Clothes are shorthand for being human
Claire Wilcox, 2001
From the fusion of fashion with surrealist art to Vivienne Westwood’s anarchic designs – we’ve collaborated with Google Arts and Culture to unlock the world of fashion with a new virtual experience and a host of online exhibitions detailing the incredible stories behind the V&A’s collections, and the stories behind what we wear.
For the We Wear Culture project (#WeWearCulture), we’ve taken one object – in this case a Vivienne Westwood corset from her 1990 Portrait collection – and considered it in 360 degrees, both physically and metaphorically, as it stars in a new virtual reality (VR) experience.
The VR experience explores how humans go to extraordinary lengths to refashion their bodies: how we exaggerate, suppress, sculpt and lift to conform to aesthetic ideals. The corset is just one example of how we have achieved these ideals. Like the V&A itself, this Westwood corset brings the world of fashion and art together in one place.
We’ve also worked with Google to create four ultra-high-resolution Gigapixel images from key pieces from our fashion and Asia collections. This has helped us reveal details of highlights from the V&A collections, until now hidden to the naked eye.
The Gigapixel of an 18th century Chinese robe features five-clawed dragons in pursuit of flaming jewels, flying bats and scrolling waves, that can now be viewed in incredible detail. This robe was one of several imperial Chinese robes from our Asia collection that inspired Dries van Noten’s A/W 2012 collection.
This coat was a collaboration between designer Elsa Schiaparelli and artist Jean Cocteau – another great example of fashion and art coming together. Its witty design, includes a double image of two faces and in the negative space they create, a vase holding the silk flowers on the shoulders of the coat.
Marshall & Snelgrove Coat
We chose this coat because it’s an object that speaks to the history of the V&A itself. It is an example of the influence the Arts and Crafts movement had on dress, with its rejection of the machine made in British art and design. Viewers can now see the intricate detail of the dramatic sprays of Sweet Cicely wild flowers and structure of the medieval-style collar.
The story behind this mantua, which would have been worn in the English court in the mid 18th century, is an interesting one. It arrived in the museum in the 1990s in 15 pieces having been discovered in a Cambridge attic in a box labelled ‘dressing up clothes’. This Gigapixel allows viewers to see the detail of the precious metal threads that would have sparkled in the candlelight of the royal court.
We’ve also created eight online exhibitions – with more to come soon – including:
- Schiaparelli and Surrealism
- Indian Textiles
- Gallery of Fashion
- Marshall & Snelgrove Coat
- The Politics of Fashion
- V&A Fashion in Motion
- Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery
- Influence and Longevity
You can discover more by visiting the V&A on Google Arts and Culture.
The V&A’s unrivalled fashion and textiles collection comprises more than 100,000 items. Some of it is on display, and much of it housed at the Clothworkers’ Centre. But, given the sheer size of the collection, we will never be able to show it all. That’s just one of the reasons we look to digital means to help bring our collections to life online. Our digital audience is many times the size of our physical audience and projects like We Wear Culture, help us connect our collections with a global, online audience.
Vivienne Westwood alongside artists and designers like Alexander McQueen, Jeremy Deller and Dries van Noten, have extensively researched our collections to inform their work. Similarly, we really hope that this collaboration with Google Arts and Culture is a way to bring our collections to many more people to help inform and inspire the designers of tomorrow.