With the Christmas party season now over, it’s probably safe to say that half the population have worn a little black dress at some point over the past few weeks, so after the success of their Indigo denim display, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery have moved on from jeans to party frocks with an exhibition dedicated to the Little Black Dress. Yes indeed, forget the Battle of Hastings and World War II, what museums really need to be documenting is the history of Victoria Beckham’s clothes.
The exhibition is curated by leading fashion designer Andrew Fionda, who has dressed the likes of Nicole Kidman and Celine Dion. Although his greater claim to fame is that he lives around the corner from me. Andrew has gathered together such a wide range of black outfits that you feel like you’re walking into a funeral for mannequins. Admittedly I wouldn’t spend half an hour wandering through the dress department of Next (no matter how much my girlfriend begs me), but this is historical art, so it was actually quite enjoyable.
The event charts the history of the little black dress, from its origins as a response to fabric shortages in the First World War, through its promotion by Coco Chanel in the 1920s and its booming popularity at 1950s cocktail parties, right up to its modern day role launching the career of Elizabeth Hurley. Outfits by the likes of Bruce Oldfield, Zandra Rhodes and Nicole Farhi are on display, plus a few dresses worn by international style icons such as Joan Collins, Joanna Lumley and... um... Dave Lynn.
As for Victoria Beckham, her contribution to the exhibition is a Julien MacDonald creation she was pictured wearing in her literary tour-de-force (well, picture book) ‘That Extra Half an Inch’. In addition to dressing Kylie Minogue and Naomi Campbell, Julien MacDonald also designed the British Airways flight attendants’ uniforms, which is probably what Posh would be wearing if she hadn’t joined the Spice Girls.
I particularly liked the dress donated by Zoe Ball, which she’d worn at her birthday party last year. Well, it wasn’t so much the dress I liked, it was the information that went with it. Apparently she bought it at a vintage shop in New York, had it shortened by the costume lady from ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, and got her P.A. named Em to sew a new fringe on the bottom. And to think some people just pop down to Marks & Spencers.
But the final word goes to a middle-aged lady who was walking around the exhibition, looking at the displays with a concerned expression on her face. I happened to be standing behind her examining a John Galliano dress, when the woman turned to her friend, shook her head, and said “Do you know what’s missing from this exhibition?” Her friend didn’t. The lady expounded:
“There isn’t one over a size 10.”