‘Everything is designed to serve its purpose in the most efficient way,’ intones the Pathé news broadcaster at the start of this exhibition of glorious, glamorous fashion and photography from the inter-war period. Strolling around the galleries of the Fashion and Textile Museum you wonder if that efficiency was directed at creating a new type of woman: streamlined, feminine, modern yet domestic and proficiently beautiful. Magazine covers from 1930 to 1936 remind the reader that ‘We Can All Be Beautiful’; only Vogue remains aloof from the nuts and bolts of primping and preening.
The 1930s sold a beauty myth: it was the era of glamour, art deco, the silver screen and the end of prohibition, but the reality was the depression, the rise of fascism and drudgery for most. Despite – or maybe because of – this, the appetite for Hollywood idols gliding across the screen in gorgeous gowns was insatiable. In a series of cinematic tableaux, the show downstairs effectively conjures up the nightclubs, cocktail bars, scavenger hunts and screwball heiresses of those films through a dazzling collection of evening frocks in ivory, black, blush, red and chartreuse. After the faux androgyny of the ’20s, a new femininity creeps in, where plunging V-necks and capelets present the collarbone as a new erogenous zone and the body beautiful is revealed by bias-cut satins and crêpe de chine.
Studio portraits explore the photographic fantasies of the time: from the tinted Vivex images of Vivien Leigh by Madame Yevonde to the lustrous Anna May Wong print by Paul Tanqueray, they are presented as modern-day goddesses to be worshipped.
Upstairs, reality checks in, with daywear for office and home, and light relief in the shape of sprigged tea-gowns and jaunty beach costumes for your (British) seaside holiday. The fashions are mainly female, with only the occasional male outfit. Luckily, the adjacent display of 30 glorious Cecil Beaton portraits offers the image of the divine Gary Cooper. If there is to be only one man around in the 1930s, he will definitely do.
By: Annette Richardson
|Venue name:||Fashion and Textile Museum|
83 Bermondsey St
|Opening hours:||Tue-Sat 11am-6pm, Thurs 11am-8pm, Sun 11am-5pm|
|Transport:||Tube: Borough or London Bridge|
Snap up exclusive discounts in London
Time Out's handpicked deals — hurry, they won't be around for long...