I visited the Victoria and Albert Museum four times during my month long stay in the UK, it is my favorite London museum. I find the museum to be a peaceful space, much different than the overpowering and continuously crowded British Museum. The variety of materials and the interesting ways in which the displays are designed add to my fascination. Similar to the British Museum, the V&A is gigantic but offers visitors frequent rest areas, air conditioning, pleasing lighting, hands-on displays, behind the scenes videos, and imaginatively designed exhibits. My multiple visits were mainly due to the fact that the museum displays items related to my research interest in 1960s youth culture, primarily the fashion, photography, and theater and performance areas. Surprisingly, the museum does not have a lot of material on display concerning the 1960s culture but has made materials accessible through their website, archives, and National Art Library.
The V&A is well known for their fashion collections, which are partially displayed chronologically in the museum. The 1960s clothing items in the exhibit primarily pertain to women’s fashion of the era, focusing on iconic “Swinging London” designers like Mary Quant and Barbara Hulanicki. Oddly, men’s fashion, which underwent a renaissance in the 1960s, is almost entirely absent from the display apart from a collection of ties designed by Emilio Pucci, Timothy Glazier, and John Michael. The V&A has a wonderful online exhibit of some of their most iconic fashion pieces, complete with interactive images, biographical information concerning the designers, and the history of the garment. Reading lists of compiled resources related to specific topics, like 1960s Fashion and Textiles, are a useful addition to the site. The V&A, recognizing the importance of the oral history of fashion, has collected interviews with many significant designers. Transcripts for the oral histories are available on the museum’s website. Fashion pieces not on display at the museum are housed offsite in the Archive of Art and Design at the Blythe House.
Apart from the materials related to my research on permanent display, I attended the V&A’s Glamour of Italian Fashion since 1945 exhibit. The special exhibition contained numerous beautifully designed Italian clothes and accessories that ranged from Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels to the latest Valentino dress straight off the catwalk. I succeeded in seeing, first hand, some of the Italian suits and other menswear that heavily influenced quintessential mod fashion in the early 1960s. The exhibit was a spectacular ode to the classic and innovative fashion created by some of history’s most influential fashion designers.