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Feature: Technicolor Dream – sixties fashion and graphics at the V&A

Swinging London at the V&A
Swinging London at the V&A
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Liz Powner checks out the Swinging London and Sixties Graphics exhibitions at the V&A. You can also browse some photos taken by Liz by here.

In a ground floor fashion gallery at the V&A, the Swinging Sixties has returned.

The scene is really set with a Granada film called In Gear from 1967. It includes contemporary footage of Kings Road and Carnaby Street, including the likes of Granny Takes a Trip, John Stephen, Hung on You, an antique supermarket and I was Lord Kitcheners Valet. The narration evokes period charm, detailing how the kids use the boutiques to ‘escape from the horrors of the H bomb and the everyday world of work’. Activities such as dressing up in vintage gear and military jackets apparently represent ‘a parody of authority and an affront to the uniforms of the present’. So now you know.

Personally, I found this short documentary quite insightful and far from a patronising ‘look at what these crazy kids are doing’ tone that some 60s television can have. Wonderfully evocative imagery included fabulous Vidal Sassoon style mod hairstyles on the shop girls and customers!

Miss Quant and the Mods:

The main exhibition continues with cases themed around a few key designers. By far the best represented is the ubiquitous Mary Quant with 14 dresses. Amongst those showcased are the lovely Miss Muffet black with white frilly neck & sleeves, some Ginger Group jersey shifts with zip-up fronts, cute Peter Pan collars and a number of PVC creations.

From the same mid 60s period there’s also classics from the likes of Jean Muir (a purple suede zip up dress), a lovely Georgie Group psych number, Zandra Rhodes paper dresses and a Foalle & Tuffin Black & White suit. Of particular interest, not least to cult TV enthusiasts, is a stunningly simple white PVC shift by John Bates, famed for creating Diana Rigg’s wardrobe for the Avengers. Men’s Fashion isn’t overlooked either – standout pieces include a great Mr Fish vertical stripe suit, a Tom Gibley zip-fronted suit with black roll neck sweater and various mixes of paisley shirts and ties.

Biba and Bohemia:

No 60s display can be considered authentic without representation from Biba, which is found in the Boho, Boutique section. Seven fabulous Biba creations are here, with designs contrasting from a sweet simple floral cotton shift to a more glamorous gold lame jacket. Biba catalogues were also on display and there’s a small case with additional printed Biba bits and pieces in the distinctive black and gold Art Deco style.

Other late 60s pieces included three Ossie Clark dresses, Bus Stop and a great psychedelic print dress from The Fool from Apple Boutique, plus all manner of hip gear from boutiques like John Michael, Hung on You, Village Gate and Granny Takes a Trip.

The last section was Pop Art and Space Age Classics, including the Paco Rabanne, silver discs dress and an evocative Yves San Laurent’s Mondrian inspired dress from 1965.

60s Graphics:

The Graphics part of the exhibition is upstairs, covering just 3 walls and 2 columns – but they make the most of the space. The most impressive hangings were the 2 large walls of British Psychedelic posters.

These were mainly from Martin Sharpe, Art Editor of ‘Oz’ and ‘Hapshash and the Coloured Coat’, a collaboration between Michael English and Nigel Waymouth. My favourite item in the exhibition was an original rainbow printed ticket for the ‘14 Hour Technicolor Dream’ organised by the International Times at Ali Pali. Michael McInnerey was the designer of this and many other fabulous flyers and posters for the UFO Club.

Other significant exhibits were some cool pin badges from the collection of Barry Miles with messages like ‘I’m for sexual freedom’, ‘Pills Please’ and ‘Go Naked’. There’s also lots of music posters, magazines and book covers – plenty to inspire and blow your mind!

Well organised and well annotated, as well as offering up-close examples of cultural artefacts from a day long past. You can catch both exhibitions up until February 2007. And if you want a memento of your trip, there’s also some great merchandise and postcards available in the shop.

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