the area is most definitely on the up just beyond all the shiny buildings that have risen during that time. The Fashion and Textile Museum is a startling building – square, in a kind of moderne form but painted in Ricardo Legorreta style Mexican colours (i.e. very bright), so it was not difficult to find!
The exhibition started with some great examples of Victorian swimwear designed to ensure as little flesh as possible was exposed. It appears that you could even buy swimming tights in those days! The sailor look was a very popular style for swimwear but we also spotted a costume with a built in tie, just to make sure you looked smart whilst paddling in the waves. The exhibition then opened out to a fantastic tableau of 1920s and 30s costumes set against a painted backdrop of Saltdean Lido. There were some very stylish outfits on display, but the practicality of wearing those knitted costumes, and remaining elegant, must have made bathing quite tricky. You would always worry about stepping out of the water and your outfit sagging down to your knees. There was a very sweet little yellow costume that some poor kid’s mother had knitted for them – made worse by the evidence that their twin sibling had a very smart looking shop bought version that probably wasn’t so prone to sagging.
The bit that we were really looking forward to was the 1950s costumes and we were not disappointed – it was a wonderful display of some beautiful outfits in fantastic fabrics. We loved the Horrocks suits combining a swimming costume, light jacket and shorts or a skirt in typical pretty Horrocks style fabric. Also in this section was a bathing beauty parade, showing glamorous costumes probably made more for posing in than swimming. My favourite was a beautiful copper and turquoise satin outfit with a scalloped edge. Unfortunately, today’s skinny mannequins don’t quite fill these costumes as they were intended.
I have to be honest and say that we rather whizzed through the rest of the exhibition after getting to the early 70s – we were keen to get our lunch in the very nice looking cafe built into the museum.
However, we also had the bonus of an exhibition of Rayne shoes on top of the swimwear. There were about 100 examples of very elegant shoes from Victorian times onwards, with a large selection of late 50s and 60s shoes. Also included were Wedgwood heels, in the typical Wedgwood colours with white relief decorations (who knows what Timpsons’ would make of those if you took them in for reheeling!).
Maintaining the shoe theme, I also went to the Pleasure & Pain shoe exhibition at the V&A a couple of days before, where they had a lovely selection of acrylic, glittery and also the Wedgwood heels. The V&A’s exhibition was very interesting and most of the shoes were of the exotic and unwearable variety – being of the bigger foot, I marvelled at some of the tiny shoes on show. Shoes of note included Moira Shearer’s Red Shoes, from the film of the same name (one of my favourite films), Elsa Schiaparelli’s ankle boots decorated with monkey fur (she wouldn’t get away with that nowadays!) and the Ferragamo rainbow coloured platform shoes created in 1938 for Judy Garland. On the upper floor, there was an area about those obsessed with shoes which included part of a collection created from 1914 to 1969 by Lionel Bussey who bought 600 shoes from high street shops, such as Dolcis and Lilley and Skinner, and kept them unworn and unwrapped until he died in 1969. They were bequeathed on his death to the V&A who now own this wonderful history of 20th Century ordinary footwear in absolute pristine condition. I would love to see what else is contained in such a fantastic selection of dead stock…not that my feet would fit any of them, mind!
Riviera Style: Resort & Swimwear Since 1900 is on at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 13th September 2015
Shoes: Pain and Pleasure is on at the V&A until 31st January 2016