Exhibition: Beauty in Black at the National Museum of Singapore

It’s exhibition week on the blog! :P

Earlier this week, I dropped by the National Museum of Singapore to see Beauty in Black (remember the article I wrote?). Showcasing 18 stunning dresses from the Museum’s collection, Beauty in Black is a must-see for fans of the Little Black Dress (“LBD”) (ME ME ME!). Needless to say, I wore an LBD to the exhibition! :)

The exhibition is located at The Balcony on Level 2 of the Museum. Hanging from the ceiling of a spacious room, the dresses bask in a soft yellow glow. It was surprisingly crowded at the exhibition, despite it being a Monday afternoon. :)

Now ladies, how many LBDs do you own? I have a few in my wardrobe, but I have yet to find The One. I believe I will, someday. You may know by now that I am a huge fan of Coco Chanel. Yes, I am pleased that she was the one who started the LBD trend. No self-respecting lady should be without an LBD!

The dresses are classified into four categories, namely The Modern Black Dress, Masters of Black, Black Magic, and The Black Dress in Singapore.

One of the most famous style icons associated with the black dress is the French designer, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883 – 1971). In 1926, she declared black to be the only appropriate colour for a standardised, economically perfect attire. Although the “little black dress”, which referred to the plain and unadorned black dress, was already widely adopted by women from the working and middle classes before 1926 as both a working garment and a party wear, the image of Chanel in a simple “little black dress” and bobbed hairdo made the garment synonymous with her. Her look was interpreted as stylish and liberating and it soon became copied by women of all classes. By the late 1920s, the black dress had become a staple in the modern woman’s wardrobe.”

– The Modern Black Dress, Beauty in Black

My favourite from The Modern Black Dress section is a mini dress by Italian-born French designer, Pierre Cardin. Made of wool crepe, the dress is simple and holds its shape.

As you tour the exhibition, don’t forget to take some time to look at the illuminated photos on the gallery walls. Those are photos of women in LBDs, including Coco Chanel and modern-day celebrities and models such as Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Schiffer.

Over the years, there have been several other notable fashion designers besides Coco Chanel indissolubly associated with black. Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895 – 1972), Rei Kawakubo (b. 1942) and Olivier Theyskens (b. 1977) are three such designers who held a distinctive view on black in fashion.

Every collection, according to Jacqueline Dermornex (the author of Balenciaga, 1989), featured the discreet appearance of a little black dress made entirely by Balenciaga. Not one to follow fashion, Spanish designer Balenciaga saw black as the perfect colour in his quest to create dramatic and timeless classics using different types of fabrics and details which he believed would give the dress its individual identity. His preference for spreading skirts, lavish evening capes or tight sheath dresses in black, highlights his roots as inspired from traditional Spanish costumes.

– Masters of Black, Beauty in Black

I can’t decide which I like best from Masters of Black:

This cocktail ensemble by Cristóbal Balenciaga, made of lace, satin silk, beads and sequins, glimmering as it shook slightly in the light due to the draft…

Or this gothic wedding dress by Rei Kawakubo, with its structured jacket (you know I’m somewhat obsessed with jackets!).

In addition, designers also take advantage of light descending on monochrome black designs with embroidery and needlework to create eye-catching and three dimensional pieces, allowing the wearer to stand out in the crowd. For example, several pieces on display are elaborately embellished with sequins and beads to help break the austere look of black. Sometimes, colours are also employed to break the sombre mood of black. When black is combined with white (which reflects all colours), it also emphasises the graphic character of the outfit. Hence, despite the constant debate on black as a colour, the magical and sensory experience it produces in the form of the formal black dress should not be overlooked.

– Black Magic, Beauty in Black

Two of my favourite pieces in the entire exhibition belong to the Black Magic section. I’ve been looking forward to seeing them for myself ever since I wrote that article!

Here’s the first – a halter-neck evening dress, named “Guitar Dress”, by Karl Lagerfeld for Chloé. It may not look like much from the front. Wait till you see the back of the dress! ;)

See? Tell me this didn’t take your breath away. Tell me you don’t love it! :P This number gives off a whimsical vibe that is so uniquely Kaiser Karl.

Here’s a close-up on the details – the white sequins are simply gorgeous

My other favourite is a bustier dress by our local designer Benny Ong. The strip of white in the center makes a great contrast against the black.

Over the next few decades, Singapore women continued to exercise their imagination and resourcefulness as consumers, wearing black to demonstrate their changing identity in society as they entered the corporate world and became successful career women in the 1980s and 1990s. Despite the constant changes in fashion trends and the numerous transformations it has undergone, black has remained and will continue to be a modern Singapore woman’s “best friend”.

– The Black Dress in Singapore, Beauty in Black

Now for the final section, The Black Dress in Singapore. To be honest, I am not a huge fan of the cheongsam. However, I have to say that the elaborate artwork is beautiful – it depicts a gold dragon amidst clouds. Very oriental! It would be refreshing to see western designs on a cheongsam, though (say, an electric guitar on a cheongsam?).

There’s more to see than the few pieces which I’ve highlighted above. As usual, I’ve put the rest of the photos from the exhibition in a gallery below for your viewing. :)

Through the exhibition, I learnt that the LBD doesn’t have to be completely black or plain. On the contrary, an LBD can be timeless and fun at the same time! To end the blog post, here’s a photo of me in an LBD. I picked it up from The Editor’s Market. Pardon the goofy expression, LOL!

I hope you’ll make time to visit the exhibition. You have the next three months to do so! ;)

Beauty in Black runs till Monday, 13 June 2011 from 10:00am to 8:00pm daily at the National Museum of Singapore, The Balcony, Level 2.  Admission is free.



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