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Saturday, 20 March 2010

Exhibitions - Gallery of Costume - Platt Hall

Star rating 8/10

Manchester’s Gallery of Costume, second only to the V&A in terms of its wonderful collection of fashions through the centuries, has just reopened after two years being refitted and revamped. So I thought it only proper to get along to Platt Hall to check it out with my budding young fashionista expert Ruby.

The exhibition is held in a Grade 2 listed Georgian house in the middle of Platt Fields Park, a lovely setting for the sumptuous displays. It is the legacy of Dr. C.W. Cunnington, who was born in 1878, and became, with his wife Phyllis, a devotee of fashion, and in particular a collector of Victorian dresses. Their collection swelled to over 3,500 garments, which they understandably could no longer house comfortably in the adapted shed at the bottom of their garden, and so in 1947 it the collection was sold and then located in Platt Hall.

The costumes are displayed according to period, and there really are some lovely pieces to see. My particular favourites include a deep red velvet day dress from 1885-6, complete with a rich red satin bodice and trimmed with glass beads; and a chestnut brown Dior satin coat dress from the 1950’s, with its double breasted detail and sharp shaping.

The 1960’s pieces include a lovely Mary Quant orange evening dress, and an Yves Saint Laurent black mini cocktail dress that belonged to a New York socialite who only wore her pieces for a season, and was devoted to couture darling until she died aged 90. The journey goes through 1970’s flowing Biba dresses; to the sharp black Princess Diana style Chanel suits of the 80’s; and Vivienne Westwood mustard yellow evening suit with her distinctive bias cut tailoring in the skirt, and sleek fitted jacket.

And the accessories are to die for too – cabinets full of delicious handbags, shoes and hats. My personal favourites were the 60’s white kid ankle boots and pink velour cap. There is also more buttons than you will ever have seen – in every conceivable shape, size and colour. Button heaven. My only criticism is that some of the space in the Hall is not put to best use – as in the room with the vast button collection around the walls, where the large room was otherwise empty and a missed opportunity – but maybe there are other plans for that space.

There is a tribute to the recently deceased Alexander McQueen, and a lovely fuschia pink cocktail dress that once belonged to Audrey Hepburn. All very lovely and well worth a visit. I just hope that they change the collection around frequently enough for us to get to see the other gems which they must have safely locked away in some very big wardrobes somewhere...

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