JGJ Adorns ‘Beyond the Little Black Dress’ | The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

by | Aug 1, 2023

The Journey

Being invited to loan rare jewels to the National Museums Scotland, situated in the heart of historic Edinburgh, for their extraordinary ‘Beyond the Little Black Dress Exhibition’ , was nothing short of magical. Back in 2019 came the request, hot on the heels of my loan to the Dior Exhibition, London. And here we are, a pandemic and years of dedication and painstaking work later, being invited to celebrate the opening with a super-charged evening of ‘cocktail dress’, cocktails, and canapés to die for.

All of this before previewing the exhibition itself. You can imagine, the intense anticipation of the museum team and their guests filling the spectacular atrium of this iconic museum with great chatter, excitement, and joyful celebration. The time had finally arrived to view this highly anticipated exhibition, exquisitely principally curated by Georgina Ripley, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Fashion and Textiles, The National Museum of Scotland, and her extraordinary team.
NSM Beyond the Little Black Dress Exhibition 2023 (14)
NSM Beyond the Little Black Dress Exhibition 2023 (14)
Image Credit: NSM Beyond the Little Black Dress Exhibition 2023

And here we are, a pandemic and years of dedication and painstaking work later, being invited to celebrate the opening with a super-charged evening of ‘cocktail dress’, cocktails, and canapés to die for.

Image Credit: NSM Beyond the Little Black Dress Exhibition 2023

Introducing the Jewels

The importance of adornment of the little black dress was high on the museum’s agenda; the curator and her team ultimately dedicating an entire gallery of haute couture jewellery entitled ‘Adorning the Little Black Dress’.

Before diving into the story of adornment, let’s set the scene for this ground-breaking exhibition with an intro by the Museum…

Beyond LBD Coco Chanel Dress 1926

In 1926 Coco Chanel designed a simple, short black dress. Considered radically modern, it disregarded convention in its design and shade and was hailed by US Vogue as “the frock that all the world will wear.”

But First,
Introducing the Exhibition

‘From design classics to cutting-edge catwalk creations, Beyond the Little Black Dress deconstructs this iconic garment and examines the radical power of the colour black in fashion.’

In 1926 Coco Chanel designed a simple, short black dress. Considered radically modern, it disregarded convention in its design and shade and was hailed by US Vogue as “the frock that all the world will wear.” The little black dress became a wardrobe staple and a blank canvas for future generations to reflect broader political and cultural shifts, challenge social norms around race, gender and sexuality and reflect evolving ideals of beauty and identity. Discover how the nuances of the colour black have made the little black dress a contradictory garment, from the well-mannered cocktail attire of the early 20th century to the leather and latex worn by members of punk and fetish subcultures.’ Source: The National Museums of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Both historically fascinating and entirely relatable, such is the reach of the little black dress, the exhibition cannot fail to capture your heart and mind, irrespective of your draw to fashion (or not).
It’s an intricate story featuring over sixty garments and charting a century of fashion through a series of themed, immersive displays, each one a visual delight and emblematic of a moment in time; fashion, culture and society. The now iconic, early 20th century pieces, by Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Schiaparelli, individually and collectively, embody the ‘Well Mannered Black’ gallery where the jewels sit. Viewing first hand, these rare, design icons, Coco’s original 1926 ‘LBD’ and YSLs ‘Le Smoking’, up close and personal, proved a rare and ultimate treat. Later 20th Century designs from the iconic Jean Muir sitting alongside contemporary looks by designers such as Gareth Pugh, Simone Rocha, Comme des Garçons, Alexander McQueen and ground-breaking Black British designers like Joe Casely-Hayford and Maximilian, all bring the exhibition and its wonderfully curated story to completion over the timeline of a century of style.
Image Credit: NSM Beyond the Little Black Dress Exhibition 2023
NSM Beyond the Little Black Dress Exhibition 2023

The Jewel Gallery: Adorning the Little Black Dress

My Christian Dior demi-parure is displayed to perfection, in the ‘Well Mannered Black’ gallery and alongside several pieces of rare costume jewellery, on loan from renowned costume jewellery expert, William Wain. The jewels, surrounded by the beautiful and highly elegant haute couture gowns and ensembles these pieces would have adorned.

A pair of elegant glass cabinets, displaying the exhibition’s jewellery, stand, almost poised, in front of a life-size copy of Christian Dior in behind-the-scenes preparations for the showing of his 1954 Spring Summer Collection. An iconic image, seen in books but not at scale, proves imposing with Dior at work in his eponymous House, surrounded by his atelier team and mannequins. This stunning backdrop gives a breathtaking almost spiritual presence, neatly embodying the story of the room, espousing the greatness of the designers whose creations and adorning jewels it represents.

Jennifer Gibson Jewellery In The Press - Selfridges SILVERWEAR Reselfridges Corner Shop

My Christian Dior demi-parure is displayed to perfection, in the ‘Well Mannered Black’ gallery and alongside several pieces of rare costume jewellery.

The Haute Couture Costume Jewellery Revolution

Pausing to reflect on the truly symbolic nature of the ‘Well Mannered Black’ gallery.

The exhibits, both costume jewellery and garments, depict a tantalizingly glamourous era of fashion and haute couture that to this day heavily influences fashion and style.

The introduction of ‘costume jewellery’, jewellery crafted specifically for adorning the designer’s creations, is an innovation typically attributed to entrepreneur Coco Chanel. Couture greats, Elsa Schiaparelli, Jeanne Lanvin and Jean Patou also deserve credit for the introduction of costume jewellery adorning their ensembles, adding momentum to the jewellery revolution alongside Mademoiselle Chanel. Made from materials with little intrinsic value, such as base metal, glass stones and enamels, costume jewellery proved a stark, and initially frowned upon, contrast to fine jewellery.

Ultimately however ‘costume jewellery’ became de-rigueur and continues to play its pivotal role in adorning fashion, from haute couture to high street, a century later. During the 20th Century, the creativity and experimentation possible with non-precious materials led to jaw-dropping works of wearable art; a sophisticated and alluring collection of which is on display in the gallery.

The craftmanship is second to none and attributed to Parisian parurier Roger Jean-Pierre, a master of costume jewellery in this era and maker for the House of Christian Dior from its inception.

The Jewel from My Collection

One of these pieces is my Christian Dior demi-parure. Signed and dating to the 1960/61 Dior Collections, the suite is an elaborate work, undoubtedly for adoring a cocktail dress or evening gown for which the House was revered for. The craftmanship is second to none and attributed to Parisian parurier Roger Jean-Pierre, a master of costume jewellery in this era and maker for the House of Christian Dior from its inception. The necklace and drop earrings are exquisitely crafted in silvertone metal set with Swarovski stones and drops in white, silver and greys. A divine colour way for adorning the little black dress. Delightful and distinctive in its design, the deep necklace front is punctuated with floral motifs finished with droplets for a stunning impact.

The lavish tail of crystals at the nape leaving a lasting impression as one turns.

The accompanying earrings echo the floral theme, their droplets creating a chic chandelier effect adding movement and intrigue. The ultimate evening adornment, then and now. A perfect example of romantic Dior design that effortlessly transcends the decades. Back in the early 60’s I don’t suppose anyone expected this ‘costume jewel’ to feature in this extraordinary exhibition, helping depict the story of women adorning their little black dresses!

Thank you

Being invited to contribute to ‘Adorning the Little Black Dress’ within this extraordinary ‘Beyond the Little Black Dress’ Exhibition is an immense privilege for me.

It was a magical moment when I was asked, as you can imagine. Having experienced the first glimpse of the exhibition on a super-charged, super happy opening night I am besotted and full of once in a lifetime memories and treasured moments. I especially treasured being able to share the opening night experience with my dear Mum and William Wain, both of whom continue inspire me in my lifelong jewel obsession. And the next day too we were thrilled to revisit along with my dear Dad and my wonderful eighty-seven years young Aunt. It doesn’t get better!

Sincerely thank you to Georgina, Carys, Becky and Aileen and all of the team who have worked so hard and for so long on making this vision a reality.

And Finally
The exhibition aptly entitled ‘Beyond the LBD’ has the power to take us into a new level of thinking, contemplation and I hope thoughtful action by artfully drawing upon a 100 plus year timeline of the power of black in fashion and society. Such a thoughtful concept that draws our minds to critical current affairs whilst artfully celebrating the undisputed icons and designers who wrote this centuries long story. How will we choose to write the next chapter? Georgina’s curation of her chosen artefacts, designs and designers and accompanying book certainly pose the ‘Beyond’ question to us in a way that cannot be ignored.

If you can visit, do! ‘Beyond the Little Black Dress’, the entire museum and Edinburgh will of course not disappoint.

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