Yves Saint Laurent at the Bowes Museum

The other day, a friend and I went to see the marvellous Yves Saint Laurent exhibition at the equally marvellous Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, Co. Durham:

The Bowes Museum

The Bowes Museum

This was very busy, so if you’re planning on going – and I can recommend you do – be prepared for it to be absolutely packed. While a successful exhibition is a good thing, it did mean that some of my photos didn’t turn out too well as there were too many people in the way, but hopefully I still have enough to give you an idea of what it’s like.

So let’s start with some toiles:

YSL toiles

YSL toiles

and embroidery samples:

Embroidery samples

Embroidery samples

that give an interesting insight into the working practices of a fashion house.

Also interesting, to me at least, is that while some of the embroidered pieces looked very effective from a distance:

Embroidered dress

Embroidered dress

close up, the embroidery itself was, well, not quite the standard I’d expected:

Close-up of embroidered pineapple

Close-up of embroidered pineapple

There’s probably a lesson in that!

Part of the exhibition contrasted some of Saint Laurent’s work with fashion going back to the 18th century, using pieces from the Museum’s permanent collection; these were all in cases and I couldn’t get any photos without a lot of glare and reflection, so you’ll just have to take my word that it was all fascinating stuff. The main part of the exhibition – the clothes! – were not in cases, though, so I can show you a few things that stood out for me.

A collection of mostly 1980s evening wear:

Haute couture evening wear

Haute couture evening wear

Another evening dress, that I absolutely loved:

1980s evening dress

1980s evening dress

Two outfits designed for the stage:

YSL stage costumes

YSL stage costumes

Not a good photo of more evening wear:

Evening outfit with cape

Evening outfit with cape

but I wanted to show a close-up of the beadwork around the collar:

Bead and sequin embroidery

Bead and sequin embroidery

I loved some of the ready to wear clothes, such as these:

Ready to wear YSL outfits

Ready to wear YSL outfits

and these:

Tuxedo and dress

Tuxedo and dress

and these:

Dress and safari suit

Dress and safari suit

Isn’t that safari suit great!

Another evening dress:

Sheer evening dress with embroidery

Sheer evening dress with embroidery

And its embroidered discs:

Applied goldwork discs

Applied goldwork discs

I couldn’t quite work out how they’re done, though they’ve clearly been done separately and applied.

Elsewhere in the Museum there’s plenty else to see, with art, such as this beautiful van Dyke portrait:

Portrait of a lady by Van Dyke

Portrait of a lady by Van Dyke

Lots of ceramics, both old:

Part of the ceramics collection

Part of the ceramics collection

and new:

1950s and 60s ceramics and art glass

1950s and 60s ceramics and art glass

(which I much prefer), and some oddly random bits and bobs, such as this Jacquard loom in the corner of a room otherwise displaying antique toys:

Jacquard loom

Jacquard loom

But the thing the Bowes Museum is best known for is the Silver Swan:

The Bowes Museum's Silver Swan

The Bowes Museum’s Silver Swan

I have to say that I think that this surprisingly badly displayed, considering its status. It’s rather abandoned in the centre of a gallery, in a very ugly modern case. They really could and should do much better by it.

Having said that, the swan itself is stunning. It’s a life-sized 18th century automaton of a swan made in silver and glass. Once a day, to a packed gallery, it’s set in motion, when it moves its neck and ‘eats’ one of the little silver fish swimming in front of it.

I’ll finish with a YouTube video by Mark Vallack of the Silver Swan in action. Enjoy!

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