Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 - V&A Exhibition (London)


What started out as a short blog hiatus, somehow managed to turn into a very long break. All of which I blame on work, other commitments and the fact that fashion in the last few months has left me slightly uninspired. But having dragged my friend T to the V&A Ballgowns exhibition last week, I thought it would be a nice way to revive Haute World for a bit (though bear with me - updates may still be somewhat sporadic).

Having first perused the reopened fashion galleries, which I'd highly recommend - especially considering it's free - T and I began our cultural journey on the ground floor of the exhibit. Split into two parts, this area showcased the ballgowns since 1950, while the upper level featured the more contemporary dresses. Throughout the visit, various dresses from the exhibit could be seen projected on the ceiling of the dome above.

Not surprisingly, the most striking gowns were the ones from past eras - back when formal attire was only the norm for private events and handmade for a particular client. Wearers ranged from royalty to debutantes with every outfit immaculately made and beautiful to behold. Through time, private functions evolved to the more public charity balls - and in recent years: red-carpet events.

Ballgowns since 1950

Top: Mary Donan, Yuki, Matthew Williamson and Belville Sassoon, left: Victor Edelstein, Bruce Oldfield (made for Bianca Jagger) and Murray Arbeid worn by Diana, Princess of Wales, right: Hardy Amies.

Designed for the ball: David Emanuel, Worth of London, Norman Hartnell

Rayne Shoes. Gowns and accessories by Dior

Radical Robes 1990-2012, including gowns by Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and, Zandra Rhodes

Left: Alexander McQueen dress from his last collection. Right: 'Elvis Dress' by Catherin Walker created for Diane, Princess of Wales

The biggest contrast, once you reached the upper level was that despite the beauty of the dresses, grouped together in three clusters, there seemed to be a personal touch missing. As everyone knows, these days evening dresses are worn on the red carpet for a mere few hours, chosen by a stylist and lent to a celebrity, who's body shape was never the intended target of the designer. Unlike the lower level, which featured gowns that were actually purchased by their wearers and lovingly stored for future generations, it seems an awful shame that most gowns these days are passed from one celeb to another before ending back in a designer's showroom. 

Contemporary Ballgowns

Overview of one of the upper level displays. Right: Alexander McQueen feathered gown as worn by Daphne Guinness.

Left: Craig Lawrence, Christopher Kane, Ralph & Russo (as worn by Beyonce). Right: Vivienne Westwood.

Craig Lawrence, Jenny Packham (as worn by Sandra Bullock) and Gareth Pugh's metallic gown made of leather.

Giles Deacon, Nicholas Oakwell

Amanda Wakely, Holly Fulton

Roksanda Illincic

Left: Marchesa. Right: Mark Fast, John Galliano, Felicity Brown

Erdem, Mary Katrantzou

Nevertheless, the exhibition made a good point of showing that even contemporary British fashion houses like Alexander McQueen or Vivienne Westwood have successfully bridged the gap between the red carpet and traditional royal functions. With Britain being a focus of pretty much everything these days, this exhibition is definitely worth a visit and will thankfully be open for quite a while longer. If you're in London around this time, I'd definitley urge you to check it out - especially considering the images I took don't really do the gowns much justice...

Additional images shown above are the copyright of the V&A,  Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Wild Swans (London, UK)

First off, apologies for the long hiatus from Haute World. A combination of my recent trip to Chicago and NYC, as well as a new day job have kept me from posting as frequently as I would have liked and I'm afraid future updates will most likely be sporadic as well. If you do want to catch up with my travels and window shopping adventures, I would suggest also following me on Twitter and/or Instagram, where I still plan to post more regular updates on anything interesting I may find.

One treasure I still really want to share with you all is a boutique I visited right before I left for the States. Thanks to the lovely Dena who organized the event, a few of us got a chance to browse the beautiful Wild Swans (located in Islington) one evening, while sipping champagne and munching some very decadent cupcakes. Founded by Caroline van Luthje, who opened the first Wild Swans store in Chiswick five years ago, the aim was to give shoppers the opportunity to source some of the best Scandinavian brands - something she had missed since moving from her native Denmark to the British capital.

The boutique reflects the calm softness Scandinavian fashion is usually associated with and everything you find here will have been carefully handpicked and lovingly displayed. Brands stocked range from the more famous offerings such as By Malene Birger and Jofama to more independent designers, including Hanne Bloch and Rabens Saloner. As winter is approaching, the racks were appropriately filled with comfy soft knits and leather jackets. Like most of the girls present, I fell in love with a very flattering pair of leather leggings and a few delicate blouses. Just as tempting: the suede ankle boots, chunky scarves and contemporary jewelry from labels such as Bjorg.

As the images will hopefully convey, you'll immediately feel right at home once you enter the boutique space. Being a bit of a fan of unique decor, I appreciated the glass jewelry case, vintage suitcases and storage cabinets to name a few. And if that's not enough - the spacious changing rooms and friendly staff are sure to make you feel like you never want to leave.

Any Londoners or future visitors should definitely drop by, especially if you're looking for a more unique investment piece, rather than yet another throwaway item from the high street. Pricing is fair for what you get and if you're lucky (or time it right), you'll be able to snag something during a sale. If you're not in London - the good news is that a large majority of the items can be purchased via the Wild Swans online store, so head on over if you need to stock up on your winter wardrobe.

All images taken by Dena and yours truly.

Address: 54 Cross St, London N1 2BA
Opening Hrs: Mon-Sat: 10:00-19:00, Sun: 12:00-17:00

Wild Swans Homepage & Online-Shop

Chanel at Harrods (London, UK)

Anyone who's spent the last two weeks in London, might have caught the Chanel takeover at Harrods, which saw the luxury label occupy the department store's front facing windows, as well as over 20,000 sq ft of retail space. If you missed the extravaganza, fear not, because I'm finally posting a recap of this installation here.

Part of the Chanel windows at Harrods.

The first part of the collaboration consisted of some very elaborate windows, which brought Chanel's FW11/12 collection to life. The forest fairytale theme came complete with an army of woodland animals (all taxidermy and thus very real) and iconic Chanel bling housed in smaller display units. All of this would have probably been best viewed at night, but hopefully you'll get the idea from the images below.

A small selection of the Chanel windows. All animals featured in the windows died of natural causes.

The fun continued inside, where parts of the ground floor were transformed into a Chanel pop-up boutique, where the magical forest theme continued. In addition to the regular treasures, such as the 2.55 bags, perfumes and jewelry, shoppers also had a chance to buy exclusive cosmetic items and the special edition green shopping bag.

Mannequins in the magical forest (left) and some very coveted trinkets (right).

The second part of the pop-up focused on bags and perfume.

The iconic lion's head adorned all the walls (left) and the famous Harrods bag interpreted by Chanel (right).

The most impressive part of the event however, was the third-floor installation Une Promenade - "a contemporary excursion into the enchanted world of Chanel". Like Alice stepping through the looking glass, visitors could explore the universe of Coco and Karl in an almost surreal setting.

Passing through a curtain of giant pearl strands, I found myself in a camellia garden adorned with various Chanel items, including rubber wellies near the grass and high-end jewelry in glass cases.

The next room saw me literally step into a 2.55 bag, where the walls were lined with supple red leather and a wall of videos showed each step of the creative process involved in crafting the purses.

By contrast, the children's bedroom was whimsical and bright, filled with toys that included the famed Harrods teddy bear - decked out in Chanel of course.

The adjoining Haute Couture room was a reconstruction of Coco's apartment on 31 rue Cambon and came complete with giant dress boxes, mirrored walls and mannequins wearing the exquisite gowns.

Entering the world of Karl Lagerfeld, I was greeted by his Studio 7L (which is also a book store in Paris)... and a cut-out Karl.

For a dose of pop-art, the next space dedicated to the iconic No.5 perfume included art work and a giant bottle with an interior screen displaying some of the more memorable TV commercials.

Ever thought the 2.55 bag could be a tad bigger? The next installation featured a larger-than-life quilted bag, embellished with famous Chanel symbols and a jacket to match.

Finally, the tweed room was dedicated to Chanel's jacket fabric of choice, which lined the walls and floor of the area. The wall art featured chalk sketches of the current jacket models.

While the Chanel special is no longer on, you can of course still shop the luxury label at Harrods and various other stores around the world. But the question remains... what will they do with the giant quilted bag and all the cute Chanel dolls? I'll have to find out...

Louis Vuitton's Balloons & Dunes (London, UK)

I first noticed these Louis Vuitton windows during the recent FNO in London and as always - despite my ambivalent feelings towards the brand - instantly fell in love with the assortment of hot air balloons on display. Combined with the sand dunes and classic monogram trunks, the very enviable mannequins seem to be embarking on an exotic journey. If only I could travel like this...

Note how some balloons are toting bags - very cute.

Mini trunks / beauty cases.

Overview of all the windows - featuring more balloons on the second floor.

For more window shopping, you can now also follow Haute World on Twitter!