Illustration by Mina Bach
When Flo and I waltzed into Somerset House on a sunny Saturday afternoon, web nurse we were shivering with excitement. An entire exhibition devoted to Matthew Williamson, the King of boho chic? The man who practically invented Sienna Miller’s wardrobe, and garnered serious fashion kudos for bringing a rich, India inspired palette of colours onto the catwalk after years of nineties minimalism? We braced ourselves for a carnival of colour, with endless displays of amazing outfits, and sketchbooks of his designs to drool over.
How wrong we were. The exhibition is free, which should have been a sign it wasn’t going to match up to the epic Victor and Rolf exhibition at the Barbican way back in 2008. Based on the coffee-table tome published by Rizzoli, the show is basically an extension of the book – a couple of blown up photos from across Williamson’s career, some choice quotes from admirers in the fashion industry, and one or two sketches and backstage snaps thrown in for good measure. Quotes came from all the usual suspects: Anna Wintour, Alexandra Shulman and Lucy Yeomans all sing his praises on typed plaques alongside the photos. One of the more interesting observations made by Wintour was her admiration of Williamson’s ability to understand lifestyle as well as style when designing his collections. Comparisons to Celia Birtwell and Zandra Rhodes followed and I think that it would have been great if more had been made of the quotes and the points they made.
All very nice – but with the book splayed out on a sofa for you to flick through, we couldn’t help feeling slightly cheated by the whole thing. Granted, it’s cheaper than buying the book, and the photos do look lovely on the walls – it was fun to see his first catwalk show with all the ‘supers’ lined up in a row, and there are some nice personal shots too – but it took us about five minutes to walk around the whole thing. We left feeling none the wiser as to what makes Matthew tick (more what other people think make him tick). Where was the back story behind his collections, or better still, samples of the clothes themselves? I can’t afford a Matthew Williamson dress, so to just catch a glimpse of his archive would have been nice.Compare that to Viktor & Rolf, where we were treated to a giant room of eerie dolls wearing every single collection they had designed, with the crazy design concepts explained, and videos of the finished look on the catwalk. Pure fashion escapism.
It just seemed that with this exhibition, there was a missed opportunity. I just hope the Dior Fashion Illustration show at Somerset House fares better!.That’s £6 to get into so hopefully the money will go to making the exhibition feel like more of an planned project rather than a marketing tool for the book. So for a window into Williamson’s world of bohemian glam – buy the book – and if you don’t want to fork out forty quid, do go and see the exhibition. Also, If you do, we spotted many autographed copies of the book in the exhibition shop looking rather lonely…
Categories ,Central Saint Martins, ,fashion, ,fashion exhibition, ,Gallery, ,london, ,london designer, ,Matthew Williamson, ,menswear, ,museum, ,photography, ,review, ,Somerset House, ,Womenswear
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