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Lace in Fashion, But Not To My Taste

There are certain things I think of when ‘lace’ is mentioned. The initial thought is of delicacy and intricacy. A fragility that seems at odds with its practical usage. Lace is a luxury. A material that I long to own and wear, but have to admit that my practical lifestyle could not sustain – throw in ownership of a cat and you instantly have a recipe for catastrophe.

So for me lace is a fantasy – the type of cloth that, if my lifestyle allowed I would inhabit. Contrasting its delicacy with harder edges, such as leather and denim. With this in mind I was excited to get down to the new exhibition of Lace in Fashion at the Fashion Museum in Bath.

Bath

Bath itself is a wonderful place to visit. And for any creative types it is well worth the journey. Not only are there a number of independent shops and galleries, there is also the beauty of the Regency architecture that can serve inspiration for any number of projects.

The Fashion Museum itself is located in the Assembly Rooms just off the Royal Crescent. It is a grand venue, befitting of a museum of fashion; you can only imagine the beautiful gowns and tailoring that have graced the reception rooms within this building.

Fashion Museum

While the Assembly rooms themselves have been mostly restored to their Regency glory, and still function as venues for events, parties, and weddings, the Fashion Museum is tucked away in the renovated basement area. A historical sartorial treasure trove just waiting to be uncovered.

The museum is not a large space, but with its permanent display of Fashion in 100 items it serves as a good overview of the evolution of fashions through the ages. There are many pieces that you may recognise from historical figures, as well as some great examples of contemporary design work.

Lace in Fashion

But I was there to see the Lace, so it was with excited trepidation that I weaved my way around the permanent exhibition. As I rounded the corner and was met with three black and red heavy lace evening gowns my heart sunk. This was not the kind of delicate lace that I had anticipated. Obviously my perception of the material was going to be very different from that of the curator of this exhibition if these were the exemplary pieces chosen for initial impact.

 

Like the permanent space, items in the exhibition were mainly arranged chronologically. As such, the first half of items on display were worth the visit. Traditional pieces, the typical silhouette of the Victorian era, with reams of fabric delicately edged in white or cream lace. In addition there were some exquisite lace shawls and lengths used for covering the head.

In the first section there was a piece of lace in production. From this beautifully intricate lace in progress hung the numerous lace bobbins which accentuated the complexity of the production of this material.

From the early examples through to the dresses of the 1920s, there were some interesting pieces. However, the disappointment, for me at least, came with the contemporary pieces selected. I was expecting to find that the designs of the 1980s unappealing, but I was shocked to come upon one of the last sections of garments and discover that they were more contemporary.

Lack of Delicacy

Upon seeing these pieces, I immediately made the assumption that they were dated. The lace seemed heavy-handed, and overworked. The silhouettes of the garments also appeared to be unflattering in the bulkiness of the fabric. The colours were also lacking in subtly – being mainly red and black and instantly invoking images of cheap lace lingerie.

Perhaps this reference to undergarments was a sticking point for me. Last year I went to see the Lingerie exhibition at the V&A and was struck by the exquisite delicacy and innovation of the designs. With garments that embody the competing notions of hidden and revealed, lace provided a perfect medium.

Unmet Expectations

But again, this comes back to my own expectation of lace. Of a fabric that has an inhuman delicacy. The irony is that these later examples of lace were machine-made. Yet instead of creating cloth that defies what can be made by the human hand, these examples looked overworked. There was a heavy-handedness that betrayed the mechanical intervention.

That is not to say that these heavier laces do not have a place. I will probably struggle to find an aesthetic appreciation for them, but then is that not the point of all creative endeavours – we can’t all like and appreciate the same things. Yet, it would have been nice to see some more representation of the fragile side of the lace coin.

Having said this, there is still certainly much to enjoy within the Lace in Fashion exhibition. Perhaps avoiding preconceptions before entering may have helped my viewing experience. But don’t take my word for it, if you love all things fashion, then the Fashion Museum in Bath is definitely worth a visit. Even if you don’t find complete satisfaction in the current exhibition, there is plenty within the History in 100 Objects, or the Historic Assembly Rooms themselves, to keep the creatively curious interested.


The Lace in Fashion exhibition is on until January 2018 at the Fashion Museum, Bath.

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