Seeing the Brides Before their Big Day

The curation of an exhibition is a collaboration between many museum departments and professionals, each with their own set role and expertise. When the exhibition includes loans or contemporary pieces, that collaboration extends to include key lenders and designers, in order to incorporate them in the decision making process. As the installation progresses and nears completion for ‘Wedding Dresses 1775-2014’, we’ve had visits from some of the brides and designers whose pieces play a key part in the exhibition.

Katie Shillingford, Gareth Pugh and Stephen Jones consider the dress with the exhibition’s team. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The first of these visits came from Katie Shillingford, Fashion Director of AnOther Magazine and Fashion Editor at Dazed & Confused, and Gareth Pugh and Stephen Jones, who designed her dress and veil respectively for her wedding to Alex Dromgoole in 2011. Shillingford and Pugh have been friends and collaborators since they met while studying at Central Saint Martins, and both had previously worked with Jones before he designed the veil. As wedding dress is so inherently personal, getting an insight into the personalities and influences behind a design is vital. The closeness and camaraderie between this particular team was clear, and during the visit they each chimed in about how the pieces should be styled. In particular, they focused on the positioning of the veil, and the ethereal manner in which it should scatter down onto the train of the dress. The darkly romantic effect of this combination was clearly not just the idiosyncratic product of three creatives, but also that of three friends.

Katie, Gareth and Stephen style the veil. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Our next visit came from Alessandra Greco from Philip Treacy. As we have three pieces by Treacy in the exhibition, we felt it was particularly important to receive input from a member of his team. While a dress is designed for its fabric to fall in a certain way, at its best when either sculpting the human form or directed by movement, a hat or a headdress must act almost as an independent structure, both complimenting and extending from the face which it frames. To ensure its full statuesque effect was achieved, Alessandra readjusted the golden headdress Treacy designed for Selina Blow’s wedding in 1998.

Alessandra Greco positions Philip Treacy’s headdress for Selina Blow. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

As our mannequins represent real brides, each dress designed or selected to make the wearer feel their most beautiful, it is perhaps especially important that we capture the pieces at their best. This was the aim of Pam Hogg when she came in to approve the dress she designed for Lady Mary Charteris’s wedding to Robbie Furze in 2011. The dress, widely reported on in the media at the time for its daring translucent inserts, was collaboratively created between the designer and bride over a period of six months. Throughout their exchange, the emphasis was on the bride feeling her most fantastic on the day, and this was an image Hogg wanted our display to emulate.

Pam Hogg adjusts the skirt on the dress she designed for Lady Mary Charteris. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The dress’s skirt is made of heavy tulle, a fabric selected for the body it provides, but one which is trickily keen on tucking at the edges. As a result, Pam spent some of her visit identifying areas of the skirt which could benefit from further steaming or styling, in order for the piece to reach its full potential and form. Input like this from the wearer or maker of a garment provides personal context not learnable from the page, and, in these examples, it injects the memory of each wedding day into the styling of its pieces.

Pam Hogg makes sure the tulle skirt is sitting correctly. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London