Valentino: Master of Couture at Somerset house

Last week I ventured to Somerset House to see the Valentino exhibition. I’m not the biggest fan of Valentino- I’m not sure why, but his designs simply have never really done it for me, too ostentatious and too Italian I suppose : /. Anyway, after hearing great things about the exhibition (in particular about its layout) I decided to take a visit.
I have to say it was an hour well spent. The layout of the exhibition was superb, as I expected. The long tunnel in Somerset house helps to give the exhibition a very intimate feel, and the mannequin layout meant you were able to get relatively close to the dresses, and see all the details.
The mannequins too are fantastic, and very lifelike. It is great having the variety of seated and stood mannequins which gives a good understanding of the way the garments move with the body.
I particularly liked the Valentino garments from the 50s and 90s. I realised that much of my dislike for Valentino applied to his early 00s garments, although overall the embellishment and detail within each piece was jaw-dropping. You could really see the process of designer revisiting and re-inventing designs from his archive.
 The textile techniques downstairs at the exhibition really gave a clear view of how different details on the garments were made, and due to my own background in fashion design I couldn’t quite get over the sheer volume of work that must have gone into some of the dresses.
The wedding dress downstairs too, is just beautiful, so romantic, timeless and “intimate” (I know that’s a weird word to describe a dress…but that just conveys what I felt about it). I think this has to be the highlight of the exhibition, especially the way you walk up to it, almost as if you  are the groom, seeing the bride.
Complaints? For me, the details about the dresses were pretty scant, but  then again I like to leave an exhibition feeling like I’ve been educated. After leaving Valentino I felt like my eyes had been treated to beautiful things, but I didn’t really have a lot to say.
For example I was absolutely fascinated by the series of garments from 1990 which were originally designed in the 50s. I was desperate to know how, and why this came about… I think I’ll have to take a look at some of the Valentino books on offer for some more info.
I feel like this is a fashionistas exhibition rather than a fashion historians, but deeply enjoyable nonetheless.
Valentino: Master of couture is on at Somerset house until 3rd March.
Images all from the Somerset House facebook page.

Rae Spencer-Cullen and Miss Mouse: The beginning of the kitsch revival


This year I’ve decided to go back to my roots a bit more with more posts around fashion history. I’m going to aim for one informative post a week (lets see if I can actually keep up with this!). Last week I gave you Mariano Fortuny. This week Rae Spencer-Cullen.
Rae Spencer-Cullen was the designer of the fabulous Miss Mouse label. Miss Mouse is one of the first brands to really capture the spirit of the first 50s revival that hit in the early to mid 70s. This revival spirit was well documented in the recent Pop! Exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Spencer-Cullen was one of a small group of designers who were using the kitsch spirit of the 50s and re-inventing it for a modern audience.
Two Miss Mouse garments in the recent Pop! exhibition. 
I have two pieces of Miss Mouse clothing, which I think account for some of the most collectible items I own.
My two Miss Mouse dresses
This was the first Miss Mouse dress I purchased- and I believe accounts for her earlier label- definitely in use until 1974.
My dress dates to 1974-This is known as there is an example of the fabric in the Victoria and Albert museum.

The label found in the earlier examples of Miss Mouse garments

My second Miss Mouse dress

 The later Miss Mouse label
This is another example of a Miss Mouse dress in the Victoria and Albert museum which I think really exemplifies the kitsch spirit of the brand.

This dress- like mine also dates to 1974. The dates of these items are particularly fascinating, how do we know they categorically date to 1974? Well, the dress above and the fabric for my dress both featured in one of the Victoria and Albert museums first exhibitions to focus on contemporary fashion. The fabric of pop.

The original exhibition poster from The fabric of pop.

From the fabric of pop exhibition catalogue
“Pop Art’s influence on textile and fashion design owned all it’s inspiration and much of its success to our mass-produced urban culture. It found it’s full expression in the commercialism it poked fun at and came full circle by ending up on the pages of those glossy magazines that has originally proved pop art with much of its imagery.”
And just a few more examples of garments that featured in the Fabric of pop. I think you can see how the items in this exhibition show distinct similarities to those that featured in the recent exhibition at the Fashion an textile museum.

“Fred” fabric- 1973- Lloyd Johnson
Raspberry lips fabric- Designed by Jane Wealleans for Ok textiles Ltd.- 1973

And now, back to Miss Mouse. Here are a few items of Miss Mouse clothing that particular captured both my imagination and the spirit of Spencer-Cullen’s design.
I’ve discovered that the museum of fine arts in Boston has the blouse version of my dress

 This INSANELY fabulous coat, which actually matches my dress was sold by Liz Eggleston a few years ago, I remember the intense swooning over it at the time it was for sale.

Fab red polka dot example. This red polka dot was a signature of Miss Mouse designs and often featured on the linings of Rae-Cullen’s garments.

This sensational and (less typical) example of Miss mouse comes from Manchester City galleries
dated 1973-76

According to a Glagow Herald article in 1976 Spencer-Cullen started designing her quirky pieces in 1970.
As the article suggests, to begin with “she was elusive, hazed in shadows, a real mouse about publicity in fact.  The only evidence of her existence was her clothes”
Her designs are described as “cheerfully schizophrenic”, which I think accurately captures the haphazard spirit with designs borrowed from the 50s but made entirely new.
“In summer her designs always seem especially right, breaking through winters dinginess to show off Lucy Locket pockets, drainpipe trousers in deckchair stripes, sweetheart necklines and shimmering raincoats”
I’m particularly interested by the “flowery skirts in cotton with detatchable lucy locket pockets” suggested in the article (I’ve never seen one of these but I’m guessing it is like a Dorothy bag). If anyone has come across a Miss Mouse example of this, please do let me know!
Spencer-Cullen was a young designer in the 70s. In 1976 she was just 29, suggesting that when she started her company she was a mere 23. Her spirit imagination and quirky spirit are all hugely appealing. Well known for having at periods her hair either crimson or emerald, she was an alternative designer yet was clearly highly commercial.
In 1976 Harpers Bazaar stated she was one of the “leading style innovators” and
West one magazine stated she (along with Vivienne Westwood) had the strongest style in London. Rae Spencer-Cullen certainly must have been a fashion force to reckon with.
(I’m going hunting for these issues as soon as my work load eases in the NAL)
Rae Spencer-Cullen and Duggie Fields. One of the few photos I could find of eponymous designer.

I’ll be honest- at the moment I’m struggling to find that much indepth information about the brand, but I’m currently contemplating writing about the 50s revival in the early 70s for my masters dissertation (along with about three million other topics that are floating around in my head) so watch this space for more information about the brand!
Additional information from:

Sale purchases: Vintage and new!

In the past week I’ve purchased a few very nice items in the sales, and I just want to share a few of the items, in outfit form.

This was my outfit for my first day of spring term at uni. Day 1 and already readings and essay set *sob*. I am super excited though about the modules for this term. One of my module is about the eastern/ western cross-pollination in fashion primarily. Knowing me I’ll be turning up to uni in appropriate outfits every tuesday for my seminars.

The cardiagan is from Lovely’s vintage emporium. Super soft and COVERED in little white pearls. It ia also incredibly warm.


The belt came from Catherine Smith vintage in Harrogate a few years ago. It is real snakeskin in rich red.

Plain and boring gap t-shirt- I dread to think how many of these I own.
Sarah Coventry vintage brooch- I also have the matching earrings.

Russell and Bromley brougues. Ever practical.

AND this fab skirt. Reduced from £65 to £20 in the Topshop sale. It is one of the J.W.Anderson pieces. The quilted effect and paisley decoration actually reminds me of my Grandad’s dressing gown. Not sure whether that’s a good thing or not!