Every year to celebrate the festive period, we commission a designer to create a Christmas tree for the Museum's Grand Entrance. These unique installations range from lavishly decorated real trees to hand-crafted twists on the tradition. Relive the magic of V&A Christmas trees past and discover 2017's 'Singing Tree', created by set designer Es Devlin.
The Singing Tree by Es Devlin
Set designer Es Devlin is known for the kinetic illuminated stage sculptures she creates in collaboration with the Royal Opera House and National Theatre, and with leading artists and performers including Beyonce, Kanye West and Adele. Created specially for the V&A, her new installation, the Singing Tree was brought to life via machine learning and thousands of words collected from the public.
Throughout the Christmas season, visitors were invited to contribute a word. These words were transformed into an audio-visual carol, illuminating the Christmas tree, accompanied by an interactive choir of human and synthesised voices.
Find out how the tree was made and hear designer Es Devlin talk about her inspiration for the project:
The Singing Tree was created in collaboration with video designer Luke Halls, creative technologist Ross Goodwin, creative studio Sunshine and music & sound collective Res.Lab. With thanks to PRG UK for the projection equipment and Yamaha for the sound system. Powered by disguise.
Evoking the spirit of a traditional Victorian Christmas, StudioXAG's installations are bold, highly decorative and celebratory, taking both the V&A at South Kensington and the V&A Museum of Childhood back to their Victorian origins. Dressed with bespoke, handmade decorations, the spotlight metal trees incorporate motifs from the Museum's iron roof framework, celebrating Victorian Britain's leading role in advanced engineering and technology.
Watch the video to discover the design inspiration behind StudioXAG's stand-out trees and Victorian-inspired decorations:
Ceremony by Gareth Pugh
Gareth Pugh is a British fashion designer renowned for his wearable sculptures and reinvention of luxury. His tree, Ceremony, echoed his radical take on form and construction, while still referencing the traditional shape of an evergreen Christmas tree. Constructed using wood, fabric, acrylic and LED lights, a group of tiered pyramids in mirrored gold, rising up four metres, surrounded a central beacon of light. Pugh aimed, “to provide a moment of reflection”, with a tree that referenced both an abstract nativity and the coming together of communities during the festive season.
The V&A is a true British icon and a guardian of our cultural heritage. It was an honour to be invited to take part in its festive celebrations.
Red Velvet Tree of Love by English Eccentrics
Helen and Colin David of textile label English Eccentrics created the Red Velvet Tree of Love, decorated with flocked, hand-cast reindeer antlers and white, heart-shaped baubles printed with traditional motifs, including a deer taken from a 1766 linen in the Museum’s collection. Helen also referenced a Victorian chair by H.F.C. Rampendahl, made from antlers and upholstered in velvet, as a key inspiration for their tree design.
I have always found beautiful and inspiring objects at the V&A, since I first came to London and visited as an art student. The combination of the feminine velvet and the masculine antlers of the Victorian era chair provided a very inspiring starting point for the tree, and of course the words ‘velvet’ and ‘antler’ begin with the letters 'V'&'A’.
Studio Roso’s handmade tree was a radical take on Christmas tradition. Over three miles of elastic cord was used to create the outline of a traditional Christmas tree, which stood over four metres tall. Within the strands, geometric shapes referenced tree ornaments and the crystalline structures of snowflakes and icicles. Again, inspiration was drawn from the Museum’s collections – this time the intricate craft of bobbin lacing, a technique often used for traditional Christmas decorations.
Boudicca was the first independent British fashion house to be officially invited to become a guest member of Haute Couture in Paris. Their tree design was a multi-sensory experience, inspired by stories of Christmas past, especially The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen. Boudicca’s deceptively simple tree focused attention onto a child-like mannequin holding a bundle of spent matches. Wild hair entwined with roses and brambles, with wings of peahen feathers, gave the impression of an otherworldly angel, while a giant cascade of violet-coloured ribbon contrasted against the full height of the tree. The experience was enhanced with a deep forest scent, a soundtrack of ‘wind in trees’ and dramatic stage lighting.
When fashion and homeware designer Jasper Conran designed the tree he acknowledged the Museum’s collections as a source of inspiration. Conran’s tree combined 1,000 crystal drops, donated by Waterford Crystal, illuminated in emerald and aquamarine, with a surrounding screen etched in chinoiserie motifs from his fine bone china range.
I have always been inspired by the incredible collections at the V&A. I am delighted to be creating the V&A's Christmas tree this year and I hope it inspires and delights in the same way the collections do.
Knitwear designer Kaffe Fassett drew on childhood memories for his tree design, which echoed the Swedish paper fan decorations he had seen at a Christmas party in New York. His design demonstrated an expert handling of colour, with a palette of rich shades of reds, from hot orange through to deepest magenta and burgundy, complementing the deep green of a natural tree. Fassett invited Friends of the V&A to help glue his colourful card fans to the tree, with a spectacular three-dimensional paper star, designed by Louise Lusby, crowning the top.
At the age of eighteen I travelled from my small home town in California to NY. At a posh Christmas party given by the famous magazine editor Leo Lehrman I was entranced by a magical tree he had decorated. It was covered in Swedish paper fans. They were round and lacy, in high pastels on cut white paper. The impression it made on me has never diminished.
Fashion designer Matthew Williamson’s tree embraced the materials and design elements of Christmas gift giving, with an abundance of ribbon and glitter. Aiming for ‘grand decadence’, Williamson decked his tree in hundreds of pink velvet and silk chiffon roses, handmade birds, butterflies and dragonflies. Refined, colourful and ornate, the design combined his signature attention to detail with an appreciation of natural forms – complete with rhinestone spiders scattered across a carpet of moss and white cyclamen at its base.
My initial instinct was to create a modern, conceptual almost futuristic tree, but after some consideration I changed my mind entirely. Christmas, for me is about tradition and I wanted the tree to reflect that. I felt the tree should be to be unique, grand and decadent – appropriate for it's surroundings.
Silent Night by Alexander McQueen and Tord Boontje
The first V&A Christmas tree installation was a collaboration between fashion designer Alexander McQueen and product designer Tord Boontje. Named Silent Night, their glittering, six metre high tree combined 100,000 Swarovski crystals with polished stainless steel branches. Rotating slowly on a shattered mirrored plinth, it scattered light around the walls to create a shimmering, immersive space. Inspired by how snow turns to ice, Boontje described the tree as “magical, really pretty but very fragile”.