Curator's Choice: Rosemary Harden on Fifty Fabulous Frocks at Bath's Fashion Museum

By Rosemary Harden | 05 February 2013

Curator's Choice: Rosemary Harden, of Bath’s Fashion Museum, on new exhibition Fifty Fabulous Frocks...

A photo of a woman smiling into the camera
© Fashion Museum, Bath
“We have been planning this exhibition for two years and the selection of the 50 pieces has been a careful editorial process.

There were some show-stoppers to be included right from the start. But other pieces came, and then went, and then came back again into the final exhibition object list.

The roll call embraces the very best of fashion’s Hall of Fame, from Poiret, Vionnet, and Schiaparelli to Ossie Clark, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Comme des Garcons.

This year the Fashion Museum celebrates its 50th anniversary in Bath. All 50 of the ensembles on show are part of the Fashion Museum’s collection. We hope that this exhibition will showcase the amazing archive here.

The museum came to Bath in 1963, established by Doris Langley Moore, a costume designer and collector, and Bath City Council.

Today, the museum is Designated by Arts Council England as a collection of outstanding national significance, and very recently was listed by CNN as one of the Top 10 fashion museums in the world – the only UK entry.

It seemed appropriate for the 50th anniversary to select 50 of the Fashion Museum’s greatest hits. These range from the earliest piece in the collection, the Silver Tissue Dress from 1660, through to a recent donation from the designer of an ensemble by Burberry Prorsum from Autumn / Winter 2012.

Two pieces that encapsulate the approach that we have taken: a black and white ostrich feather and rhinestone two-piece ensemble by Yves Saint Laurent which belonged to prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn is stunning, especially as she wore it to party with Rudolf Nureyev on the dance floor of a New York nightclub in the 1960s.

A delicate cream silk net evening dress from the late 1820s, embroidered all over with gold metallic strip ribbon, highlights a change in the fashionable  silhouette. At nearly 200 years old, it would still be a show-stopper on any red carpet today.

The Ossie Clark dress is also stunning. We have chosen a red and black crepe long dress from 1971; this is the same style of dress as worn by Ossie Clark’s wife, Celia Birtwell, in the David Hockney painting Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, one of Tate Britain’s most iconic paintings. Here at the Fashion Museum visitors will be able to see the real thing.

Some of the pieces in the show illustrate a personal wardrobe moment. Others mark an iconic moment in fashion history.

We hope that the 50 Frocks illustrate a slice of the Fashion Museum collection, which numbers between 80 and 100,000 objects. It has become a source of inspiration for fashion fans around the world.”

  • Fifty Fabulous Frocks is at the Fashion Museum until the end of the year. See our preview.
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