V&A Ballgowns: from Diplomacy and Balls to Red Carpet

Exhibitions at London’s V&A museum have always been a treat both for the eyes and the soul, and the current show, ‘Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950’, is no exception.

he museum, which boasts one of the biggest and most unique fashion collections in the world, showcases in its newly renovated Fashion Galleries over 60 ballgowns, representing 60 years of British style. Despite the changes in trends over the years, what unites all the gowns on display are their timelessness and craftsmanship. Silk, crepe, taffeta, chiffon, lace are just few of the luxurious fabrics used in conjunction with heavy embroidery, beading and other garnishing, to create one of a kind evening gowns that withstand the test of time.

But what is even more captivating is the diversity of styles coming from UK designers of different cultural backgrounds. Featured Asian designers Hussein Chalayan, Erdem Moralioglu, Atsuko Kudo, Osman Yousefzada and Yuki have brought new aesthetics and inspiration into British style. Tokyo-born Atsuko Kudo, for instance, specializes exclusively in latex-made garments. “Latex is very sensual and empowering to wear for fetish and fashion,” explains Kudo. And since for true style devotees fashion is fetish, it’s not surprising that her garments have been popular among celebrities, including extravagant Lady Gaga.

Asian influences on design also find their way into gowns created by English designers. Many elaborate garments worn by the royals on state visits, as a gesture of goodwill and to strengthen diplomatic relations, incorporate various cultural symbols of the host countries. Queen Elizabeth’s gowns featured pink crystal peonies on the state visit to China in 1986, yellow fabric and embroidery to match the yellow sash of the Thai Order of Chakri on a visit to Thailand in 1972, and embroidered pink cherry blossoms for a 1975 visit to Japan. When Catherine Walker was designing her ‘Elvis dress’ for late Princess Diana, worn on the official visit to Hong Kong in 1989, she used pearls as a symbol of East Asia.

Fashionista or not, everyone will find ‘Ballgowns’ exhibit interesting. As they were popular then, ballgowns retain their appeal in today’s world of economic recession and social upheavals as an escape to a place of fantasy, luxury, and spectacle


Exhibit Info:

19 May 2012 – 6 January 2013

Victoria and Albert Museum

Fashion Galleries

Admission charges apply




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