London Fashion Umbrella: The Printed Square

A display of garments inspired by vintage handkerchief prints at the Fashion and Textile Musuem

London’s Fashion and Textile Museum hosts not only large scale fashion exhibitions, but smaller displays relating to topics around fashion and textile history in tandem with the topic of the main space show.

View of The Printed Square exhbition in the museum's classroom gallery

This week I paid a rather overdue visit to the museum in Bermondsey, primarily to view and review the current exhibition Designing Women: Post-War British Textiles. I have many good things to say about the show, but this week I bring you some notes and images from the Fashion and Textile Museum’s concurrent display of vintage handkerchiefs, The Printed Square.

Vintage handkerchiefs featuring both border patterns and placement prints.

The Printed Square is comprised of a collection of vintage printed handkerchiefs, curated by Nicky Albrechtson, whose book, The Printed Square, accompanies the exhibition. The display, well-introduced by a contextual history of the printed handkerchief, is an eye-catching but simple series of framed handkerchiefs organised by colour and theme.

Garments from fashion retailer Oasis' current collection inspired by vintage handkerchief prints

To add to the exhibition’s merits, it not only delights the viewer with a lovely collection of hankies, but it explains the value of these vintage items to contemporary fashion and textile designers, by displaying a series of current outfits from chain retailer Oasis (who also supported the exhibition as a sponsor) which were directly inspired by vintage handkerchief prints. I applaud the exhibition’s curator and the museum for highlighting this aspect of the relationship between vintage and contemporary design, and hope it informs and inspires designers about how to both refer to and reinvent designs from the past. With digital technologies there are so many possibilities for working with vintage prints, as is illustrated by seeing how the designers at Oasis adapted a series of motifs from vintage handkerchiefs into a totally fresh, yet retro feeling collection for summer 2012.

The exhibition introductory text also encourages viewers to collect handkerchiefs – as they are not rare or costly vintage items to collect. Perhaps the Printed Squares exhibition and book will incite a mania – so if vintage print design gets you weeping with joy, then you’d better start collecting vintage handkerchiefs soon – before prices start to rise!

All of the hankies on display were framed in curated pairs and hung around the perimeter of the room. A nice idea as well for displaying your own collection!

I have a modest collection of printed hankies myself, and the exhibition inspired me to get them out and appreciate them, and share some photos.

An overview of some cotton handkerchiefs in my collection.

Like the exhibition suggests, these were not expensive or difficult to acquire. I collect topically, and have a great affinity for purple prints of all sorts.

1950s poodle illustration print by Carl Tait in two colorways, from my collection.

An Egyptomania printed square from my collection.

Violet florals and shaped hankies are collecting strands of mine.

Next week I’ll be back with a review of Designing Women, which is on view at the Fashion and Textile Museum until June 16, 2012.

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