Costume Society Ambassadors, Costume Society, Reviews  |  December 6, 2014

Women Fashion Power: Exhibition Review

On Tuesday 28th of October our Costume Society Chairman, Deirdre Murphy, took me to the private view of “Women Fashion Power” at the Design Museum. It is always very exiting to attend the opening of exhibitions. There is that feel that objects are there, waiting for the curtain to go up and the first visitor to enter, in order to start their magical storytelling. This is particularly true with fashion exhibitions, where clothes await to be enlivened by the visitor’s body. I was there, in front of mannequins meticulously stylised, imagining myself to be in the beautifully embroidered red kaftan by Zandra Rodhes (fig. 1), or in the “practical” 1930’s uniform of Women’s League and Health (fig. 2).

The exhibition is structured around two hubs: how women could achieve the freedom and position they now have and how they used fashion to communicate their strength. According to the co-curator Donna Loveday “the exhibition shows how women has used fashion to find their space in the world” and it features 26 women that have used dress in their professional life.

The design of the exhibition was realised by the world-renewed architect Zaha Hadid. The white walls and aseptic lighting say “conceptual art”, and conceptual is the arrangement of the display. The architect has imagined the power of fashion as an explosion, and mannequins and garments stand on fragment-plinths (fig. 3). Mirrors and lightening duplicate this sense of energetic fragmentation while connecting ceiling and floors, walls and exhibits, as it would happen in a force field. Hadid features also in a Prada’s cream-coloured cape (now on a mannequin) that she has given on loan from her personal wardrobe for the display (fig. 4). The exhibition itself is very rich in content, showing pieces from Marks & Spencer Company Archive, the Bowes Museum and Contemporary Wardrobe Collection, just to name a few.

Elisabeth Wilson famously stated “fashion is obsessed with gender, defines and redefines the gender boundary”. It was 1984 and fashion was struggling between feminist criticism and the difficulties of being accepted as an academic discipline. It is certain that history of fashion and its 3 –D display can be hardly disconnected by the history of women, or rather, a history of genders’ mutual perception. This exhibition is a rare example of how dress participates to this history as primary system of social signalling (fig.5 ).

Nadia Saccardi Society Ambassador 2014


  • Fig 1 Zandra Rhodes, Geranium Red Kaftan, 1982
  • Fig. 2 Photograph, Women’s League and Health, 1930
  • Fig. 3 Exhibition Design by Zaha Adid
  • Fig. 4 Prada’s cape own by Zaha Adid
  • Fig. 5 Denim suit with Woodstock photo print