Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 is 'a delight'
V&A's reopening of its fashion galleries is marked with an outstanding celebration of British fashion
What you need to know
Displayed over two floors at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950 "showcases the ballgowns, evening dresses and catwalk showstoppers" that have been the standard-bearers of glamorous British fashion over the past six decades.
The exhibition features more than 60 outfits covering 60 years, with dresses from private parties, social events, state occasions and opening nights. Among the designers featured are Zandra Rhodes, Jonathan Saunders and Alexander McQueen.
Away from the catwalk, the show also features a selection of royal ballgowns, including a Norman Hartnell gown designed for the Queen Mother, and Princess Diana's 'Elvis Dress' designed by Catherine Walker. There are also iconic outfits worn by Elizabeth Hurley, Bianca Jagger and Gwyneth Paltrow (pictured). The exhibition is open now and runs until January 2013.
What the critics like
If you love a well-made frock and hanker "for the days when a big night out meant long silk gloves and a Dubonnet", writes Rachel Cooke in The Guardian, then Ballgowns will have you "swooning in delight".
It isn't just the ballgowns that shine here, says The Financial Times. It is great to see some familiar dresses from popular culture up close, such as the "Versace safety pin-studded dress Liz Hurley wore to the premiere of Four Weddings and a Funeral or the candy-pink Ralph Lauren gown Gwyneth Paltrow wore to accept her Oscar for Shakespeare in Love".
Ella Alexander writing in Vogue agrees, saying it's the mixture of high society and celebrity that makes for pleasant surprises at every turn. "Highlights include a show-stopping, dramatic dress by Alexander McQueen as worn by Daphne Guinness to last year's Met Ball," Alexander says, "and masterfully draped gowns by John Galliano and Marchesa".
What they don't like
The selection of gowns and dresses for the show meets with universal praise, although the layout of the exhibition raises some ire. Rachel Cooke found the lighting "muted" which makes it difficult to read labels and often makes appreciation of the detailed craftsmanship involved tricky.
Another mild criticism from Cooke: while dresses and suits from the permanent collection are shown alongside handbags, jewellery, hats and shoes, "the ballgowns, temporarily visiting, have only outsize cardboard cutouts of accessories for company".