Britannica at Selfridges 1951-1953

by Katie on May 9, 2012

Last week I attended the opening of Brittanica 1951-1953 in the UltraLounge in Selfridges’ basement, a space often used to highlight the store’s key launches or focus. 

Britannica 1951-1953 is a new fashion exhibition conceived by esteemed curator Judith Clark in collaboration with illustrious milliner Stephen Jones, exclusively for Selfridges’ as part of the Big British Bang, the store’s all-encompassing creative homage to the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics.
As a vintage crazed person, I couldn’t miss it. The prospect of seeing pristine ’50s pieces up close and personal was the beautiful bait. And, I could get to compare some of my own vintage archive to these pieces. Double win. And I wasn’t the only one. Queen of vintage and style icon, Vintage Bates was in attendance.

The initial inspiration and title for the exhibition was drawn from three issues of British Vogue published each February between 1951 and 1953, and set out to celebrate Britishness and its essence in the advent of the new Monarch, Elizabeth II.

The exhibition is steeped in black with focuses of subtle light that throw the mannequin, almost in movement, and the outfit into clarity. The reason for the setting is that as most fashion magazines and pattern books – another major inspiration for the exhibition – were published in black and white, so the exhibition is staged entirely in shades of grey against a black backdrop and with the stark lighting enhancing every nuance and fashion detail. Only Stephen Jones’ hats and the Victor Stiebel vintage gown provide strident colour contrasts.

Brittanica 1951-1953 is an homage to some of the most desirable styles worn by the Queen’s contemporaries during this period and includes one outstanding archive piece from one of the Royal family’s favourite designers at the time, Victor Stiebel. The exhibition takes a radical approach to showcasing the past, by almost entirely recreating key looks from the period rather than merely using vintage clothing. But this is not just a retro affair. Indeed, the pieces show just how much current fashion is influenced by this period. From Raf Simon’s A/W’12 duster coats to Dolce & Gabbana’s ’50s ensemble, nipped-waist, wiggle skirt suits.
The exhibition narrative, as well as its layout, is based on time – and its symbol, the clock – and follows a day in the life of a fifties fashionista. From morning to night, the exhibition showcases the key outfits a proper Jubilee lady could not do without. Cinched waists, Capri pants (freshly introduced in 1948 by Sonja de Lennart), structured tops (but corset-free), sophisticated skirts and dazzling dresses all feature.
As Stephen Jones as the exhibition’s main contributor, hats feature prominently, completing looks or being showcased in isolation as key showpieces. Each of the hats – also created exclusively for this exhibition by Jones – add meaning to the central narrative, and are coloured champagne pink, the ultimate colour of the coronation season.
As a rare free treat, this exhibition is not to be missed. From 4th May-24th June 2012 in the UltraLounge at Selfridges, Oxford Street, W1.

All pics featured remain the property of Katie Chutzpah.

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