The likes of Christian Dior (FR), Cristobal Balenciaga (ES) and Hardy Amies (UK) showed that European 'Haute Couture' goes beyond national boundaries. All that counted during their times was glamour, glamour and more glamour. Who knows what the presentable ladies would have worn had the grand designers argued about the correct translations for 'cocktail dress' instead of concentrating on its making.
On 22 September the London Victoria and Albert Museum is opening an insightful exhibition on the 'Golden Age' of couture, focusing on fashion products from Paris and London between 1947 to 1957.
Roughly 180 garments make up the compact exhibition, showing dresses from Princess Margaret's wardrobe to the first brassieres dating from the after war period. A personal favourite of mine is the cream coloured blazer and black skirt, supposedly weighing an impressive 80 pounds alone! To strengthen the fit, apparently. The items are accompanied by a number of fashion photographs, most of which featured in Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, which gives a very lively feel to the exhibition. Afterall, without the magazines constantly chasing the latest creations and presenting them on the most beautiful women, none of the designers would have reached the fame they enjoyed. As Carmel Snow, journalist at Harper's Bazaar, wrote: 'Editors need to recognise fashions while they are still a thing of the future. The dressmakers create them, but without the magazines, these fashions would never be established or accepted.'
Christian Dior's launch of the 'New Look' in 1947 clearly marked the beginning of a new fashion era. Claire Wilcox, curator of the exhibition, said that Dior replaced a very military style from the war time with a sort of new beginning look. Most significantly, he created longer skirts for the ladies, which aimed at stimulating the economy by requiring more fabric. The inspiration of economic matters was also later reflected at fashion shows when the most sought after designs were called 'Fords'.
The exhibition concludes with an astonishing collection of evening gowns and cocktail dresses. Beautifully matched by colours, the dresses feature big bows, studs and low cleavages. Dior's, Balenciaga's and Amies' creations glowing side by side paint a promising picture for the future of a Europe united in fashion. Then and now.