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Now Showing: Black British Style


{mosimage}Africa and the Afro-Caribbean appeared to be a strong influence at the Spring/Summer 2005 designer shows and coincidentally enough the V&A have focused on a similar thread with its current exhibition – Black British Style. This exhibition is the first of its kind in the UK and takes you on a historical black style trip through the decades. From ‘bling’ designer label freaks to the urban uniform of hoodies, jeans and trainers, this exhibition looks at a variety of key styles that have paraded along our British streets.{mosimage}

The exhibition begins back in the 1950s with the migration of black people from Africa and the Caribbean. The film footage and display mannequins show a smart style of dress, which has led cultural observers to label them as ‘quintessential subterranean’. Women arrived in subtle toned dresses and matching accessories, while the men wore tailored suits paired up with flashy ties. African men and women meanwhile, threw tradition and bold colour into the mix and so the journey begins.

{mosimage}Moving on into the 1960s and 70s many young black people looked across the pond to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, and used clothing and style to express their black identity and cultural heritage. Racism and alienation made many reject the Euro-American dress sense and style and an alternative black look was born, which included the use of African textiles and natural afro hairstyles.

At around the same time Jamaican ska, jazz and soul were on the rise and this crossed-over into dress-styles creating a number of unique sub-cultural looks. Music, along with general cultural influences, religion and historical roots, has played a huge part in British black style. From the early days of reggae to smooth Lover’s Rock right through to hip-hop, the development of new sounds may have originated from elsewhere but were often given a unique British twist.{mosimage}

Elsewhere in the exhibition you can touch on – Rastafari, Sunday dressing, Dance Hall, Bling, traditional outfits, designer streetwear, trackies and trainers and much more. This trainer for example, is just one from Goldie’s massive collection. Goldie, a Drum ‘n’ Bass musician and actor has about 1,000 pairs and seems to have a distinct liking for brands such as – DC, Adidas and Puma.

{mosimage}Other exhibition highlights include – the ‘Freedom One Day’ T-Shirt, a limited edition piece created by fashion designer Joe Casely-Hayford and artist Chris Ofili. A heavily embroidered traditional African outfit that is distinctive to a particular tribe, plus a glance at Chris Eubank’s English gent look. There is also a film that interviews a broad range of individuals about their evolving sense of style through the decades.{mosimage}

This exhibition offers a taster of black style that has inspired and reshaped the visual landscape of Britain over the past 50 years. It’s clear to see that as time progresses the influences become more numerous and intertwined. There is plenty missing from this compact show but nevertheless it does provide an insight into black culture and style and is well worth a visit.    

Victoria and Albert Museum,
Cromwell Road,
London SW7.
+44 (0)20 7942 2000


Visit the website for more information on related talks and special events.


Nearest tube: South Kensington
Buses: C1, 14, 74 and 414 stop outside the Cromwell Road entrance.

Opening times: 10.00-17.45 daily.
10.00-22.00 Wednesdays and the last Friday of the month, excluding December.

Black British Style is on until 16th January 2005.

By JoJo Iles



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