Exhibition Notebook: Britannica 1951-53 at Selfridge’s

Installation view of Britannica 1951-53, photo Selfridges

The early 1950s are looming large in the UK this summer, with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee assuring that shop windows and themed celebrations all pay tribute to the look and feel of post-war Britain. Oxford Street is festooned with Union Jack bunting, and Queen’s crown motifs are appearing on an array of fashion accessories – even tights! (Jonathan Aston Hint of Print collection).

A swing coat in mottled silk, and Oliver Messel coronation silk scarf. Photo: Selfridge's

Fashion and fashion imagery at the time of the coronation were also the inspirations behind the current exhibition Britannica 1951-53 on view in Selfridge’s Ultra Lounge. Curated by Judith Clark, the display presents a series of tableaus, which Judith referred to as “apparitions,” that represent fashions for different times of day and locales as presented in Vogue’s special annual coronation issues.

The clothes on display are stylized reproductions of Vogue home sewing pattern models from the period, re-interpreted by costumier Christine Atkinson (who also regularly makes costumes for Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones). One ‘authentic’ vintage garment, a Victor Steibel dress from the archive collection of London College of Fashion is displayed in a shop window scene, playing the role of the object most desired.

View of a Victor Steibel vintage dress, admired by figure wearing a Barathea wool suit with pencil skirt and exaggerated hipline. Photo: Selfridge's

Grey cashmere wool embroidered day dress and paper skirt pattern. Photo: Selfridges

And then – the hats! Each ensemble is topped off with an original hat created by Stephen Jones especially for the exhibition, and in response to the fashions of the coronation year – and all have a spotlight of that year’s signature colour according to Vogue, champagne pink.

Relaxed wear for countryside living circa 1951. Photo: Selfridges

In shades of grey, in a blacked out room, the iconic fifties silhouettes seem ever suspended in time and space.  With dramatic lighting and minimal textual information, the exhibit is to be experienced as a moment outside of the ordinary – outside of ‘fashion time,’ or ‘shopping time,’ but when you emerge from the dark into the coffee bar just outside the exhibit, don’t be surprised if you imagine you are sharing elbow rom with the elegant ladies of Britannica 1951-53.

(I worked on this exhibition closely for the past  month as assistant to Judith Clark – so this post is nary a review. But do check out Alex Fury’s piece on the show on Selfridge’s website, and interviews with Judith Clark and Stephen Jones.)

Oyster duchesse satin ballgown, bodice hand beaded in Swarovski crystals and pearls. Photo Selfridge's

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