“Hurry hurry hurry!” A new tranche of tickets is available from tomorrow; the exhibition has been extended, but if this experience is anything like ours when trying to book it will be hectic.
Most Silver Travellers will have at least a hazy recollection of the 1950s and the New Look. It was followed by the Quant/Biba revolution of the “swinging sixties” but in no sense swept away. Revolutions are cyclic, and what follows contains a good deal of its predecessors. So too in clothes: even the junks shop styles of recent days recycled found items.
Nothing recycled in Chanel: she was endlessly original; the new look had reference points in 1940s war-themed and utility styles. You could even argue the shorter skirts were an economy.
This exhibition is anything but economical, however: the most opulent display of designer clothing imaginable, with hundreds of examples. So many models render the search for representative images almost impossible. Nonetheless anything is representative: Chanel was and is instantly recognizable. The best compromise, however, is to select from the grand sweep of the staircase, like a Busby Berkeley musical, or the gallery displays. As well as clothes themselves the show includes photographs – models in street scenes – and drawings, even designs for theatrical costumes. Chanel herself appears, with her lovers including the Duke of Westminster, credited with the tweed designs inspired by his love of shooting. At the other extreme of course there are the ball gowns, perfumes and handbags as well as some over-the-top jewellery.
There is so much in this exhibition that it is difficult to imagine another to compete, unless it be the forthcoming V&A East David Bowie costumes, but those will not be for wearing in the street (and only rarely for a ball).