Knitwear: Chanel to Westwood exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum

Esme, Kit and I went to see the knitting exhibition at Bermondsey. We were rather disappointed. Compared to our marvellous free museums (like the V&A) paying £8.80 each meant this was an expensive treat. So the fact that the exhibition space is made of packing cases, and appears actually or artfully to be in a state of disrepair, was not a good start.

Fashion and textile museum
Scruffy setting

We came with a buggy (Kit is 3 months old), so the fact that there is no customer lift to the second floor wasn’t ideal. Although the staff offered to operate the goods lift for us when required we carried the bundle of joy, who seemed to like the punk section especially. Well I did. I have always wanted to knit a jumper in the wrong weight of yarn and this top was a nice example of that.

Punk jumpber
Jumper in three different yarns

The exhibition had been marketed as from Chanel to Westwood and there was an item from each designer. Chanel’s was a mauve golfing jacket – unremarkable.

Possible Chanel knitwear
One of these “might” be a Chanel

Vivienne’s men’s jacket-cardigan was super though – draped with a great big piece of sheepskin that looked like the shepherd had a lamb on his shoulders. unfortunately no images of this. Overall there were around 200 items of knitwear that come from  the collection of Mark and Cleo Butterfield who also curated and arranged the exhibition. Most images are from their blog.

This is the main weakness of the exhibition – what we see is a personal collection, much of it hand-knitted. It is arranged chronologically but it didn’t feel very complete. Nor is it very beautiful. Lots of the items were a bit brown, a bit too vintage, if you know what I mean. Many of the  items looked worn out – not the pristine artefacts that we often see in our museums, based on, say, a designer’s own achieves. I felt like it was from Great Aunt’s wardrobe, plus a good eBay haul rather than a carefully curated show. The poor lighting and lack of any detailed commentary did not help.

1930s knitwear selection
1930s knitwear

We got a few insights, but the whole thing just seemed jumbly and random. I was fascinated by one intricate cardigan knitted by Cleo herself, with bees, which apparently was such an effort she couldn’t be bothered to put the buttons on. Well, I expect a number of us have been there, but this just contributed to the amateur feeling I got. The swim suits were fun – horrible to wear though!  Especially when wet.

1920s knitted swim suits
1920s knitted swim suits

The two wars are covered, making do and mending (or unravelling and restyling). I liked the selection of Fair Isle jumpers, made popular by the Duke of Windsor wearing one sent by the Fair Island people to golf.

Fairisle sweaters
The Fairisle wall at the exhibition

There was a selection of the kinds of novelty American style jackets with kitch embroidery or loud patterns.  There were cocktail sweaters with a slim waist and pretty shoulder embellishment, and the iconic crocheted mini-dresses we got our Nans to make.

Twiggy in crocheted 1960s dress
Twiggy in 1960s dress

The best bit for me what the most up to the minute Visionary Knitwear section of really creative and beautiful graduate work which was put together by  Professor Sandy Black from the London College of Fashion. Everything here was brand new, untouched, colourful and desirable.

Modern Visionary knitwear
Modern Knitwear

I took a keen interest in the performance jersey Nike trainers on show – and noticed my daughter was already wearing a pair!

Nike Flyknit in red
Nike Flyknit

There were also some lovely photographs of Knitwear in Fashion photography. Overall I struggled to get excited about knitting. Why do you think it lacks the glamour that is generally associated with designer fashion?

Read a more generous review here.

4 Responses

  1. What a shame you weren’t impressed. I must admit, just your photos make me want a closer look. Knitting and crochet are still black arts to me that I’m always impressed when someone makes something.

  2. Thanks for taking us along to the exhibition, Kate. I adore knitting, so I’m excited! I suppose that knitting isn’t typically glamorous. In fact, the part that I find fascinating about knitting is the “wear it out, use it up, make it do, do without” part of it, and the history of knitwear to cope with harsh living and working environments.

  3. Knit purl. that’s about it for me, but I do like it as a pick up and put down project….. If I am going to knit something, I like it to be a wool——-oh, I see a new Christmas scarf ! thanks for the inspiration.
    wonderful post as always Kate. Thanks.

  4. Brenda Marks

    I just returned from a visit to Oslo where I saw several museums. Sadly, aside from the featured exhibits, many of the displays seemed a bit amateurish and as you put it “a good eBay haul”. It’s disappointing when we have both seen quality exhibits that leave one inspired and enlightened. Where do I lodge my official complaint? lol

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