The V&A has been exhibiting fashion for over a hundred years. These dedicated exhibitions have celebrated the artistry,
design and story of fashion and clothing, from high-end couture to inspired ready-to-wear to innovative street style.
English costume from the collection of Talbot Hughes, 1913
English costume from the collection of Talbot Hughes was the first special fashion exhibition held at the Museum. It showcased the collection of 16th- to 19th-century clothing that had been assembled by the painter Talbot Hughes to use as references and props for his historical paintings. Hughes sold his collection to Harrods department store for £2500 on the understanding that Harrods would gift it to us.
A Lady of Fashion: Heather Firbank, 1960
In 1960 'A Lady of Fashion' was the first special exhibition to be dedicated to 20th-century fashion, showing dozens of garments from the recently-acquired wardrobe of the Edwardian socialite Heather Firbank. It was installed in what is now the V&A Main Entrance.
Fashion: An Anthology, 1971
Cecil Beaton raided the wardrobes of many of the world’s best-dressed women (and men) to put together the landmark exhibition 'Fashion An Anthology' – the first real retrospective of 20th-century Western high-fashion to be exhibited at the Museum. The show included magnificent haute couture pieces including 1910s Worth and Poiret pieces, Diana Vreeland’s 1937 sequin Chanel trouser suit, 1938 surrealist gowns co-designed by Salvador Dali and Elsa Schiaparelli, a 1947 New Look ensemble by Christian Dior, Space-Age 1960s his-and-hers ensembles by Pierre Cardin, and Yves Saint Laurent’s 1965 Mondrian dress. These were exhibited alongside up-to-the-minute 1971 ready-to-wear fashions from trendy London designers and boutiques such as Mary Quant, Biba, Bill Gibb, Zandra Rhodes, and Mr Freedom.
The Fabric of Pop, 1974
The 1974 travelling exhibition 'The Fabric of Pop' presented contemporary garments, fabrics and textiles influenced by Pop Art. It was the first show to focus on the relationship between modern art and fashion, juxtaposing dress fabrics printed with Andy Warhol-esque soup cans with wearable art pieces such as Ritva’s limited-edition sweaters by Allen Jones, David Hockney and Elisabeth Frink.
British Fashion Designers, 1979
Commemorating a major gift of 25 complete and fully accessorised ensembles from the Simpson's department store, 'British Fashion Designers 1979' was the Museum's first exhibition to be exclusively devoted to contemporary British fashion.
Street Style: From Sidewalk to Catwalk, 1994
'Street Style' controversially focused on alternative dressing rather than mainstream fashion, exhibiting anti-fashion looks which had been worn by members of sub-cultures – including teddy boys, punks, mods, rockers, hippies, new-age travellers and eco-warriors – alongside fashionable looks influenced by these sub-cultural movements.
The Cutting Edge, 1997
All aspects of British fashion design from 1947 to 1997 were celebrated in 'The Cutting Edge', the V&A’s first major retrospective of home-grown talent. The exhibition showcased 50 years of quintessentially British looks – beautiful ballgowns, tweedy country outfits, impeccable Savile Row tailoring, and Bohemian ensembles by a wide range of British design talents, from Norman Hartnell to Mary Quant to the then relatively unknown Alexander McQueen.
Radical Fashion, 2001
'Radical Fashion' showcased the work of 11 of the most exciting and innovative contemporary designers working in 2001: Azzedine Alaia, Hussein Chalayan, Jean Paul Gaultier, Rei Kawakubo, Helmut Lang, Martin Margiela, Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, Junya Watanabe, Vivienne Westwood and Yohji Yamamoto.
Black British Style, 2004
'Black British Style' examined the diverse, wide-ranging and frequently distinctive fashions that had been worn by black men and women in Britain as a means of self-expression and identity.
Spectres: When Fashion Turns Back, 2005
Curated by Judith Clark, 'Spectres: When Fashion Looks Back' was the first of several innovative exhibitions by Clark to explore a range of theories about clothing, display, and identity. Co-designed by artist Ruben Toledo, the exhibition featured carousels, rotating stages and ghostly manifestations.
Style and Splendour: Queen Maud's Wardrobe 1896 – 1938, 2005
Presented in collaboration with the National Museum of Art, Oslo, this exhibition showcased clothing from Queen Maud of Norway's wardrobe in the first part of the 20th century.
Sixties Fashion, 2006
From precision-cut miniskirts and plastic frocks by Mary Quant and John Bates, to the romantic late-1960s Bohemian styles of Zandra Rhodes and Biba, 'Sixties Fashion' presented garments from one of the most creative eras in recent fashion history.
The Golden Age of Couture, 2007
'The Golden Age of Couture 1947 – 1957' presented the gorgeousness of post-war Parisian haute couture by the likes of Dior, Balenciaga, Jacques Fath et al, while highlighting the equally formidable talents of London couturiers Norman Hartnell, Hardy Amies, John Cavanagh and others.
Hats: An Anthology, 2009
'Hats: An Anthology' focused on headgear over the centuries. Co-curated by the leading British milliner Stephen Jones, a vast range of bonnets, caps, tams, hoods, toques, helmets and wreaths, both fashionable and functional, were presented as works of the milliner's art.
David Bowie is…, 2013
'David Bowie is…' examined the career of the legendary singer, showing how his multiple stage identities were reflected through an ever-shifting range of looks, co-created with leading designers such as Kansai Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen, and Mr. Fish.
The Glamour of Italian Fashion, 2014
The mastery of Italian couture, tailoring and ready-to-wear design since the 1950s was celebrated in 'The Glamour of Italian Fashion'.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, 2015
Bringing in over 490,000 visitors, 'Savage Beauty', a career retrospective of British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, proved to be the most popular V&A exhibition to date.
Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, 2017
The most recent V&A fashion exhibition is an overview of the work of mid-20th-century Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga, known as 'The Master' of couture, and his enduring influence on fashion designers up to the present day.