This evening dress is a replica of a 1955 design and was made especially for the Museum in 1971. Madame Grès trained as a sculptor and then turned to haute couture, becoming ‘Alix’, with premises in the Faubourg St Honoré in Paris. She re-opened at 1 rue de La Paix in 1941 as ‘Grès’. A house press release described Madame Grès’ personal manner of handling materials ‘almost without seams’, and how she ‘induced manufacturers to produce jersey in large widths and took part in their researches to apply these techniques’.
Catherine Walker born 1945
This evening dress, made in 1994 by the London couturier Catherine Walker, shows her use of glamour and restrained luxury. Rich, black silk velvet is cut and sewn into a perfect full-length backless sheath suspended from a pearl and diamanté yoke. Both the clinging gown and the Art Deco style jewelled collar were inspired by 1930s evening fashion, but the design is brought wholly up-to-date for 1994 with a dramatic diamanté pendant down the bared back.
This combination of regal elegance and unexpected sparkle clearly shows why Diana, Princess of Wales, favoured dresses by Catherine Walker for nearly fifteen years. The V&A collection also includes the famous pearl-encrusted ‘Elvis’ dress that Catherine Walker made for the Princess in 1989. (see T.1:1&2.2006)
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Antony Price, born 1945
Closely swathing the figure, the silk taffeta of this dramatically structured garment is formed into large, irregular gathers diagonally positioned across the front. These culminate in an asymmetrical bodice, with an extraordinary, gravity defying shoulder extension. Designer Antony Price called this his ‘Bird’s Wing’ dress; the rigid folds of fabric with their feathered and serrated edge evoke associations of flight and movement. It was designed for his 1986 Winter collection.
The simple, white taffeta, with its glossy, reflective sheen offsets the complex structure of the garment. The designer’s choice of a stiff fabric allows the raised folds to retain their shape and make the dress virtually self-supporting. The folds are held in place by large, self-covered buttons which secure the dress at the side, and also provide an important visual motif. In contrast the back is quite plain, a simple bodice with a single shoulder strap and a straight, skirt fitted with darts into the waist seam.
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Evening dress and sleeve
Christian Lacroix, born 1951
This spectacular dress was given to the Victoria and Albert Museum very shortly after its first appearance on Lacroix’s catwalk in the autumn 1996 Paris fashion shows.
Christian Lacroix opened his haute couture house in 1986. His luxurious fashions, typified by this hooped evening dress, reflect an abiding passion for historical styles, ornate textiles, and elaborate decoration, all of which he translates in a contemporary idiom.
In a striking palette of acidic yellow and pastels, the dress forms part of Lacroix’s “18th-Century Haute Couture Collection,” which draws on a wide range of pre-1968 fashion references. Lacroix describes this collection as elegant and slightly dishevelled: “Nothing seems to be held in place. The fabric is wrapped. It pirouettes around obstinately asymmetrical necklines.”
Place of Origin: Paris, France (made)
Date: 1996 (designed)
Artist/maker: Lacroix, Christian, born 1951 (designer)
Materials and Techniques: Chiné-printed silk taffeta and lace, embroidered with sequins, pastes and beads
Dimensions: [Evening dress] Length: 150 cm, Circumference: 70 cm bust, Circumference: 62 cm waist, Circumference: 170 cm hoop, maximum
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