Thursday, 2 August 2007

Sailor Chic!

The print of a nautical Ballet costume 1887 / The 'Pirate' Outfit, Vivienne Westwood, 1980

For those interested in fashion, Sailor Chic at the National Maritime is a must-see. But only if you're fond of fashion. The entrance fee of 5 pounds may not seem too much but if you're expecting to see a whole lot of items of clothing on display then you'll be disappointed but if you're there out of a passion to see pieces by some of the most famous houses of fashion then you'll feel right at home and totally grateful.

At the door you're handed a very stylish guide explaining that the popularity of 'sailor style' can be traced back to the royal family in the mid 19th century, who inspired a trend that soon permeated the British male and female wardrobe and was imitated everywhere. Its influence continued to re-emerge in art and advertising, on stage and cinema screen, the catwalk and the high street up to the present day.

As you enter, you see a display of various garments from the conservative (even stuffy) to the beautiful but impractical to the downright modern, trendy and eccentric One of the items, a bathing costume with a nautical style, dating back to about 1900 is absolutely impractical. Made out of wool it would have been wretchedly heavy when wet. Other items include a sailor style hat that belonged to the celebrated British ballerina Dame Margot Fonteyn (1919-1991), a 'Pirate' outfit by Vivienne Westwood (1981), even an outfit worn by Adam Ant in 1982 for his debut solo single "Goody Two Shoes" amongst other items by Yves Saint Laurent (apparently the Godfather of the nautical look on the catwalk). His famous jacket with anchor embellished buttons (1966) continues to be a classic look to this day.

The blue and white striped sweater has its origins among 18th century Breton fishermen. This look was popularized in the 1920s by the French designer Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel.

To be honest, I was happy that I'd visited. I've always been keen on fashion and not being the expert, I had never really given the nautical look much thought. I always thought of it as just blue and white striped T-shirts to be avoided if you were slightly overweight as they made you seem even wider. However, I can now declare that there is more to the look than just the stripes. It's more about flair now, easy dressing, and lots and lots of embellishment (think gold buttons, anchor prints, gold chains, and pirate attire in general). It's all about drama baby.

The new Sailor style outfit, 2006 (Antonio Marras for KENZO). Note the striped jersey and blazer, the pom-pom cap worn by French sailors, wide-legged trousers, and stylized anchor buttons. Designers have translated the once serviceable working clothing into luxurious haute couture.

The gallery hosts a large screen that runs various runway shows that carry the nautical theme. The music that accompanies is reminiscent of World War London as the nautical look took on a more patriotic connotation. It was lovely sitting in the darkened gallery and watching clip after clip (some in black and white) of events and people long ago.

The show runs until December 2. For more, click here.

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