English Medieval Embroidery at V&A

As embroidery is currently back in fashion, it is very interesting to see what were the tendencies some centuries ago. The Medieval embroidery exhibition at V&A looks closely at the old masterpieces, skillfully crafted to tiny details, hundreds of years ago.

It is rather remarkable how intricate handwork this is – so much that one may suspect it being painted instead. The smallest stitches are created by hand in varieties of colour, over the presumably long period of time. The exquisite attention to details is rather outstanding, giving glimpses of both Medieval reality and imagination of the time. From the grim torture of martyred saints to the scenes with baby Jesus and other saints, scenes are depicted with a meticulous precision that the sophisticated embroidery techniques made possible.

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Latin for ‘English work’, the phrase ‘opus anglicanum’ was first coined in the 13th century to describe the highly-prized and luxurious embroideries made in England of silk and gold and silver thread, picturing complex imagery.

From the 12th to the 15th centuries, England enjoyed an international reputation for the quality of its luxury embroideries, which were sought after by kings, queens, popes and cardinals. The exhibition will present an outstanding range of rare, surviving examples – both ecclesiastical and secular. Although documents show that many embroideries were made for secular use at the time, very few survive today as they were either worn out or became unfashionable and were discarded.

This is the largest embroidery exhibition of this kind in half a century, depicting over 100 pieces of work Medieval period of time. Sponsored by the Royal Embroidery specialists of Hand and Lock who carry the traditional craft into the modern day.

Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery at V&A till 7th Feb 2017.

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Undressed at V&A

A Brief History of Underwear (I am suspecting this is a clever play of words) looks at the dynamics of undergarments throughout history, from the 18th century to present day. Somehow not surprisingly women´s ones have always been rather complicated and multi-purposed than men´s. Ladies underwear has varied from body modifying to sensually flowing, transforming from underwear to outerwear and evening wear, including loungewear and nightwear. From practical to luxurious, seductive to fetish. Underwear has been used to mold a perfect body, as well as display  and show off the already perfect body shape(depending on the fashions of the day). Display ranges from corsets and crinolines to bras, boxers, pyjamas and modern body modifying underwear.

The most breathtaking displays include Swarovski crystal embellished corset designed for Dita von Teese, rich tulle and bead evening dress by Alexander McQueen and basket weave crinoline by Dolce and Gabbana.

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Exhibition stays open till 12th March 2017.

As every month, V&A has a Friday late event on the last Friday of the month, this time it was dedicated to the current exhibition. In different corners of the museum you could boogie or knit a tit (a special breast prosthesis), see a lingerie catwalk show, chat to a leather fetish bodywear designer Melissa Tofton and observe how corsets are made.

 

V&A Neo Nipponica

Every month on the last Friday Victoria and Albert Museum in London has a late night event happening. Themes vary, but are mostly linked to the permanent or temporary exhibitions. It´s a fun way to spend a Friday evening after work, and maybe before continuing somewhere else.

This months´ event was devoted to the Japanese culture and its futuristic technology, that is still so strongly linked to the reverence to the old traditions. To celebrate the V&A´s newly opened Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art and explore the art, design and innovations of Nippon(this is what the Japanese call their own country).

The museum got filled with sounds of DJ-s and other performers, pop-up sake bar(table built of honeycomb cardboard paper concertina) and listening to the sound of scents.

One of the most memorable installations includes Tranceflora – Amy´s Glowing Silk.

Made with Nishiji Kimono material using genetically engineered silk developed by scientists at the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, Sputniko!´s Tranceflora combines traditional craftsmanship with advanced technology to mesmerising effect. The luminous silk was created by adding the genes of glowing jellyfish and coral to silkworms(creating a so-called “jellyworm” :D) and later woven by master weavers in Kyoto. The dress is designed by a Japanese designer Masaya Kushino.
For full effect the dress had to be viewed through special card/plastic yellow glasses.

Another of my personal highlights of the evening could be found in the garden – V&A recently presented the Elytra Filament Pavilion as part of The Engineering Season – a garden pavilion woven by a robot.

Installed by architects and engineers at the University of Stuttgart, the pavilion is inspired by the forewing shells of flying beetles known as elytra and constructed using novel robotic 3D-printing production process, winding composite materials by a robot arm. At the moment Elytra’s canopy is made up of 40 hexagonal component cells. On average they weigh 45kg each and take an average of three hours to make.

Elytra is a responsive shelter and is expected to grow over the course of Summer. Somehow the sensors in the canopy fibres will collect data on how visitors inhabit the pavilion and monitor the structure’s behaviour, ultimately informing how and where the canopy grows. Sounds interesting!
Let´s see where it goes from here.

 

Fabrics of India at V&A

Victoria and Albert Museum is currently having India Festival and that got me reminiscing about my own travels in India. I will write down some of my memories later on, but for now a few words about the beautiful fabrics exhibition.

The show space, that just half a year ago was overtaken by Alexander McQueen´ s masterpieces is currently filled with the best gems from extraordinarily rich history of handmade textiles from India. The exhibition observes the development of the textile design from the earliest known fabric fragments of naif applique designs to contemporary fashion and the growth of traditional textiles to modern day.
All of the 200 objects displayed are made by hand – from ancient ceremonial banners to modernized saris.

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The exhibition also sheds the light on how these handmade masterpieces were created, from the point of raising silk worms to gold weaving. Ancient natural dyes, such as chai plant roots for red color, tumeric for yellow and indigo for blue, originate from this country. Indigo even gave the name to this country!

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The beauty and complexity of Indian fabrics has spread around the world and inspired many Western designers, as well as made the local ones reinterpret their own traditions. I would say my own personal favorite is New Delhi-based fashion designer Manish Arora, who has been successful showcasing at Paris Fashion Week. His innovativeness of combining traditional handicraft elements with crazy fantasy, using bright colors is quite remarkable.

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Manish Arora butterfly dress. The image borrowed from the blog, where you can read more about Manish Arora´ s magical designs.

The display reviews the history of how European industrialization made it possible to produce similar cloth at lower cost, especially in British mills, threatening to wipe out Indian handmade fabrics production completely. This lead to consequences where Indian fabrics played an important role in Indian independence. By the early 20th century, Indian textiles became a major symbol of resistance to colonial rule and a political tool, with people spinning and weaving  their own yarn and fabric by hand, to produce a cloth known as Khadi. It is quite surprising to know that the wheel on Indian flag actually derives not  from the “Samsara” – the circle of life – but it is the spinning wheel that has been incorporated into the design of the flag.

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The history of Indian fabrics is extremely rich and is worth discovering!

The exhibition is open till 10th January 2016.

Shoes – pain or pleasure?

“Shoes – pleasure and pain” exhibition at V&A Museum captures the dream of a millipede, giving a good overview of footwear development trends throughout the centuries, the extremes and the eccentrics of the shoe-world.

They say the shoes often possess the power to transform the person who is wearing them – be it height or comfort wise, status wise(making it impossible to walk in, so have to be carried around) or even give the person magic powers, if you think of Cinderella, Puss in Boots or the red shoes that never stopped dancing. Just like an outfit(or even more so) a pair of shoes gives the wearer a role to play.
The exhibition with over 200 pairs of  shoes to display, looks back as far as 2000 years.

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Represented is the footwear of many famous people(famous by their shoes or otherwise), works of numerous famous footwear designers, as well as less known oddities.
Beautiful, sculptural objects are explored within the terms of “Transformation”, “Status”, “Seduction”, etc.
Making of a pair of shoes is examined step by step.
The exhibition also looks to the future(that is already present today) to the realm of computer aided design and 3D printed footwear.

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Being a shoe designer and maker myself, of course I couldn´t attend the exhibition without wearing some of my own experimental work.

Toe-heel shoes by Õun Design visiting V&A Shoes exhibition

If I was to suggest V&A to add some more avant garde designs, here is my pick from most outrageous Õun Design collections, designed and made by my own little hands:

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