Tucked away in Bermondsey Street not far from London Bridge Station is The Fashion and Textile Museum. The brainchild of textile designer, Zandra Rhodes. It is small purpose built and for anyone with an interest in textiles and fashion it is a Must See. You can’t miss it, a bright orange and pink building designed by the Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta. I have been to most of their exhibitions since they opened in 2003 and this particular exhibition is their best yet.
We often think of Swinging London having started in the late nineteen sixties but it was between the late nineteen forties and the mid nineteen sixties that the real changes took place. It was the young who, in the aftermath of the destruction and devastation caused by WWII, were determined to bring about a new, fairer and certainly more fun approach to life than had previously existed.
In Britain the ‘Pop” revolution was led by the ‘Chelsea set’ a loosely connected group of young designers, artists, musicians, fashion models and intellectuals. Their social activities were centred on the Kings Road, at the time, a somewhat shabby street in Chelsea. The people who made up this set, are featured in this exhibition. Mary Quant the fashion designer who opened her first boutique, in 1955.
Quant asked Terence Conran to design her second boutique, Bazaar. Much of the design was influenced by the style of Italian designers such as Piero Fornasetti and Gio Ponti. In 1963 Quant went mass market and the fashion brand ‘Ginger Group’ was born. She also worked for J.C.Penny in the USA; and designed dress patterns for Butterick.
Mary Quant is credited with inventing the mini skirt although variations of it had been around before, though perhaps not as short as hers. What happened was, when she looked for clothes she wanted to wear she couldn’t find any so she designed her own, and the rest they say is history. Mary Quant did invent tights to wear under the mini- skirts. This was a great improvement on stockings and suspenders that were worn by every woman up until this point.
Terence Conran was designing furniture and fabrics from the early 1950’s. He was interested in modernist ideas and the architecture of Mies Van Der Rohe and was heavily influenced by the food and lifestyle of the continent, particularly France. He promoted the work of food writer Elizabeth David, who was bringing the best of continental cooking to Britain and opened his lifestyle store Habitat in 1964.
There are small room sets, featuring Conran designed furniture, fabrics and home accessories. A special section of the exhibition features the work of textile designer Natalie Gibson.
A treat is to see the early work of Bernard and Laura Ashley who from 1953 -1960’s produced furnishing ‘art’ textiles from their kitchen table in Pimlico. Yes this is the same Laura Ashley who had us all dressed as Victorian milk maids in the early nineteen seventies.
Don’t miss this exhibition. It is fun, informative and you are bound to find something you have either worn, sat on, or used in your own or your mother’s kitchen.
Fashion and Textile Museum from 8th February to 2nd June
Open Tuesdays to Saturdays, 11am–6pm
Thursdays until 8pm
Last admission 45 minutes before closing
£9.90 adults / £8.80 concessions / £7 students
Children under 12 are free
Words: Juliet Bawden – Creative Colour