I first came across the wonderful Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle by chance on an inprontu stop-off on the way home from Glasgow. A notice board in the town centre proclaimed ‘this way to the lace exhibition’ which sounded so intreging I thought I must take a look!
I discovered the most amazing building and grounds and a V&A travelling exhibition. The whole museum was a revelation of a cornucopia of artefacts from art to costume, natural history to the famous swan automaton. I always planned a return visit so when I heard on the grapevine that Bowes was to be the venue for the prestigious Yves Saint Laurent retrospective, ‘Style is Eternal’, I had my opportunity. Also, so refreshing to have something so important ‘up north’.
Yves St Laurent (1936-2008) is one of my favourite designers. His work changed women’s fashion. Revolutionary at the time, his design ideas have become part of our everyday wardrobe. It is hard to imagine the stir garments borrowed from men, the safari suit and tuxedo (Le smoking) for example, caused the time and not so long ago.
Described as fashion’s first ‘socially conscious’ designer in the exhibition catalogue, Yves Saint Laurant was concerned with how women lived and moved.
I made a Yves Saint Laurent for Vogue patterns safari suit for my needlework and dress ‘A’ level and how I wish I still had it!
The exhibition is housed in the fashion and textiles gallery, home to their own fascinating collection of costumes ancient to modern. Their Schiaparelli attributed dress is displayed alongside Yves Saint Laurent’s surrealist interpretation of her work.
The exhibition is laid out in such a way that you are drawn into Yves Saint Laurent’s life in design from a young man designing with paper dolls, to his time with Christian Dior, to opening his own house in 1961.
Works from his Transparence collection are displayed, exploring the beauty of the nude female form with veiling.
The two sets of garments I found particularly interesting were his toiles. Calico garments testing out the cut and design even down to the size of the buttons. Some of the toiles have the embellished portions attached.
At Jane White Couture Tuition toile making is an important part of what we do to achieve garments with stylish individuality fitted perfectly to the wearer. We also make patterns to the wear’s body measurements not just for something different but to achieve the perfect fit for those of us not blessed with the mythical standard size figure. We start with a basic block course and then learn pattern manipulation techniques.
The Spectaculaire collection is a jaw dropping journey into the theatrical reflecting his teenage deliberation between following either a life in costume or fashion. Ultimately he did not have to make a choice, designing for theatre, cinema, ballet and opera as well as for fashion.
For the Jane White Couture Tuition students or any student researching the historical, cultural and contemporary influences that drive fashion for their City & Guilds level 2 Fashion qualification, this exhibition would be well worth a visit. St Laurent’s influences are so visible – the work of the surrealists, pop art, Morocco, medieval, show girls, China, Russia, historic garments and the work of Elsa Schiaparelli to name just a few.
I met some lovely people wandering around the exhibition, how friendly fashion and sewing enthusiasts are, how friendly and helpful the staff on duty are and what a feast for the eyes the garments are.
What can I say other than please visit before it finishes on 25 October and I hope The Bowes Museum will be the venue for more fashion excitement in the future!