Strictly ballgowns: New exhibition at the V&A to chart the glitz and glamour of formal gowns over the decades
07:51 GMT, 16 May 2012
A collection of extravagant, decadent and often bizarre dresses by some of fashion's top designers will go on display to celebrate the glitz and glamour of Britain's ballgowns.
One of the gowns featured in the exhibition at London's Victoria and Albert Museum is made entirely from feathers while another boasts an unusual combination of latex and lace.
They are just two examples from the eclectic range of 60 dresses marking the journey of formal attire from private events to the public parade in Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950.
Electric designs: A dress by Gareth Pugh made with silvered leather is displayed with others at the Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 exhibition at The Victoria and Albert Museum in London
Charting fashion: A vast array of designer dresses inspired by the British ballgown are featured in the show
Co-curator Sonnet Stanfill said: 'This exhibition is a very exciting moment for us, we really wanted to launch the new fashion gallery with a display that celebrated British fashion design.'
The show displays a vast array of specially made designs for social events like debutante balls, royal state occasions and red carpet events spanning 60 years.
Ms Stanfill continued: 'Most people are excited by the idea of a fairytale evening, of choosing a gown that shows their level of taste.
'There is the moment that everyone hopes for when a woman goes to her wardrobe and chooses a gown, to have that moment where you feel like you're the belle of the ball.'
Visitors stepping into the softly lit halls, will be able to see some of the most beautiful and daring creations from designers such as Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Erdem.
Old fashioned glitz and new age glamour: Gowns worn to social events such as debutante balls, royal state occasions and celebrity red carpet events are all featured in the exhibition
Mixed range: Some of the dresses are very traditional and date back to the 1950s while others have a modern twist on the formal ballgown such as this silk design, pictured left, by Amanda Wakely
Projections of the gowns, shot by photographer David Hughes, are beamed on each alcove of the domed ceiling in crisp detail.
The lower gallery showcases historic gowns dating back to the 1950s, including a Norman Hartnell design for the late Queen Mother and Princess Diana's Elvis Dress by Catherine Walker.
Choosing the designers and the dresses on the display was an extremely difficult task, Stanfill said.
'We really looked for things that showcased different couture techniques, different silhouettes and also of course, it had to be British, so by culling through our permanent collection, we chose the pieces that we felt were the grandest examples.'
Touch of sparkle: Dresses are made with a vast range of materials – including gems, silk and even latex
The exhibition, which has a total of 60 dresses on display, opens on May 19 and runs until January next year
White chandeliers and giant silvery pearl necklaces which the mannequins are perched upon make up the new mezzanine level, which was designed to represent a grand ballroom.
But the exhibition isn't all about parties and layers of tulle and froth, added Stanfill, who said she discovered a layer of subversion beneath Atsuko Kudo's design, which appears to be lace but is made from latex.
'One of the things I have really enjoyed working for on this show, is notion of subversion.
'It's more than just a dress, it's that one element of surprise that I have really enjoyed discovering,' Stanfill said.
'British design, you think you know what it's all about and then something comes along and upends your preconceived notions.'
Famous gowns: A taffeta dress by Elizabeth and David Emanuel, far right, worn by Joan Collins is displayed next to a silk dress by Norman Hartnell
Cutting edge: The Ballgowns exhibition is displayed in the newly renovated Victoria and Albert Museum Fashion Galleries