London Fashion Umbrella: Three More Exhibitions of Note

Installation view of Christian Laboutin’s workshop display at the Design Museum

Here we are, deep into January 2013, and I finally got around to sorting through all of the brochures and exhibition literature I collected while visiting museums and galleries in 2012. Writing for Worn Through steers my exhibition navigation system, but even with posting weekly, there are some times when I see much more than I manage to review! This happened a few times last year, so it seemed like January 2013 was a fitting time to look back and give well-deserved mention to three exhibitions that enriched 2012 for me.

British Design 1948-2012 at the V&A:

This behemoth exhibition surveyed and celebrated British Design from the Post-War period until five minutes ago and included a healthy amount of textiles, clothing and accessories. I love an opportunity to look laterally at design developments across media, and this exhibition provided both chronological and thematic displays that satisfied my affinity for the big picture.

T-shirt with letter to Derek Jarman, 1976, Malcolm McLaren, & Vivienne Westwood
V&A: T.104-2002

The fashion specialist in me was equally pleased to see both iconic and obscure dress artefacts on display, such as a t-shirt designed and written as a letter to Derek Jarman in 1976, a costume designed by Kansai Yamamoto for David Bowie, a headpiece by Simon Costin for Alexander McQueen in 1992 and a selection of ensembles by recent British fashion  stars.

Kansai Yamamoto stage costume for David Bowie


Christian Laboutin at the Design Museum:

The Design Museum’s retrospective exhibition of the exuberant and prolific shoe designer’s career to date was indeed exuberant and prolific. The exhibition’s scenography was at full volume, evoking fun fairs, boudoirs, gardens and eloquently, the workshop. Sometimes however, the glitter covered up the gems, and the display upstaged the items on display. Sometimes, the environment seemed just like an elaborate shop design – I even saw visitors nearly pick up shoes from the displays! Presumably to check for the price?

The spectacular centerpiece of the exhibition was a three-dimensional holographic projection of larger than life Laboutins and Dita Von Teese in a virtual burlesque. Difficult not to be mesmerised!

Installation view of Laboutin at the Design Museum

The exhibition did present a plethora of ingenius and alluring shoes – maybe a few too many? But perhaps the sheer multitude of shoes and theatricality of the display was exactly why every single person at the exhibition was wearing a smile. I was left thinking of those smiles – the sheer delight the visit was bringing people (well ok, most of them were women – but women of all ages!) and vow to remember to curate and design exhibitions intelligently as well as sensationally.


Installation view of Sneaking Into Fashion

Sneaking Into Fashion

Last but certainly not least, and while we are focusing on footwear, was’s second shoe exhibition in London. Back in 2011, online footwear retailer Javari sponsored an exhibition of fantasy footwear curated by my friend and colleague Shonagh Marshall. In autumn 2012, another friend and fashion curator Tory Turk edited a selection of marvelous athletic and athletic-inspired footwear which was installed in Covent Garden.

The location was a triumph, with vitrines lining one of London’s famed shopping arcades to display the wild, wonderful and occasionally functional sneakers that high-fashion and high-street designers have put on our feet over the past hundred years. The shoes were accompanied by narrative captions, and were arranged stylistically and displayed comfortably at eye-level and with 360 degree views possible. 

I was surprised how much I loved this show – despite being biased in favour of the work of a friend! The reason for this is that I’m much more of a Laboutin lover than a connoisseur of Converse. I own one pair of sneakers at a time, usually for a period of three to five years.  However, this exhibition reminded me to admire the design, technology and whimsy of athletic footwear – and to consider wearing a pair outside of the gym now and then.

Nike Zoom Victory Elite Spikes 2012, worn by Mo Farah in the 2012 Olympics

Clearly, inspiring people to shop for shoes was part of the  motive behind Javari’s exhibition, and I must count myself among those who learned something about trainers and got a hankering for some new kicks. That may not have been what the Laboutin show was trying to accomplish, but I’m sure it did as well!

Marketing and commerce aside, Sneaking Into Fashion as I observed it had one more extraordinary accomplishment – the smiles on the faces of visitors were on as many male faces as female. This exhibition appealed equally to men and women and thus succeeded in a way I have never before witnessed at an exhibition of fashion, textiles or footwear of any kind.

I’ll be putting this to the test next week, when I visit the Imelda Marcos Shoe Museum in Manila with my husband…


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