The dawn of September has become synonymous with the re-awakening of fashion circles as new collections hit runways and showrooms across the world. To celebrate, here are ten of the best fashion exhibitions to visit this September.
Discover galleries across the UK that are bringing fashion highlights and histories to public view this autumn. Whether it’s iconic designers, the history of fashion, or the textiles and fabrics that form clothing to pique your interest, don’t miss these fashion exhibitions this month.
A diva is vibrantly defined as both a celebrated star and as a self-centred, petulant figure. Yet, rather than what is a diva, it’s probably more apt to ask who is a diva, and what do they mean to culture. That’s what the V&A does in an exhibition as vivacious as the word itself. Expect dynamic plumage and colourful beading on structured costumes in this multi-sensory parade of stage theatrics and energetic sound. And, much like the meaning of the noun has changed over time and through culture, so have the people it encompasses. The exhibition explores several decades of iconic musical artists who have shaped – through their confidence and creativity – popular music and costume as we appreciate it today. From the stage ensembles worn by 1950s opera singer Maria Callas and Marilyn Monroe’s ‘Some Like it Hot’ (1959) outfits, to Tina Turner and Cher’s stage costumes designed by fashion designer Bob Mackie, no exuberance is spared. To top it all off, none other than pop-icon Rihanna has loaned five of her key looks to the gallery. If fashion looks could kill…
Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion
The celebrities carving out modern fashion culture as we know it are amalgamated in the UK’s broadest ever contemporary fashion exhibition, showcasing at London’s Design Museum just in time to kick-off London Fashion Week. Sponsored by fashion house Alexander McQueen, Rebel is bound to be a riotous interrogation of the intersection of popular culture and fashion as we know it today. Introducing only some of the most iconic fashion moments of our lifetime, this is your chance to view the seminal 2001 swan dress by Icelandic artist Björk alongside Harry Styles’ Steven Stokey Daley ensemble from his Golden music video. The exhibition is a proud commemoration of a visionary city – and the equally ground-breaking people who form it.
Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto
When fashion enters the conversation, Chanel is one of the first brands to spring to mind. For the first time in the UK, the V&A is celebrating Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, the founder of the eponymous French Fashion House. Sourcing inspiration from Gabrielle Chanel’s acclaimed 2020 exhibition in Palais Galliera, Paris, the London showcasing offers a unique glimpse into the brand’s archives. Spanning an impressive six decades, Gabrielle Chanel started her fashion career in 1910 with her Paris-based millinery boutique and went on to define fashion modes before her death in 1971. But of course, her legacy lingers longer in the shape of feminine suits and casual yet elegant silhouettes. Clothing becomes art in this eminent exhibition as over 200 pieces of couture decorate the iconic Italian Renaissance-style walls of the Victoria and Albert Museum, documenting the seemingly eternal fashion manifesto of Coco Chanel. Exhibition highlights include the 1937-38 black sequinned trouser suit, and the classic two-piece, wool tweed tailored suit from Chanel’s A/W 1964 collection – an ensemble as iconic as the brand itself.
Bring No Clothes: Bloomsbury and Fashion
In the Sussex countryside lies the historic Charleston, an artistic haunt made influential by the nebulous Bloomsbury group of the early twentieth century and now loved by creatives including Dior Menswear designer, Kim Jones. So, cue the first fashion-dedicated exhibition in the museum’s history curated by Charlie Porter – aptly the author of the novel ‘What Artists Wear’. Bring No Clothes beckons us toward a period of interdisciplinary conversation, experimentation and the avant-garde creation that resulted. The consequent exhibition is multi-layered with portraits by artists (and core members of the Bloomsbury group) Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell hung for the first time ever, alongside catwalk fashion by Dior, Fendi, Burberry, and Comme des Garçons. During the exhibition, you will also view modernist author Virginia Woolf’s tumultuous relationship with clothing, as the Bloomsbury artists toy between the idea of fashion as frivolous and fashion as a radical dialogue in their art.
Beyond the Little Black Dress
Name a wardrobe without a little black dress. The seemingly simple garment has become a closet staple, spanning innumerable centuries and cultures of dressing. The National Museum of Scotland is throwing this fashion hero back into the spotlight with their new exhibition Beyond the Little Black Dress which deconstructs both the changing silhouette and spirit of the fashion piece. Religion, colour, and shape all come to play here. Thanking Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel for bringing the little black dress into modern modes of dressing with her 1926 design praised by US Vogue as “the frock that all the world will wear,” the exhibition also celebrates designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, and Schiaparelli. Importantly, Beyond the Little Black Dress champions the significant role of Black British designers, while also examining the symbolism of Blackness in conventions of identity and beauty.
The Missing Thread: Untold Stories of Black British Fashion
Joe Casely-Hayford, Nicholas Daley, Bianca Saunders, and Saul Nash are all designers featured in The Missing Thread, an exhibition which throws the spotlight onto the too-often muted narratives that form Black British Fashion. Performance, music, photography and nightlife are the key themes of the fashion designs in the Thames-side Somerset House gallery, each of which helped to shape British culture through declarations of community and isolation. Curated by the Black Orientated Legacy Development Agency (BOLD) formed by visual artist Harris Elliott alongside designer, artist, and educator Andrew Ibi, and multi-disciplinary creative Jason Jules, this exhibition is too impressive – and important – to miss.
Style & Society: Dressing the Georgians
Let’s take fashion back four-hundred years to the reign of King George; a time of conquest and travel within the expanding British empire. Style & Society looks at the new textiles, prints and textures that became available during this period, as well as their influence on the fashion of the time. Expect to see clothing, textiles and jewellery alongside impressive artworks by period painters including William Hogarth, Thomas Gainsborough and Johann Zoffany. It’s not just extravagant design you’ll find here, but also a look into the emerging relationship between shopping and leisure, as well as the birth of a specialised fashion press that we can thank the Georgians for.
Double Weave: Bourne and Allen's Modernist Textiles
Modernist textile artists Hilary Bourne and Barbara Allen (co-founders of the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft) boast a prestigious portfolio; their tweeds, scarves and other fabrics can be found at the likes of Liberty, Heal’s, Fortnum & Mason, and Festival Hall. Their latest exhibition Double Weave offers the chance to view their array of natural dyes, weaves and processes in person. Additionally, the gallery foregrounds previously unseen female designers such as Omeima Mudawi-Rowlings (whose impressive installation ‘Drawn to the Light’ is displayed in the gallery foyer) and Poppy Fuller-Abbott. This is a unique opportunity to discover an array of new talent and styles, each examining the bias of traditional art archives.
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Fashion City: How Jewish Londoners shaped global style
The swinging sixties – the era that re-codified London’s cultural consciousness from formal to freeing – had a canonical influence on the fashion industry, from trends, to designers, to models. Often forgotten however, is the major role London’s Jewish community played in defining the fashion scene. Fashion City heroes many of these designers including the successful millinery Otto Lucas as well as Mr Fish who fashioned stage outfits for David Bowie, and whose ‘kipper tie’ was worn by Jimi Hendrix, Pablo Picasso and Michael Caine. These creatives boosted Britain’s post-war economy and pathed the way for gender neutral dressing (re-emerging in pop culture today) all across London – from their East London tailors to West End couture salons. The Jewish community’s lasting impact on London’s streets is visualised by the Museum of London Docklands in this well-researched curation of oral histories, photography, and textiles.
Lee Miller: Dressed
Photographer, war correspondent for Vogue, surrealist, and fashion model, Elizabeth “Lee” Miller wore many skins and consequently many uniforms to match. Fashion is a core player in forming and reflecting our identities, something Miller knew well. The Brighton Museum & Art Gallery is tracing the impressive life and career of Miller through clothing; the garments displayed journey from the fashion circles of New York and Paris, to Sussex farmyards and the photojournalist’s Egyptian travels. Curated by Martin Pel, this autumn-through-winter exhibition displays an array of Miller’s clothing – many pieces never before showcased in public – from tailored dresses and bathing wear, to jodhpurs sourced from trunks of Miller’s clothing discovered in her attic.
Lead image: Roger Schall/Condé Nast/Shutterstock. Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 16 September 2023 – 25 February 2024. Presented in partnership with Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées. With the support of CHANEL.
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