As a birthday treat we went to see the Botticelli exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum. Botticelli’s (1445-1510) most famous work – the birth of Venus – is so well known that in the exhibition there are photographs of two young Dutch girls assuming the same stance on a cold Netherland beach.
A plastic oyster shell was provided for those who wanted to be a born-again Venus. My pose was less modest (but then I was fully dressed)
The iconic images of the Birth of Venus and Primavera (the birth of spring) are breathtakingly beautiful – in terms of the people depicted, the exquisite, delicate painting style and the ability of the pictures to talk to us over the centuries. I have always loved this image of Flora – the goddess of flowers and spring -(who also appears in the Birth of Venus) in the right foreground – her headdress, necklace and dress are all adorned with pinks and cornflowers. (When my son George got married I made myself a floral headdress with pinks and cornflowers) She looks so fresh and beautiful, and these images has been inspirational for so many dress designers.
I was therefore thrilled to bits to see two dresses by Schiaparelli, from her 1938 Pagan collection, inspired by the paintings of Botticelli. Let’s have a closer look. The two evening gowns are very closely fitted to the body – the waist measures about 26″ and the hips about 34″. This one is made from black silk crepe and ornamented with an arrangement of leaves and flowers made from plastic sequins, and silk embroidery. The two bright pink flowers are actually attached right on the apex of the bust, an unusual and provocative placement. But even more interesting are three bosom emblems embroidered in two shades of pink-flesh with brownish nipple-tips. This dress, and the one below, are fastened at the side seam with an obvious plastic and metal zip.
The second dress on display at the V&A is inspired by Flora, Schiaparelli uses a deep purple crepe fabric, garnished with a circular floral wreath at the neckline, made plastic, sequins and artificial flowers, and textured leaves. The motifs are then echoed on the dress in little bunches of embroidered flowers.
The exhibition runs to 3 July, after which it goes to Berlin. Do see it if you can, if only so you can get close to these classic Schiaparelli pieces.