Waving Off the Brides and Grooms

As the idea of a wedding dress exhibition at the V&A was first proposed ten years ago, before its development, tour and ten months on display at the V&A, it feels like the end of an era as we approach the 15th March closing date of ‘Wedding Dresses 1775-2014’. With that in mind, we thought we would bring this blog to a close with some final insiders’ snippets and share the perspectives of some of the exhibition’s team with you.

Well who said you cannot wear your wedding dress again! – Mary Linkins, Exhibition Assistant

  • Before going on display at the V&A the exhibition toured as The White Wedding Dress: 200 Years of Bridal Fashions to;
  • The Bendigo Art Gallery, Victoria, Australia
  • Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • National Museum of Singapore
  • Western Australian Museum
  • 58 crates were required to safely transport these objects the largest of which measured 217 cm x 167 cm x 191 cm and contained the dramatic Vivienne Westwood creation that Dita Von Tesse wore when she married Marilyn Manson in 2005.The exhibition is comprised of 97 V&A objects and 44 loan objects from 31 lenders.3 V&A staff members have their wedding garments displayed in the exhibition
Margaret Whigham's wedding dress by Norman Hartnell, 1933, safely installed in its case.  © V&A Collection

Margaret Whigham’s wedding dress by Norman Hartnell, 1933, safely installed in its case. © V&A Collection

Installation statistics:

  • It took an intensive 2 week period to install the exhibition, during which 2 V&A Textiles Conservators, 4 Technicians, 2 Curators and 2 Exhibitions staff carefully installed the objects into 29 showcases.
  • Personal items (fans, hats, gloves, garters, photographs) are displayed on 26 tables, veils are displayed on bespoke stands. Each of these stands were made specifically for the exhibition by our Technical Services and Design teams.
  • It took six people to install Margaret Whigham’s dress and 18 foot train into its case. We were then slightly stuck in there as it took up so much room…
Jonathan proposes to Sunhye at the exhibition © V&A Collection

Jonathan proposes to Sunhye at the exhibition © V&A Collection

The First Song – Our Gallery Attendants

  • It’s always good to know when our Gallery Attendants approve of an exhibition, as they are the ones who interact with the space, objects and visitors on a daily basis. So it was with relief I heard that one of our team in there for ‘Wedding Dresses’ wanted to know whether the accompanying music will be available online after the exhibition. She told me that, even after a ten month run and many seven hour shifts in there, the music soothed her, and she loved the atmosphere it created within the exhibition. We also received a number of public enquiries from visitors trying to hunt the track down, so, while I am afraid it might not be out there, here are the details should you want to join the search:
  • Title: AMBIENT ELECTRO Composer: LEEK, CLEMENT EDWARD BERTRAM Publisher: JG MUSIC PUBLISHING PURPLE FOX LIMITED Tunecode: 128871BN ISWC No: T-910.790.552-2 179 Duration: 179 secs

 

Waistcoat worn by Mr Eeles for his wedding in 1848  © V&A Collection

Waistcoat worn by Mr Eeles for his wedding in 1848 © V&A Collection

Treasured Keepsakes – by Susanna Cordner, Assistant Curator

As a part of the curatorial team, I thought I would focus on our collection. With that in mind –

  • The first piece of wedding wear taken into the V&A collection was acquired in 1900, when the museum purchased a coat and breeches made of white silk brocaded with silver-gilt threads.
  • The pieces on display which have been in the V&A collection the longest are a cream silk satin waistcoat and a cotton shirt with an embroidered bib. Both of these pieces were worn by a Mr Eeles for his wedding in 1848, and then donated to our collection in 1919.
  • The pieces on display which most recently entered our collection are the Pam Hogg dress and veil and Nicholas Kirkwood shoes worn by Lady Mary Charteris. Lady Mary married Robbie Furze in 2012, and then donated these pieces to us in early 2014.
Vivienne Westwood gown and Stephen Jones hat worn by Dita Von Teese  © V&A Collection

Vivienne Westwood gown and Stephen Jones hat worn by Dita Von Teese © V&A Collection

Preparing the brides for their big day, by Keira Miller, Costume Mounting Specialist

 I suppose I am allowed to say this now, so! My favourite piece in the exhibition is the John Galliano dress he made for Kate moss.  Its total of 390,000 sequins and 2800 pearls, which were hand embroidered over 701 hours on the dress and 253 hours on the veil, is hard to beat.

As well as acting as Costume Mounting Specialist for the exhibition, I had the fun job of creating the wigs for the brides. I explored this in a previous blog post, but my favourite wig to make was for the mannequin for Dita von Teese. The wig peaks out from under her hat by Stephen Jones.

My favourite exhibition moments are mostly visitor related. I loved meeting the people the dresses belonged to, were made by and/or were donated by and seeing the teams and relationships behind them. Gareth Pugh and Katie Shillingford visiting the studio with Stephen Jones to approve the way Katie’s dress and veil had been mounted was a highlight. They worked together not just as designers but as friends. It was also great having Anjali’s family come in to help tie the sari correctly, and having Lady Monson visit the studio to see her ancestor, Eliza Larken’s, dress.

And as part of the Conservation team, it was hugely gratifying to know we successfully toured the show around the world and still had something truly spectacular to share with our visitors here in London.

Thank you to everyone who came to see it, here and overseas we hope you enjoyed the experience as much as we did!

Red wedding dress worn by Monica Maurice, 1938.  © V&A Collection

Red wedding dress worn by Monica Maurice, 1938. © V&A Collection

Friends of the Couple – Elizabeth Bullock, Content Editor for Digital Media

I have said it before, but a particular highlight for me while working on the exhibition has been the community it has brought me into contact with, both from within the museum and without. It has been an honour to have people from across the world want to share their wedding stories with me. For instance, I was particularly thrilled to hear from Lara Simpson from Australia, who told me that while she would never be able to see the exhibition in London, she had found the blog a great read. Lizzy Bullock, our Content Editor for Digital Media, agrees. When I asked her to contribute to this post, she told me:

I have loved reading about the stories behind these remarkable wedding dresses on our blog, particularly Monica Maurice’s red wedding dress. What an incredible lady with a fabulous sense of style! It’s also been lovely seeing comments come in from all over the world from readers sharing their own wedding dress stories.

Jenny Copsey and her new husband on the steps of St Pancras Town Hall at their wedding in 1971

Jenny and Derek Copsey on the steps of St Pancras Town Hall at their wedding in 1971

A Chance Encounter – by Edwina Ehrman, Curator of ‘Wedding Dresses 1775-2014’

When we were planning the content and design of Wedding Dresses, I decided to include some quotations from diaries, memoirs and letters which describe the emotions, sounds and events connected with weddings.

For the top of the stairs leading to the mezzanine level of the gallery I chose a few lines, which I found very moving, from Edna Healey’s diary. They were written on the occasion of her daughter Jenny’s marriage in August 1971.

‘Jenny wanted “no fuss” … It was the happiest of days, though I shed a tear, as I watched them driving off in Jenny’s red mini, the car covered in streamers and clattering with strings of tins.’

I was astonished and delighted when Jenny got in touch having visited the exhibition. She confirmed that ‘no fuss’ was exactly what she wanted. She bought her wedding dress in a sale at Chelsea Girl for £2.50 but the photographs she sent later reveal how happy and relaxed she looked in her bargain buy.  She still has the dress too.

This was one of the most serendipitous moments of the exhibition for me and I’m very grateful to Jenny for sharing her memories and photographs.

Waving off the brides and grooms

The team behind ‘Wedding Dresses 1775-2014’, alongside our lenders, living designers and donors, have worked together closely and very hard to make it a success.  It has therefore been a joy to not only see it do so well, but to hear from so many visitors, particularly those who turned out to have a connection to a piece on display. We have heard from the grandchildren of brides, possible descendants of grooms and the former employees of featured designers and hairdressers. In each case, we have been able to mutually gain a further understanding of the garments in question and the lives behind them. Perhaps this is the privilege of working on a project where the subject is so inherently personal, but it has certainly set the bar very high as we all move on to work on other projects.

Finally, we would like to thank Edwina for steering this (stylish) ship so smoothly and for making it such fun to work on, and to thank you all for reading along with us and to everyone who came to the exhibition.

2 thoughts on “Waving Off the Brides and Grooms

Ariel Armarego-Marriott:

It was an absolute delight to see the exhibition when it was at the Western Australian Museum and a privilege to be involved. I can’t wait for the next fashion exhibition we may be able to host from your amazing collection.

elizabeth Powell:

Thank you so much for this blog. I tried to get to see the exhibition last year but the wait was too long didn’t have the foresight to book! I am visiting again next weekend and was so sad to see I have missed the exhibition. Read the blog which has made up for it! Thank you

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *