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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Little Black Dress Exhibition

Fashion and Textile Museum , 20 June - 25 August 2008

Written by Ruth Hickman

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Every woman has got one, this web ed or at least supposed to have one, online each person’s probably looks different from the next (though not if Primark has anything to do with it) and each most likely has a different purpose and a different story to tell.

The little black dress, currently being showcased at the Fashion and Textile Museum until September 20th, has been a fashion world staple and a seasonal key trend for over 90 years. Yet despite its unwillingness to leave the limelight, this classic piece remains ever versatile, and it is this that is celebrated most successfully at the exhibition; where else would you find a 1980s YSL lace and silk chiffon evening gown with ostrich and stripped cock feathers worn by Dame Shirley Bassey propped next to a 2005 Squirky by Vin and Omi rubber prom dress worn by Grayson Perry? Or am I just the only one that hasn’t been to one of Elton John and David Furnishes’ soirées?

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The exhibition setting is über elegant. A sea of sweeping drapes of white cloth illuminates the dresses perfectly, and the background Rat Pack music makes it feel like you have stepped straight into Breakfast at Tiffany’s. However, the little black dress is not all cocktails, dinner and dancing, and the environment does unfortunately somewhat pigeon hole the garment.

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Another downfall is that despite the exhibition’s claim to chart ‘the development of the little black dress from the 1920s to the present day’, a lack of effective grouping, for example by decade, as suggested by the timeline ascending the stairs, and a weak attempt at contextualising many of the pieces (there are all of three ‘iconic’ images shown), means that many of the dresses are lost amid the confusion. Ultimately there is no story being told.

Rather strangely the highlight for me occurred outside the main gallery space, opposite the shop and next to the little black dress-up area for kids (nice touch), where four glass-cased manikins were clothed in 1970s Zandra Rhodes punk little black dresses. Showcasing to perfection my favourite take on the LBD, I was impressed by Rhodes success in black, rather than the array of rainbow brights she is best known for, and left with a restored faith in the power and wonder of the little black dress.

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