As part of a UK-wide cultural programme to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, Manchester Art Gallery hosted a showcase of Manchester’s brightest upcoming creatives.
14-18 NOW is an extraordinary five-year programme of artistic experiences, connecting people in the 21st century with the First World War. Since 2014, over 140 new works have been commissioned all over the country and span many different genres – from the sea of poppies spilling out of the Tower of London (Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, currently on tour) to Welsh National Opera’s In Parenthesis, and the visual arts project Dazzle Ships.
Fashion and Freedom
In 2016, Manchester Art Gallery staged Fashion and Freedom, bringing together British designers to create new pieces inspired by the significant role played by women during the First World War and the evolution of women’s fashion at the time.
As Fashion and Freedom Creative Director Darrell Vydelingum explains, “The changes that occurred in style still resonate in today’s fashion. The tailored suit, jumpsuit, shorter hemlines, short hairstyle and trousers are all part of everyday wear in the 21st century, but their life began in the First World War.”
The exhibition draws attention to one of the most significant social changes in British history, namely the impact of the war on the roles and lives of women during the First World War. With the men away fighting, more than one million women went to work for the first time during the war years – in munitions factories and on the buses, driving ambulances and ‘manning’ the London Underground. These new responsibilities gave women new freedoms – and they also led to advances in fashion, as tight corsets and heavy skirts were replaced by more natural and fluid silhouettes.
“Fashion is often seen as a frivolous thing, but this exhibition shows the key role it plays in examining our social and political history. The exhibition tells an epic story about women’s rights and freedoms,” says Vydelingum. Watch an introduction to the exhibition at the top of the page.
The show features work by both established and emerging fashion designers. Dame Vivienne Westwood references ammunition workwear with a reconstructed multi-coloured boiler suit, and Sadie Williams pays homage to the courageous nurses in the war with a floor-length gown in blue and silver with a large red cross across the bust.
You can watch the creative director of Fashion and Freedom, Darrell Vydelingum, and the curator Jenna Rossi-Camus discuss these pieces and others featured in the exhibition in the film below.