There’s a plethora of art exhibitions in London – and across the UK – at all times. But if you’re more interested in the art of dressing, you’ve come to the right place. These are the best fashion exhibitions to visit this year.
London’s Must-See Fashion Exhibitions
Gabrielle Chanel. Fashion Manifesto
There is no contest for autumn’s main fashion event – and that is the V&A’s blockbuster show about Chanel. First shown in Paris in 2020, it opens in London on 16 September and will run until 25 February. Amazingly, it is the first show in Britain dedicated to the life and work of Gabrielle ‘CoCo’ Chanel.
Chanel opened her first millinery boutique in 1910 and died in 1971, so the show covers more than six decades of her work, with more than 180 outfits on display. These include clothes made for the British model Anne Gunning, as well as for Marlene Dietrich and Lauren Bacall. The designer’s early life was difficult, as she was orphaned at a young age. However, she showed a talent for sewing, and this led her to fashion. Her designs were simple, elegant, and comfortable, and were inspired by the everyday lives of women. She rejected the elaborate and restrictive fashions of the time, and instead created clothes that were practical and easy to move in. She also introduced a new aesthetic of simplicity and minimalism, which had a profound impact on women’s fashion. Chanel’s most famous creations, of course, include the Chanel suit, the little black dress, and the quilted handbag. These designs are still popular today, and they have become iconic symbols of fashion.
London and Paris are famous fashion rivals – London is edgy, Paris is refined. But this autumn, London exhibition-goers can enjoy the best of both worlds. By Ed Vaizey
Details: 16 September 2023–25 February 2024 at the V&A (Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL). Tickets available to book now from £24 per person. vam.ac.uk
Fashion City: How Jewish Londoners Shaped Global Style
An iconic Princess Diana coat – which she wore when announcing her pregnancy with Prince William – is just one of the beautiful garments that will go on display in October at the Museum of London Docklands as part of an exhibition celebrating Jewish people’s contribution to London’s fashion scene. Setting the scene in London’s East End – where many Jewish migrants arrived from the late 19th to early 20th century – the exhibition will detail fashion across the city to the West End’s boutiques and couture salons.
Details: 13 October 2023–14 April 2024 at the Museum of London Docklands (No 1, West India Quay, Hertsmere Road, London E14 4AL). Off-peak adult entry from £12, peak adult entry from £13, with concessions available. Tickets are on sale now at museumoflondon.org.uk
REBEL: 30 Years of London Fashion
During my time as Minister for Fashion, I was hugely impressed by the British Fashion Council (BFC) and the hard yards it puts in to support the industry. I’m pleased it is collaborating with the Design Museum on new exhibition Rebel: 30 Years of London Fashion. It will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the BFC’s Newgen programme, which supports the UK’s emerging fashion talent. The show will feature nearly 100 innovative fashion looks from ground-breaking debut and early collections, many of which have entered pop-culture history. Highlights include the swan dress worn by Björk at the 2001 Oscars, Harry Styles’ Steven Stokey-Daley outfit from his video for ‘Golden,’ and a unique replica of Sam Smith’s inflatable latex suit by Harri from this year’s Brit Awards. By Ed Vaizey
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Details: 16 September 2023–11 February 2024 at the Design Museum (224–238 Kensington High Street, London W8 6AG). Adult tickets from £16.33. designmuseum.org
London fashion is also getting a further look in at the Gucci Cosmos show. Accoladed artist and stage designer Es Devlin has dreamed up an impressive immersive retrospective exploring the archives of this extraordinary fashion house. This affair is a curious trotting exhibition – shipped from Shanghai, where it last held residency – and adapts its curation to resonate with each city in which it lands. By Ed Vaizey
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Details: 11 October–31 December 2023 at 180 Studios (180 Strand, Temple, London WC2R 1EA). gucci.com
The Missing Thread
This major new exhibition explores the story of Black British fashion, chronicling the shifting landscape across 50 years and the contribution Black British culture has made to Britain’s design history. Celebrating the unique impact of a largely unseen generation of Black creatives, The Missing Thread will examine how culture, politics and socio-economics shaped Black style – and, in turn, mainstream fashion.
Details: 21 September 2023–17 January 2024 at Somerset House (Strand, London WC2R 1LA). somersethouse.org.uk
Designed For Life
How can fashion be a force for positive social change? This is the exploration of Designed for Life, the London College of Fashion’s first exhibition at its new East Bank home by the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. Featuring various designs, the exhibition will explore the themes – such as empowerment and ideas for a sustainable future – that the college holds dear. Highlights include: the first ceremonial coat created for the high sheriff of Greater London, which drew on the London College of Fashion and charities working with current and ex-prisoners to develop fashion skills for its design; and ‘Dress For Our Time’, a piece created by Professor Helen Storey from a decommissioned refugee tent.
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Details: 2 October 2023–19 January 2024 at London College of Fashion – Olympic Park (105 Carpenters Road, London E15 2JE). Free to visit. arts.ac.uk
Though not solely a fashion exhibition, expect to see incredible costumes and sketches exploring the fashion of history’s most iconic performers at this V&A exhibition, spanning Victorian opera to modern day pop.
Details: Until 7 April 2024 at the V&A (Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL). Tickets are £20 per person. vam.ac.uk
Featured image: The Cult of Beauty, Wellcome Collection. Xu Yang, Perhaps We are All Fictions in the Eye of the Beholder (cropped).