When Selfridges met: Judith Clark and Stephen Jones
Educational, celebratory and surreal, Britannica 1951-1953, Selfridges London’s Jubilee-inspired exhibition is a tribute to the fashion worn by the Queen’s contemporaries between 1951-1953. A collaboration between esteemed curator Judith Clark and millinery master Stephen Jones, the unmissable exhibition has recreated, in their entirety, a collection of the most desirable outfits from that era.
Drawing her inspiration from three celebratory Britannica issues of British Vogue published in the early 1950s, Clark explains, “The ‘Britannica' issues of Vogue set out to celebrate ‘Britishness’ and review its essence in the aftermath of the war and the advent of the new Queen, Elizabeth II. Looking at the three issues of Vogue, it occurred to me how different it was from the Vogue we have today – not only in content and silhouette but also in the look of the pages. The pages were in grey scale – so black and white with coloured accents. This contrast between black and white and colour and the beloved Vogue patterns were an important part in my overall vision for the exhibition”.
And who better to call-upon for assistance in bringing this idea to life than millinery maestro Stephen Jones, who has created a masterful collection of hats – all in the Coronation colour of champagne pink - especially for the exhibition. “The Queen is like the Patron Saint of millinery, so I took to this project like a duck to water” laughs Jones. Jones’ involvement in the exhibition was, it seems, ideal. “In the 1950s, hats were such an essential part of dressing up”, explains the hat designer. “It was just after the war, so people didn’t have much money. If women couldn’t afford the dresses seen in Vogue they were happy to make their own version out of cotton and old curtains. But they would always have that season’s hat.”
Speaking to the duo, it’s clear that both have an instinctive love for the fashion of that era. “It’s that whole glamorous thing” explains Jones. “It’s about being completely dressed-up in high heels and tight-fitting corsetry – and looking fabulous”. Something, it appears that us Brits do well. “There’s such romanticism within British fashion. The French are very good at being chic, the Italians are luxurious but the British have that lightness and an air of eccentricity that always makes it believable. If you look at any great British dresser, they make it look so effortless".
And it seems, there is no better location to host such an exhibition than in the Ultralounge, at Selfridges London. “Only after we were asked to do the exhibition, while researching, did we discover that Selfridges sponsored, in 1951, the Vogue pattern show” explains Jones. “It’s as if it was meant to be”.
“And of course the Ultra Lounge is such a brilliant space” adds Clark. “It’s such a no man’s land – so it can easily be transformed and moved away from the aesthetic of the shop floor”.
So, how long did it take to create the exhibition? “Research always takes time to evolve” explains Clark. “Then, as an exhibiton-maker, once you’ve decided on an aesthetic language – it’s your job to remain faithful to it and make it work. It’s been a good six months since I first approached Stephen, but it was probably only a couple of months ago, when Stephen sat down to start reimagining the Vogue patterns, did we know exactly what we wanted to represent”.
“But we had such fun creating it” adds Jones, “we would sit down together and it would suddenly be four hours later”.
Visit the must-see Britannica 1951-1953 exhibition in the Lower Ground floor Ultralounge until 24 June.