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Inspiration

Explore the Golden Age of Couture Online

May 02, 2012
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The Victoria & Albert Museum created a pattern from this dress (details), held in its collection, created for Horrockses Fashions in 1953. The pattern is still available on the exhibition microsite as a PDF download!

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London mounted a tremendous exhibition titled “The Golden Age of Couture” that ran from September 2007 to January 2008. The exhibition has long been dismantled at the museum itself and the garments and other materials returned to storage, but luckily for those of us who missed visiting the exhibit in person, the online component is still available.

The V&A’s microsite on “The Golden Age of Couture” exhibit offers a rich, in-depth look at the couture practitioners of Paris and London from 1947 through 1957 and their fashions. It explains how the production of couture fashion helped fuel the French and British post-World War II economies and recounts how the various couture brands evolved and expanded into new, less exclusive markets through the decade.

If you love couture fashion, Christian Dior’s New Look and its contemporaries, and British and French fashion history, do not miss this site-but wait to make your visit until you have a large chunk of time to spend, because you won’t want to drag yourself away.

The exhibit microsite offers too much to detail, and several of the supplementary material links are broken, but the meat of the exhibition is still intact. Here are just a few highlights:

  • View historical timelines of many prominent couture houses, including Worth, Madame Gres, Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Jean Patou, Pierre Balmain, Coco Chanel, and several contemporary couture designers.
  • Look inside various extant couture garments and peel back their layers (so to speak) to see the level of detail that went into creating each one.
  • Explore the individual styles of the most prominent couture houses of the period.
  • Learn about the skills required for couture-quality dressmaking and tailoring.
  • Gain perspective on the many ancillary trades, professions, and industries relied upon by couture houses.
  • Learn about couture’s evolution toward the less-exclusive boutique and ready-to-wear markets.
  • Three podcasts: One discusses Balenciaga’s suits, one offers background on Lady Alexandra’s special arrangement with couturier Jacques Fath, and one explains the cultural history surrounding British tailoring. They are still available via the website.
  • A dress pattern, created exclusively for the exhibition and downloadable for free as a series of PDFs, taken from a 1953 ready-to-wear, printed cotton day dress (details) designed by Horrockses Fashions and held by the V&A (sized UK 10, 12, and 14). Print-at-home and print-shop formatted options are offered.

I could spend hours browsing this site and learning all about the history of couture-and the vintage dress pattern is quite a find!

Have you visited “The Golden Age of Couture” microsite? Were you lucky enough to see the exhibition in person? Have you made the dress? Tell us all about it!

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  1. User avater SLMiller June 28th

    Update: I've just learned from the V&A's digital content team that the Golden Age of Couture microsite will be retired soon, because it was built on a technology that is no longer supported. They'll be redistributing the information to the rest of the V&A's online fashion pages, but very soon it will no longer exist in its current form. Visit while you can!
    On another note: The Victorian and Edwardian eras are referred to as "The Golden Age"; but that is not at all a reference to the fashions of the time.

  2. User avater FranGrimble May 13th

    I've always thought the golden age of couture was the Victorian and Edwardian eras . . . but those styles are not as trendy right now as mid-20th-century ones.

  3. parrot May 9th

    If anyone is planning to visit SW Scotland over the next few months then include a visit to Shambellie Costume Museum (a Museum of Scotland attraction, just outside the village of New Abbey in Dumfries & Galloway, where there's a display of Horrockses dresses, from this exhibition, along with more historical costumes.I live a near enough to visit and plan to spend a good few hours there, once the schools are on holiday, to relive my past. I recall my mother sewing up similar style dresses in the 50's.You could buy such wonderful polished cottons then and they really did keep their crispness after washing, tho' there was always a bowl of starch to fall back on if you wanted the skirt to stick out more. Happy days!!

  4. Jenerator May 8th

    saw this exhibition a couple of years ago in Bendigo, Australia. Loved it! Wished I could have touched the dresses to see how they were constructed though.

  5. user-1117631 May 8th

    W were fortunate that the exhibit was at the Frist Museum here in Nashville a couple of years ago (I think this was the only US stop). It was WONDERFUL! I went several times with sewing friends, with my ASG group, and took the 4H girls I work with teaching them to sew. Everyone loved it. It is too bad that it is not continuing. I wish there were more of those exhibits!

  6. User avater hautestuff May 8th

    What a great link! I'm sure I'll be spending time exploring the site. Thank you for posting this resource.

  7. User avater okeowo May 4th

    thanks for sharing the link..

  8. User avater okeowo May 4th

    just downloaded it.

  9. User avater okeowo May 4th

    p;s how can i download this.

  10. sewingmonk May 2nd

    Thank you for posting the links. I've been looking for a vintage summer dress pattern and this 'fills the bill' perfectly. The download worked seamlessly ;-)

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