Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Diana: Her Fashion Story...

Hello lovelies!

I recently visited 'Diana: Her Fashion Story' at Kensington Palace and wanted to tell you all about it.  I'd never been to Kensington Palace before, and if you want to visit and have never been either, it's worth noting that the exhibition is included in the general admission price, so you can wander freely around the open rooms at the palace as well as visiting the exhibition.  I would suggest booking online before your visit though, as there was quite a queue forming for those that were paying at the door.  The palace gardens are free to visit and are absolutely beautiful, so I'd certainly recommend a wander around those too! For the purposes of this fashion post, I'm going to concentrate solely on the Diana exhibition, so without further ado...

I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a royalist; I like that we have a Royal Family but I wouldn't say that I have a massive interest in them.  But there was always something about Diana.  I was only 11 when she died in August 1997, but I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when the news broke.  I was a massive Spice Girls fan at the time and was up early awaiting their latest TV appearance.  When I turned on the TV, I saw the bulletin that announced that Diana had been killed in a car crash in Paris and I remember running straight into my Mam's room to tell her.  We were a sad household that day; as I said before we aren't really royalists, but the charisma and compassion of Princess Diana resonated with everyone.  She really was the people's Princess.  The chance to view her wardrobe up close and personal was one that I didn't want to miss and it is absolutely stunning.  The exhibition itself is small but perfectly formed and catalogues Diana's fashion journey beautifully from her simple style in the beginning to her status as a style icon even now, almost twenty years after her death.

Creating a style

'Diana knew what she liked' and 'loved anything with frills and ruffles'-Vogue

Before becoming a Princess, Diana was unfamiliar with designer fashion.  Her wardrobe consisted of some simple staples and she borrowed a lot of what she wore from her friends.  After her engagement to the Prince of Wales, she began to meet and form friendships with designers who helped her to create a working wardrobe.  Her early style choices were characteristic of eighties fashion.

Regamus 1980-a popular brand for young aristocratic women

Gina Fratini for Hartnell, 1991
Worn for the ballet in Rio de Janiero
During the same trip, Diana removed her gloves and shook hands with an AIDs patient, removing the stigma attached to the disease and displaying her compassion for others in a single action.

Inspired by Grace Kelly's gown in Alfred Hitchcock's 'To Catch a Thief'
Catherine Walker 1987

Another Catherine Walker dress, from 1987, Diana wore this in an official portrait with Charles 

Bruce Oldfield, 1990

London designers and fashion illustration 

Diana's glamorous wardrobe put London fashion and British designers in the public eye and raised the profile of British fashion worldwide.  Her clothes had to be both practical and aesthetically pleasing.  Diana commissioned designers to create bespoke pieces for specific appearances; these designers would work closely with Diana, sketching out her ideas and pinning fabrics to each sketch allowing the Princess to make notes, suggest changes and highlight what she liked.  Together they would finalise each look.  The fashion illustrations featured in this exhibition are a thing of real beauty themselves!

Early public wardrobe

 Tweed suit (right), Bill Pashley 1981
Diana had two versions of this suit made in traditional British tweed.  The larger version, she wore on her honeymoon as it provided more room for manoeuvre for taking part in country sport

 Emanuel, 1981
Diana was loaned this by Vogue magazine for their shoot 'upcoming beauty'.  Shortly afterwards the 'Lady Di' blouse sold out on the high street!  She loved the blouse so much that Emanuel was chosen to design her wedding dress.

Emanuel suit, 1985
This suit was a commissioned piece for a visit to Italy.  Although the boxy look was fashionable, the suit was met with mixed criticism

The Spotlight

'Sometimes I can be a little outrageous which is quite nice.  Sometimes'-Princess Diana, 1985

Diana was unique in that she understood the rules associated with dressing as a royal but often broke with convention; she was a modern Princess.  She often made surprising and dramatic fashion choices, much to the delight of the press.  She abandoned the royal protocol of wearing gloves to greet people as she preferred to make human contact, was the first royal woman to wear trousers and she often wore black, which was usually reserved for mourning.  Many of her fashion choices were inspired by theatre and the arts which she loved and often saved some of her best outfits for attending these sorts of events.  It's clear to see that in her later years she understood clothing and what suited her; she was never afraid to be brave and bold with fashion.

 Murray Arbeid, 1986
This dress was inspired by Spanish flamenco and caused media furore when Diana paired it with one black glove and one red one

 Elvis Dress-Catherine Walker 1989
Although dubbed the Elvis dress, this dress was actually inspired by Elizabethan necklines; it was my favourite from the exhibition (and was also being returned after the weekend I visited so I'm so glad I got to see it) simply stunning!

 Victor Edelstein, 1985
This is the dress Diana was wearing when she danced with John Travolta at the White House

 Catherine Walker, 1990-the embroidery was strategically placed so that it could be seen from behind

 Another Catherine Walker piece (and another of my favourites) 1986
Diana carefully selected her looks to honour host nations.  This dress was embellished with falcons, the national bird of Saudi Arabia, worn when she visited the country.  The high neckline and long sleeves also respected local customs

 Catherine Walker 1986, from the 'Dynasty Di' (named as a reference to the glamorous outfits worn on the television show of the same name)

Victor Edelstein, 1985
The dress shown here has a few fingerprints, said to be from the young Prince's clinging to her legs

Working Wardrobe

'She would never wear a hat to a hospital because she said you couldn't cuddle a child with a hat on'-Philip Somerville, Milliner

Diana was a working woman; she attended around 130 engagements a year and each posed a different set of fashion requirements.  As seen in the previous section (see the white gown with birds), Diana liked to use fashion to display diplomatic messages overseas, but in a stark contrast her other outfits were more cheery and informal.  She had a great connection with children and often chose bright colours and accessories and she would allow the children she met to play with them.  By the late 80s and early 90s, Diana worked more closely with Catherine Walker to create silhouettes that were more streamlined and flattering to her tall frame.  Jasper Conran said that in meeting Walker, Diana had found a designer that could give her exactly what she needed and who concentrated on her; from this her style was born.

After her separation from Charles in 1992, Diana wanted to focus more on her charitable commitments and to be seen as someone who was a 'workhorse rather than a clotheshorse'.  She simplified her daytime look to more executive suits and shift dresses to match this image change.

 Catherine Walker, 1997
Worn for the Courage and Bravery Awards

 Catherine Walker, 1996

Catherine Walker, 1997
This was worn for a Bond Street shopping trip

From a suggestion made by Prince William, Diana decided to auction seventy-nine of her dresses off at Christie's in New York in June 1997, raising £3.4 million for AIDs and Cancer charities.  This was the end of an era; she closed the door on her royal life and style and opened another which allowed her to focus on her charity work.  Mario Testino photographed Diana for Vanity Fair to promote the sale at Christie's in which she wore some of the dresses featured in the auction.  The images are famous and show Diana as the true beauty she was both inside and out.

 Catherine Walker, 1992, smoking jacket tuxedo style dress

Catherine Walker, 1994-known as the 'sexy' dress-Diana wore this for a UNESCO charity event at the Palace of Versailles

Catherine Walker, 1990-a simpler piece and a break from the previous overdone fashion of the eighties

 The dress Diana wore for the auction was another Catherine Walker piece (1997) which was short and embellished but understated in comparison to the auction pieces.

I couldn't finish this post without talking about this stunning Versace dress.  Diana worked with more foreign designers once her royal duties ended.  This stunning work of art was an Atelier Versace piece; Versace was a favourite of Diana's.

Diana was a wonderful royal who will certainly leave a lasting legacy for both those who remember her and for those approaching this exhibition with fresh eyes.  The collection gives the viewer a real feel for how she grew into an iconic fashion figure, with function and practicality considered in each outfit she chose.  Her main focus was how her clothes would work for her when she met people; as long as she could make a connection with people fashion increasingly became a sideline.  She always looked beautiful-in the beginning as 'shy Di' and in the end as 'the people's Princess'.  Beauty shines from within and after learning so much about her its clear to see that she was truly beautiful on the inside and out.

 Scenes from the white garden, in Diana's memory


'Diana: Her Fashion Story' runs at Kensington Palace for the next two years and I'd highly recommend it, it's a sight to behold!  This is not a sponsored post, I visited the exhibition of my own accord.  The information used to write it came from the exhibition, but I'd also recommend  the catalogue, available from the Palace shop.


Tuesday, 1 August 2017

London in June Part 2: Balenciaga Shaping Fashion...

Hello lovelies,

For my second London post, I am going to concentrate solely on our visit to the beautiful Victoria and Albert Museum to view the 'Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion' exhibition.  My Mam had never been to the V & A before, so I was really excited to take her there; it's one of my favourite places to visit when in the city.

I like to think that I know a fair amount about fashion and I absolutely adore fashion history (I'm always trying to learn more about my favourite designers!) but Balenciaga is a designer that I'm ashamed to say, I knew very little about prior to visiting the exhibition.  I was really excited to learn more about 'The Master' and build on my fashion education.  And boy did I learn a lot!  If your main interest lies in modern day fast fashion, it's clear to see from the off how influential Balenciaga's work was for its time and how apparent it is in today's fashion world.  Let me introduce you to Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972) (Warning! This post is extremely photo heavy, but beautiful!)

Balenciaga is one of the most revered designers of the 20th Century; he was known by his contemporaries as 'The Master'.  Most striking of all particularly in correlation with this exhibition was his impressive use of fabric through sculpturing and his manipulation of textiles.  His creations varied in terms of style, one garment could be structured with detailed concealed boning, whilst the next could display fabric draped loosely and freely, yet still able to take the shape he desired it to.  His knowledge of fabric and figure and form was the real focal point of the exhibition for me; I was so impressed with his talent and ability.

Shaping Fashion is split into two sections, the ground floor showcases Balenciaga's style and craftsmanship, thanks to the V & A's extensive collection of his work from the 1950s and 60s, whilst the upper floor exhibits work from his contemporaries and those other designers heavily influenced by his artistry.  The ground floor also displays some of the collections from his clients, to give the viewer a feel for what it was like to be styled by Balenciaga himself.

Starting at the very beginning, it is clear to see how brave Balenciaga was with shape and colour.  This green dress from his 1961 collection is both abstract and original and gives a clear understanding from the off at how brilliant he was at manipulating fabric.

The images below have a completely different feel.  Born in Spain, Balenciaga was clearly proud of his Spanish heritage and allowed this to influence much of his work.  The black and white embellished ensemble below takes its inspiration from the costume of a matador or terero (a Spanish bull fighter) yet still manages to feel elegant in its execution.

Flamenco dancing also held a strong influence in Balenciaga's work along with black lace, another fabric symbolic of traditional Spanish attire.

Some of Balenciaga's later garments played around with more architectural shapes.  This pink dress (below) from 1961 with lantern sleeves is made from 'gazor' silk.  This fabric was produced by Swiss manufacturer Abraham and became a firm favourite of Balenciaga's due to it's stiffness at holding shape but lightweight wearability.  As a side note, I attended the exhibition wearing a top I that I had recently bought from Zara, complete with lantern sleeves (you can see it in some of my photos from the day).  Although this was unplanned, it's a perfect example of how Balenciaga's influence is still important and prevalent today.

Balenciaga preferred to make his creations rather than to sketch, so he employed sketch artists to transfer his ideas to paper.  Much of the collections featured in 'Shaping Fashion' show the original sketches paired up with he fabric that each garment was to be made in.

A book of fabric samples

'La Tulipe' a dress from the AW couture collection of 1965, is a stunning piece of fashion artistry.  Featured extensively in the exhibition, this piece shows how Balenciaga was able to marry sculpturing with draping seamlessly and effectively.  The inside of the dress contained corsetry which attached itself close to the body, to create a free form illusion from the front.  An X-ray image of the dress can be seen in the background below to show the concealed structural detail.

This X-ray image shows what was going on underneath the dress

Balenciaga's art of draping fabric can be seen in various examples throughout the ground floor of the exhibition, highlighting further his impressive understanding of how fabrics could be manipulated effectively.  Draping of fabric is still a highly popular technique used by the house today.

 Made in dressmaker's fabric first; make rather than sketch

 Concealed structure and draping married together again

As well as his own influences in Spain, Balenciaga was also inspired by traditions from around the world seen in his kimono dresses and those inspired by India.  The Kimonos were rounder in shape, whereas the Indian inspiration was more sculpted and elegant.

 I love this dress, complete with heavy silk satin fabric and detailed embroidery, it's a dress fit for royalty (said to be inspired by the gowns has mother once altered when she was a seamstress, owned by her wealthy clients)

Another interesting point to note is that Balenciaga was the first designer to use the 'dress on a stand technique' having padded dummies built to the exact framework of his models.

One of my favourite garments from the exhibition was this dress/cape below.  Designed just as that, to be worn as either a full skirt or a cape, it really shows off Balenciaga's ingenuity as a designer (and I loved trying it on!!).

Which do you prefer? I like the skirt but maybe not with my Converse shoes!

The devil is in the details: Hats...

Balenciaga's hats were very popular with his wealthy clients, and he had strict instructions for how each should be worn.  For those who couldn't afford his work or simply couldn't get their hands on it, copies were made by Harrods and sold in Harrods branded boxes.  Demand was so high for Balenciaga's work that this made it more accessible, much like the fast fashion in our society today! Who'd have thought that Balenciaga, Harrods and Primark would all have something in common!!

Lesage embroidery...

I found the Lesage section simply beautiful.  I've seen Lesage garments in a few fashion exhibitions that I've attended, but never like this!  Each piece was embroidered to shape and followed strict guidelines to minimise waste.  The pieces shown here sum up couture at its best, real understated elegance and beauty.

To wrap up my Balenciaga adventure, I'm going to show you the clients collections, followed by the work of other designers inspired by Mr B.  Starting with the collections, they round up and show off all of his techniques and artistry as a designer beautifully; you can see why he was in such high demand (and why some clients went into mourning after his death!)

Shapes popularised by Balenciaga through his couture collections and how they were received:

A great way to see all of Balenciaga's techniques side by side...

The structure of this wide-winged cocktail dress is my favourite from this collection, although it was not well-received!

Stunning collections from clients...

The upper floor-the world inspired by Balenciaga...

I absolutely loved Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion.  His relevance as a designer proved that shaping fashion was exactly what he did; without Balenciaga we probably wouldn't have some of the amazing techniques we have today.  Other designers draped and structured, but his conjunction of the two helped to create some absolutely stunning pieces; the Master is worthy of his accolade!  I loved learning about him and would really recommend the exhibition to any fashion history lover; it's simply breathtaking.  Thanks to the V & A too for allowing photography; otherwise I don't feel I could've done this exhibition justice-an outstanding collection of fashion artistry!


This is not a sponsored post-I visited Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion of my own accord, but would really recommend it.  It runs until January 2018 and tickets can be bought from the V & A here

I'd also recommend the exhibition catalogue 'Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion' which can be bought here

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