The Fashion and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Street isn’t a typical museum and walking in you don’t feel like you have to be on your best behaviour (probably due to it being a yellow-and-pink renovated warehouse), and yet, for two months the Museum has held exhibitions and displays such as: ‘Harper’s Bazaar 150: The First and Last Word in Fashion’, celebrating various covers, editors and photographers since the magazine’s beginnings in 1867, ‘Wallace Sewell: 25 Years of British Textile Design’ celebrating the success of those whose roots stem from British design education and UK manufacturing, and more recently ‘Louise Dahl–Wolfe: A Style of Her Own’, an homage to the innovative 20th century photographer.
The first room of the museum is part of the 25 Years of British Textile Design, an interview with textile designers Harriet Wallace-Jones and Emma Sewell plays in the background whilst pastel-checkered patterns and materials are draped behind glass. As someone who didn’t know about either of these women, it’s a surprise to find out they’ve designed the Transport For London (TFL) seat patterns of both the Overground and Underground tube seats. Usually sat on when making a 9AM commute or late-night journey, the familiar moquette pattern takes on a new significance as you learn about the history and the time behind creating it, such as it being influenced by designer Misha Black, and more interestingly being sold as a variety of products ranging from stools to Christmas tree decorations.
The next room showcases the Harper’s Bazaar display; decades of influential and classic covers featuring some of the world’s most notable models such as Lauren Bacall and China Machado, the first woman of colour to appear on the magazine’s cover. It’s incredible to see all the vintage photography, but also to see just how innovative and forward-thinking the magazine was for its time, the setting and styling of the covers much more original and groundbreaking than of modern contemporaries.
The exhibit then goes on to showcase what Dahl-Wolfe became known for, outdoor photography in exotic and well-known locations. Moving away from the magazine, the display explores Dahl-Wolfe’s own interests and life through photography, we see portraits of William Edmondson, the first African-American to give a one-person show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and also Wolfe’s friend, models lounging beside a Samba band in 1940’s Cuba, and more interestingly a selection of partially nude photography in the 30’s and 40’s.
The photography, much more intimate than the cool covers of Harper’s Bazaar and all black-and-white, show just why Dahl-Wolfe is called a ‘pioneer’ of modern fashion photography as she explores artists, actresses, culture and the female body through the lens. Ranging from icons such as Vivien Leigh to fashion houses such as Chanel to Balenciaga, in nearly all of the photos Dahl-Wolfe’s signature style of natural lighting and beautifully posed models is present, making it clear why she remained at Harper’s Bazaar as fashion photographer for twenty-two years (1936 – 1958), creating 86 covers and over 2,000 black-and-white photographs.
In the final room, an upstairs balcony area, Dahl-Wolfe’s work spanning over two decades comes to an end, followed by a display of vintage Christian Dior to celebrate the house’s 70th anniversary. A small collection of original Dior dresses from 1954 to 1967, the dresses reflect the changing times and attitude to women’s clothing within haute couture, from a classically 50’s chiffon dress, to a young mini-dress of the late 1960’s, both capturing the sophistication of the label’s early decades. At the end of these incredible exhibition and displays focusing on female designers and photographers of the fashion world, you’re left feeling in awe of the history behind these fashion magazines, but also a bit nostalgic for a past era of elegance and sophistication. Make sure to visit before it ends on the 21st January 2018.
You can also book online for tickets to the exhibition here