As the UK’s most stylish skating scene sets up in the neoclassical courtyard of Somerset House, the hidden gems inside Somerset House will also transform into a fashion winter wonderland. Nine displays, each curated by a fashion expert, will pop up around the historic site to tell the story of trends in cold climates from the past century. Each display will cover a different theme on winter fashion and leisure pursuits and include items such as illustrated postcards of chic Parisians in their winter wares from the Belle Époque era, a 1920s Burberry ski suit, a pair of 1936/37 ice skates, and videos of fairytale Narnia-inspired catwalk shows from Alexander McQueen’s A/W 1999 to John Galliano’s A/W 2009 collection.
Each fashion curator will take a different space across Somerset House from the sweeping Stamp Stair (so called as all newspapers were stamped for tax in this part of the building) to the Great Arch Hall into which the River Thames used to flow and the Navy’s ships were stored. Visitors will be encouraged to follow a trail around the site and discover the treasures of Somerset House. Professor of Fashion History and Theory at Central Saint Martins, Caroline Evans, will use silent film archive footage to show a selection of clips of early twentieth century ice skating. Located where the viewer can also observe today’s ice skaters at Somerset House, the notions of fashionable gesture and poise can be compared first hand.
Historical items will make up some of the other displays with Beatrice Behlen, Senior Curator of Fashion and Decorative Arts at Museum of London, showcasing a pair of 1936/37 ice skates which will be used to tell the story of skating between the wars. Rebecca Arnold, Oak Foundation Lecturer in History of Dress & Textiles at The Courtauld Institute of Art, will create a display based on early 20th century fashion journals. Curated with Fruzsina Bekefi and Alexis Romano, and drawing on The Courtauld History of Dress collection, the display will reveal how graphic artists represented the balance between function and fashion in seasonal styles, and gave modern women tips on ways to be cosy yet chic.
A more contemporary look at the concept will see Somerset House Curator Shonagh Marshall presenting fashion shows which set scenes of magical winter landscapes, exploring the influence the fairytale, fantastical yet threatening, has had on the fashion industry. Exhibition designer Serge Martynov and curator Sofia Hedman, who archived the Alexander McQueen Collection for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, New York, will focus on the colour white in fashion history, using a series of garments to chart its importance through the ages. Curator Tory Turk will look at how events in popular culture changed developments in design for skiwear and ski accessories. A highlight of the display will be an original ski from 1917 worn by skiing legend Sir Arnold Lunn, who pioneered modern downhill and slalom racing. Other objects from a range of regions and periods will feature, including a Burberry ski suit, a fashionable example of 1920s women's skiwear, and 1960s Piz Buin sunscreen with SPF, which was first implemented by the brand in 1962 to make tanning safer on the slopes.