4 Fabulous Fashion Exhibitions To See In London - The Gloss Magazine
Jean Shrimpton and Barbara Miller wearing Biba, 1973. Photo Duffy © Duffy Archive

4 Fabulous Fashion Exhibitions To See In London

Popping over to London? Make time to see these new exhibitions …

Twiggy sits alone in the Rainbow Room of Biba’s Kensington store, 1973. ©Justin de Villeneuve / Iconic Images

The Biba Story, 1964-1975, The Fashion and Textile Museum

Simple shift dresses, glamorous devoré wraps, sequinned bodices, leopard print coats, trouser suits, floppy hats and feather boas all epitomised the “Biba” look, originally created in 1963 by Barbara Hulanicki, who trained first as a fashion illustrator.

“The Biba Story, 1964-1975”, curated by Martin Pel, chronicles how Biba democratised fashion, beginning as a mail order company offering affordable, fashionable clothes before opening key London stores (on Abingdon Road, Church Street and Kensington High Street). These were frequented by teenagers and celebrities alike including Twiggy, Mick Jagger, Pattie Boyd, The Beatles, Cher and Anita Pallenberg, who were all attracted to Biba’s philosophy of accessibility and inclusivity.

The exhibition is spread over several floors; downstairs over 40 outfits reflect the progression from the early mini-skirted Biba girl to the more sensual, vampish look of the Biba woman. Collections of maxi dresses, hacking jackets, trouser suits and bias-cut satin evening dresses reflect Hulanicki’s inspiration – the glamour of 1930s Hollywood and the historic influence of the Pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau movements.

Upstairs shows how Biba became the first lifestyle brand – Hulanicki created the first full cosmetic range for black skin – engaging photographers such as Sara Moon and Helmut Newton to work on campaign images for the brand’s highly stylised catalogues, which are now collectors items. The exhibition is a fascinating insight into the brand and Hulanicki’s foresight as a designer. It runs until September 8; www.fashiontextilemuseum.org.

John Singer Sargent
Ena and Betty, Daughters of Asher and Mrs Wertheimer, 1901
Oil paint on canvas; 185.4 x 130.8 cm
Tate. Photo © Tate (Joe Humphrys)

Sargent and Fashion, Tate Britain

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was one of the most sought after artists of the last century, commissioned by many upper class families because of his flattering portraits which brought his subjects to life. He worked collaboratively with his sitters, regularly choosing their outfits and styling them; in this respect Sargent worked in a similar way as an art director at a fashion shoot.

This exhibition, staged in collaboration with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, features 60 works, and tells the stories behind the artist’s key patrons and also features more than a dozen period dresses and accessories, many of which were worn by his sitters. Highlights include the iconic painting of socialite Virginie Amélie Gautreau, Madame X 1883-4, which caused a stir when first revealed, as it showed Mme Gautreau with one diamond strap falling seductively from her shoulder. Other notable portraits include Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth 1889 which is exhibited alongside Terry’s dress and cloak, as well as La Carmencita 1890, depicting 21-year-old Spanish dancer Carmen Dauset Moreno, who performed in music halls across the US, Europe, and South America. The exhibition also features Sargent’s most dramatic and unconventional male portraits including Dr Pozzi at Home 1881, depicting the aesthete surgeon Samuel-Jean Pozzi in a flamboyant red dressing gown and Turkish slippers.

I was impressed by the scale of the portraits, and the Impressionistic details. It’s hard to believe that Sargent came to detest portraiture as a medium. In 1907, he wrote to a friend, “I abhor and abjure them and hope never to do another, especially of the Upper Classes.” If you liked “Lavery: On Location” at The National Gallery of Ireland, then this will appeal for its visual feast of colour, character and couture. “Sargent and Fashion” runs until July 7; www.tate.org.uk.

1959 Barbie No. 1 © Mattel, Inc.

Barbie: The Exhibition, The Design Museum

Marking the 65th anniversary of the brand, “Barbie: The Exhibition” will feature dolls, dresses and Dreamhouses, in a summer exhibition which is sure to appeal to fans old and new. The exhibition – opening on July 5 – will explore Barbie’s changing appearance in relation to evolving cultural shifts around diversity and representation.

Highlights include some of the most recognisable and bestselling dolls, including the “surfer girl” Sunset Malibu Barbie from 1971, and the Day to Night Barbie from 1985, which was designed to reflect the workplace revolution for women in the 1980s, and which saw Barbie’s work-attire pink suit transform into a chic evening gown. There will also be two examples of 1992’s Totally Hair Barbie, the best-selling Barbie of all time which has sold over ten million across the globe.

The Barbie universe is also explored – from Barbie’s homes and play sets to her cars, as well as her ski cabins and space stations. Fashion is a major theme running through the show with many original outfits reflecting Barbie’s origins as a fashion doll and her impact on modern dress. This includes outfits such as “Poodle Parade” (1965), a life-size replica of which was worn by Billie Eilish when she performed at the 2024 Grammy Awards, and a 1985 outfit by Oscar de la Renta, the first of many designer collaborations with the brand.

Visitors will be able to trace the changing silhouettes of mainstream fashion over the last 65 years through the exhibition, and they will see the influence of designers — from Claire McCardell and Christian Dior, to Nolan Miller and Zac Posen — on Barbie fashion choices.

The final section of the show spotlights the enduring role Barbie has as a pop culture icon, looking at her impact on design from fashion to film, as well as the Barbie brand’s forays into social advocacy. This section also will include original costumes worn by actors in the 2023 movie. “Barbie: The Exhibition” opens on July 5 and runs until February 23, 2025; www.designmuseum.org

Icons of British Fashion, Blenheim Castle

Ok, so not theoretically in London, but hop on the train at Marylebone Station and you will be at Blenheim Castle in little under two hours, where the newly opened “Icons of British Fashion exhibition” is nothing short of spectacular. Each room along the visitor route of the 300-year-old palace pays homage to a British fashion designer, starting in the Great Hall with designs on display by the late Dame Vivienne Westwood and her creative partner Andreas Kronthaler.

Milliner Stephen Jones is celebrating the relationship between Christian Dior and Blenheim showcasing three complete Dior outfits from the creative directors with whom he has collaborated since 1996.

Other designers featured include the late Jean Muir, known for her precision cut and attention to detail. The Long Library will be the backdrop for Stella McCartney’s designs, while the dramatic Red Drawing Room is a fitting setting for Zandra Rhodes’ flamboyant dresses. Anglo Irish designer Lulu Guinness is also being featured with a treasure trove of handbags as well as new pieces crafted from recycled materials exclusively for the exhibition.

Alice Temperley has created a dreamy, party installation, while Bruce Oldfield, currently a favourite designer of Queen Camilla, was inspired by a former Cecil Beaton photograph for his installation showing how to dress for grand occasions in a contemporary style.

Other brands at the exhibition include Barbour, Terry de Havilland and Turnbull & Asser. The latter has been inspired by the style of Sir Winston Churchill, who was born at Blenheim. Turnbull & Asser famously made Winston Churchill’s “siren suit” – one of his favourite garments worn during the wartime years. The exhibition, in fact, coincides with the 150th anniversary of Churchill’s birth and runs until June 30; www.blenheimpalace.com.

Where to Stay: The Lime Tree Hotel, Belgravia

This affordable boutique bolthole in fashionable Belgravia is one of my favourite places to stay in the city. Housed in two historic townhouses, the hotel has 26 pretty rooms, as well as a “secret” walled garden, lounge and café-style restaurant, The Buttery, where breakfast is served for residents.

It couldn’t be more accessible, beside Victoria Station, and a short walk from Sloane Square tube station, making it easy to get to museums and galleries. It’s also on the doorstep of one of my favourite shopping streets in the capital: Elizabeth Street – which is home to Philip Treacy’s atelier, Jo Loves flagship boutique, Les Senteurs, Summerill and Bishop as well as Me+Em – so there’s provide plenty of scope for some retail therapy after taking in some cultural sights. As for local restaurants, try The Thomas Cubbitt on Elizabeth Street or Wild by Tart in Eccleston Yards for modern British flavours, or Olivomare, for a chic Italian supper. www.limetreehotel.co.uk


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