On the set of the film "London," with Dorothy Gish and cast, 1925

Abbe Exhibit in London

The Fashion and Textile Museum of London’s exhibit, “1920s Jazz Age Fashion and Photographs,” has to be one of the most visually satisfying shows in London at the moment. Of course, we’re partial to the photographs of  James Abbe, 50 of which are displayed in a special gallery upstairs, plus 50 more cycling through on PowerPoint, as well as larger than life banners out front, and an entrance mural at the start to the exhibit. Terence Pepper’s checkerboard wall of Women of the 1920s, including originals by Cecil Beaton Man Ray, Baron de Meyer and Eugene Robert Richee, is also impressive. But in this instance, the Abbe Archive and Pepper Collection are both riding on the very big coattails of the Cleo and Mark Butterfield collection.

Gilda Gray in Lanvin, backdrop by Drian

Gilda Gray in Lanvin, backdrop by Drian

The Butterfields, frequent consultants on period dress for TV and film productions, are experts on the fashion of just about every era for which clothing still exists. But, there is something about the transition from the Edwardian Era to the no holds barred 1920s, across all continents, that makes this era one for the ages. Subsequent generations have tried out new ways to circumvent the “rules,” but none have done it as successfully as the Flapper, and Mark and Cleo can be credited with preserving the best of her decade. There is also a nod to gay women who used the relaxed moral code, following the decimation of a generation during World War I, to adopt mens clothing and tuxes.

Other artists contribute to the show’s success. Paul Stagg created lovely hand painted backdrops to set the mood for every conceivable pastime for a woman of the 1920s, and Cordon Conway’s graphic color drawings from the Illustrated London News Archive provided by the Mary Evans Picture Library are a lovely reminder of how important illustrations still were in conveying new styles to a growing market.

Once in the main exhibit, the mannequins appear as life sized 3D versions of Conway magazine spreads, and when you reach the Abbe exhibit on the second floor, the photographs transition those same exquisitely dressed—but faceless—mannequins into real life scenarios, albeit in black & white. In Abbe’s case, the faces are nearly all iconic: Fred and Adele Astaire; Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks; Rudolph Valentino and Natacha Rambova; The Dolly Sisters; Gilda Gray; and the first “super model,” Dolores Rose, among them.

The exhibit began Sept 23, and will run until January 15, 2017. We can think of no better place to spend the blustery days ahead than in front of Paul Stagg’s painting of a beach scene, complete with ocean liner steaming off shore, contemplating the inspired beach costumes of the Butterfields before heading up to a rendezvous with the stars of the 20s.


Top: Still photo from the film “London” with Dorothy Gish and cast, 1925, ©James Abbe Archive

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