Saturday, 2 August 2014

Cotton couture, Manchester Art Gallery

I was on a random date with the city t'other day (I had a week of work!) and I stumbled across the Cotton couture exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery - quite the treat - so I thought I'd tell y'all about it!

Evening coat in check cotton with black velvet, Owen Lachasse, 1957

It's in the Manchester Galleries on the ground floor of the Mosley St entrance, a space for changing exhibitions about the city we live in. The exhibition looks and the history and influence (or, attempted influence...) The British Cotton Board had during its reign in 1940 - 1972. Based in Manchester and Glasgow the board was responsible for research, marketing and promotion of British Cotton in the global apparel industry as a fabric of choice, and not just for work-wear and underwear. However, between 1956 and around 1962 the board got creative.

Dinner dress and coat, cotton lace with cord embroidery, Hardy Amies, 1957

In an attempt to thwart the idea that cotton was merely an industrial fabric, the board commission British and later French couturiers and designers to produce ball-gowns and cocktail wear from different cottons, to be showcased at fashion shows, or parades as they were known. These works were statements about the changing face of fashion and fabrics and showcase the extremities and variety of 1950/60s European style. Each dress was made for the runway and for models with 18" waists! The designers were only paid around £50 for their efforts too.

Evening dress, robia cotton voile, Jean Dessés, 1957

The results of this promotional activity are unclear, but the sheer breadth of different types of cotton dresses that were produced certainly makes for an impressive collection. Over 60 dresses were donated to the Manchester Gallery of Costume by the Cotton Board and Manchester Art Gallery has chosen 20 pieces for this expo.

The designers on exhibition include a favourite of her Majesty, Hardy Amies and the french designer Pierre Cardin, whose idiosyncratic sporty/daywear style shows through.

Sheath dress, brocade-printed cotton, Pierre Cardin, 1957

The Cotton Board was eventually dissolved, at its own request, with the responsibility for promoting British cotton passing to the voluntary British Textile Council. 

The exhibition is FREE to all.