This is the name of an exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, on until 27th January. I made my way direct to it when I arrived in London last Wednesday, passing some excited schoolchildren on the way. 

I went into the V and A by the new Sackler entrance

and have been rather alarmed, just today, to read in today’s paper that the philanthropic family is being heavily criticised for pushing opiates – legally – and possibly prosecuted in the States for fraud and racketeering.

I had a few minutes before my timed ticket was due, so I wandered a little aimlessly in the fashion gallery nearby. 

This is the aim of the exhibition I was headed for. 

I took just a couple of pictures in the exhibition 

and then my camera told me that storage space had run out – there was no memory card in it!  I had to force myself set aside that disappointment, and the knowledge that my forthcoming trip to the ATP tennis finals would be all the less pleasurable were I not able to take photos there, and concentrate on the exhibition. (I managed of course to buy a memory card within ten minutes of leaving it.)

What a contrast between the beautiful garments and the horrible means of obtaining them.  Animals slaughtered by the million, natives of the originating countries exploited and mistreated, and the health and wellbeing of workers in the UK likewise damaged and threatened.  Not to mention the increasing harm to the environment by processing.  

The exhibition resonated with a book I am, quite coincidentally, reading currently, Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather, by Tessa Boase, purportedly an account of the founding of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds by late 19th century women appalled at the trade in bird feathers, whole birds, and other animals, for hats and other clothing.  But it is of much wider interest than that, a social history of the position of women of all classes at the time, and the Women’s Vote campaign figures large as well.  It’s only in recent decades* that wearing animal fur has become unfashionable, and environmental harm persists to this day, on an even larger scale, through mass-produced, ‘fast fashion’ in today’s throw-away society.  Here’s an extract from a letter to The Times in 1897 from the illustrator Eleanor Vere Boyle, who had just given up the fight. ‘I have been forced to the conclusion that, where fashion in concerned, the world of women are utterly and entirely callous and blind to every consideration excepting their own selfish vanity.’ 1897 was particularly bad because of the fashionable balls held to celebrate Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.

The same did not happen in celebration of the present Queen’s 60th anniversary on the throne, but environmental damage is now much greater because of the chemicals used to treat clothes, synthetic microfibres escaping into the seas, and the sheer volume of waste. 

In the absence of many photos from me, here is a link to the V and A’s rather bland – they don’t want to deter people from visiting obviously – description of the exhibition. 

Apparently some top designers are using less damaging methods of producing clothes, but I was left with two thoughts – they aren’t telling people just to buy fewer clothes, which would solve many of the problems, and the sorts of shops I can afford to buy from are certainly not stocking such clothing. I really shall try to clothes shop even less from now on, and if I can limit even more the synthetics…  

*I’m not going to spell it out here, but this is the  horrendous way that astrakhan fur is – still – produced.