Young V&A Reopens: Review

9 July 2023, by Caitlin Allen

In this week's blog, Costume Society Ambassador Caitlin Allen reviews the newly reopened Young V&A, formerly the Museum of Childhood. Caitlin provides insights into the processes behind the re-design of the museum, as well as what visitors can expect to see there.

When you imagine what you may see at a  children’s museum, a garment by Issey Miyake likely isn’t your first thought. But sure enough, within the Young V&A, sits a beautifully pleated red and pink trouser suit (circa 1990) from the Japanese fashion designer. This garment isn’t a one off either, throughout the museum, visitors can see numerous examples of iconic fashion alongside other works of great design.

The Young V&A, formerly the Museum of Childhood, reopened July 1st, after a three year, £13 million refurbishment. When asked about the change of name, curators explained the former name represented a museum which was “of” childhood, whereas this new museum is ”for” childhood. 

To be sure, the Young V&A is a children’s museum, but the team behind the redesign has expertly crafted a space which is enjoyable for visitors of all ages. Alex Newson, Chief Curator, notes that while the museum is aimed at children 0-14, a conscience effort was made to create an “inter-generational experience” which can be enjoyed by the whole family. I found this particularly evident by the tone of voice used throughout the museum. Gallery text and object tombstones are written in a clear and concise manner without feeling patronizing. Likewise, design processes are explained in a way which is informative yet relatable. Questions are posed throughout the museum which encourage guests to start conversations with one another and think about how design affects our daily lives.  

Across the three galleries-Imagine, Design, Play-are a number of garments which are used to showcase different elements of design. In a space called The Factory, it is explained that, “To be a designer, you need to understand how things are made. Designers, makers and artists choose from a range of processes to transform design into a reality.” Guests will learn about processes such as weaving, dyeing, knitting and sewing (just to name a few). To illustrate each process, a variety of objects are displayed. In the Sewing section, we see a beautifully smocked, silk jersey, miniature dress from French couturier, Jean Dessès. Next to it, a red and white, intricately handwoven, Tzute (headcloth), from Guatemala (circa 1850-1890). Curators have been sure to include objects from various cultures and time periods. Each object displayed in The Factory stands as a testament to the importance of design throughout history.

Just past The Factory, we encounter the Design Gallery, where the following text greets us.

“Designers respond to our needs by asking questions, playing with ideas, imagining many different solutions and picking the one that works best.”

This sentiment is evidenced through a display of clothing which highlights  innovation in design. Guest will see, among other things, paper dresses from the 60’s, a skeleton suit from 1800 and even a little girls dress made from the silk of a rejected WWII parachute.

Integrated into the Design Gallery is The Shed, a dedicated studio for the Young V&A’s Designer in Residence. Clara Chu, an accessories designer, is the first to occupy The Shed. Her work is an “exploration around up-cycling…blurring boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ forms of culture through humorous transformations.” The work she produces feels right at home in the Design Gallery.  Through some clever innovation, Clara has managed to turn mundane objects into pieces of wearable art. A personal favourite was a bold neon green purse, which upon further inspection is actually made from placemats, bike chains, soap dispenser tops, chair leg caps and a yoga mat.  The Shed will be open two days a week which will allow visitors to interact directly with the designer, learn more about her processes and get a glimpse into her studio.

Overall, the Young V&A lives up to its new name. The space feels youthful and inspiring, with ample opportunities for visitors to engage in one way or another.

This children’s museum is worth the visit-no matter your age.  

The Young V&A’s first exhibition will be Japan: Myths to Manga, which opens on 14 October 2023. This fall will also bring a full lineup of programming and events. For now, you can visit the Young V&A daily from 10:00am-17:45.

This weekend marked the Young V&A's Summer Festival, outputs of which can be seen in collaborative installations in the museum.

The Costume Society regularly review new openings, exhibitions and shows; to read more visit our blog.

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