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Fashion Lives - A New Exhibition at the British Library.

O'Neill, Alistair (2005) Fashion Lives - A New Exhibition at the British Library. [Show/Exhibition]

Type of Research: Show/Exhibition
Creators: O'Neill, Alistair

I was invited by the British Library to devise and curate this exhibition promoting the new recordings of the National Life Story Collection, collected by the Library’s Sound Archive under the title ‘The Oral History of British Fashion’.

Fashion is increasingly exhibited world-wide, and a range of scholarly exhibitions in Europe and the USA have established its significance as a vital constituent of modern material culture. ‘Fashion Lives’ was part of this continuum but was the first to be organised around sound as opposed to material objects, and the curatorial challenge was to make a visual exhibition based on oral history recordings from major participants in the last 50 years of the British fashion history.

Rather than illustrating these tapes literally, using the orthodox method of exhibiting surviving dress on mannequins, I only selected printed material culture drawn from fashion archives and the library’s collection. The exhibition thus challenged the pre-conception of what a fashion exhibition should contain by using sound without recourse to conventional dress display techniques.
To make my curatorial programme visually intelligible, I commissioned fashion practitioners rather than exhibition designers to work on particular elements of the display, which I was responsible for co-ordinating in the space. These included a wallpaper design by fashion designer Eley Kishimoto, photography by Gareth McConnell and graphic design by William Hall.

Additional Information (Publicly available):

"Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street; fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening." Coco Chanel

For the first time at the British Library, Fashion Lives, a new exhibition, has brought together a collection of post-war fashion leaders who have defined their profession and played a unique role in shaping the fashion industry as we know it today. The exhibition, curated by Alistair O'Neill from London College of Fashion (LCF), features exhibition design by St Martin's graduate William Hall. It includes a specially commissioned repeatable design by fashion duo Eley Kishimoto that will form the backdrop to the exhibition and a series of commissioned portraits by the photographer Gareth McConnell.

The exhibition draws on the Oral History of British Fashion collection of oral history interviews from the National Life Story Collection at the British Library's Sound Archive. This new collaborative initiative between the London College of Fashion and the British Library documents fashion and its related industries within living memory. It contains interviews with Percy Savage, the man who was the first 'fashion PR' and was the name behind Christian Dior's Eau Sauvage scent; Lily Silberberg, a former pupil of Barrett Street Needle Trade School and a teacher at London College of Fashion; Leslie Russell the 'Smile' hairdresser who, in the 1960s, cut the hair of Cathy McGowan (of 'Ready Steady Go' fame) and Peter Sellers; Savile Row tailor Angus Cundy of Henry Poole & Co; Marit Allen, former Young Idea at Vogue Fashion Editor from 1963 - 1973 and now an award winning costume designer for films such as Eyes Wide Shut and The Hulk; Tommy Roberts, the owner of the King's Road boutique 'Mr Freedom' in the 1970s and 'two columbia road' today; John Church, of Church's Shoes, Northampton; and Michael Southgate of Adel Rootstein mannequins in London.

The fascinating reflections of each of the contributors highlights the importance of recording the craft skills and business techniques of the ever-changing British fashion industries. The exhibition stresses the continuing importance and relevance of ways of working that have been lost through the process of modernisation, by inviting a number of contemporary practitioners such as bespoke tailor Timothy Everest, womenswear designer Shelley Fox, fashion illustrator and designer Julie Verhoeven, and milliner Dai Rees to talk about the influence and importance of the work of each of the interviewees on their work today.

As well as oral testimonies, the exhibition will include a selection of printed ephemera, personal papers, clothing and textiles, newspapers and magazines, sketches, samplers and tools.

Alistair O'Neill, curator of Fashion Lives said: "This is the first time that the British Library has staged an exhibition about fashion and it confirms how the discipline is now defined not only by the fast pace of change in the industry, but also by the slower rigours of academic enquiry. Fashion is a burgeoning area of research and London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins (both University of the Arts London) have played a central part in shaping it. Fashion Lives demonstrates how these testimonies can be used to enrich our understanding of this unique industry, helping define a trade history that has often been thought unworthy of attention."

-from press release, written by Victoria Main

Alistair O'Neill

Research Interests

Visual Culture
Twentieth Century

Current Research

My research as a writer and as a curator deals with the representation of metropolitan fashion cultures, the role of the archive and the medium of photography. London- after a fashion (Reaktion Books, 2007) is my first publication which considers the relationship between fashion and modernity in twentieth century London. I also have an interest in men's clothing, so I am working on a book concerning the career of Savile Row tailor Tommy Nutter as a form of cultural biography informed by oral history, dress history and collecting.

Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Date: 11 November 2005
Related Websites: http://www.bl.uk/news/2005/pressrelease20050914.html
Related Websites:
Event Location: The British Library, London
Locations / Venues:
LocationFrom DateTo Date
British Library, London.11 November 2005February 2006
Date Deposited: 03 Dec 2009 21:31
Last Modified: 01 Sep 2010 14:17
Item ID: 1680
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/1680

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