St Laurent vs Chanel


A few weeks ago I visited the Yves St Laurent exhibition at Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle in Co Durham. An unexpected treat as this is way up in a market town in the far north of England and the only place to hold this exhibition in Britain.

It was fab. Videos of catwalk shows featuring dresses we would see in the galleries, an area set up like his work room with swatches of embroidered fabric and mock ups of outfits and hats. Vast amounts of information was placed on the walls which had people gathered around reading and discussing  with their friends. More videos of his partner chatting and old footage of Yves himself talking. There were even the original paper cut out dolls he made paper outfits for when he was young.

Ok so the majority of the visitors were of retirement age (we felt very young!) and the discussions around weren’t relating to the artistic style, but there was an audible buzz. Friends were discussing their preferences, admiring the intricate needlework and at times reminiscing of dresses they owned that had obviously been inspired by his designs. The displays of outfits were stunning and one or two curators stood near the doors to answer any questions or enjoy the comments. People were standing admiring and gasping, laughing or even tutting. It was alive.


A month later I visited what I anticipated being a very similar exhibition, but this time on the Kings Road in London at the Saatchi Gallery. Chanel.

Again, there were little videos to watch, wall mounted articles of information, rooms created to look like her work room and stunning examples of her work. So far so good. But I left with an overwhelming sense of disappointment and despair. Everywhere I turned I got in the way of someone’s photograph, either on their phone or Ipad. At first I tried to avoid looking at the exhibits without stepping in front of someone but soon enough decided that wasn’t going to work so just got on with it.

The average age of the visitors was much younger than the previous exhibition but here no one was really talking. Few people were discussing her incredible work or the intricate detail, they were too busy taking photos. The information snippets on the walls were photographed then turned from. Nothing much was looked at other than through a lens or on a screen. The silences was deafening and the flashing cameras blinding.

The beautiful outfits here were “guarded” by bouncers/security guards. One or two curators stood at the doorways, but mainly bouncers in dark suits and headsets calling at us to “step away” or “keep back” so we didn’t set off the sensor alarms that ran across the plinths. My enjoyment was ruined.

My son , who works in marketing in London summed it up for me. “Mum, people’s attitude these days is if you haven’t got a photo of it out there on social media, then you weren’t there and it didn’t happen.”

I was there.

I didn’t photograph it. I walked around, looked, enjoyed and chatted. But give me pensioners in their best dresses discussing the delights of couture any day.


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