12 October 2023

Fashion City at Museum of London Docklands – How Jewish Londoners shaped global style

There is a marvellous exhibition at MoLD about the world of fashion and tailoring, couture and the Swinging Sixties. This museum, within an old warehouse that abuts one of the docks is somewhere you'd usually go to find out about the history of shipping and trade in this area, and fascinating it is too, told chronologically within the upper floors of the building.

Yet this latest exhibition about the garment making industry. It fills the ground floor space previously occupied by their marvellous Executions show, and it is certainly up to that same high standard – packed full of information about the innovative and skilful tailors, designers and makers who created beautiful clothing and accessories adjacent to this part of the River Thames.

One only has to walk around the nearby Spitalfields area to get a sense of the clothing-related trades that once thrived in the area. I noticed whilst researching my ghostsigns and Art Deco walks that many of its streets, such as Hanbury Street and Fournier Street, were in the 1880s occupied by tailors, trimmers, furriers, outfitters, hatters, leatherworkers etc, and approximately 80% of them listed with Jewish names. 

1940s: Monica coat by Koupy / 1970s: bra by M&S / 1960s: shirt by Mr Fish

This engaging exhibition echoes that manufacturing history and, just like the main museum, it is a chronological journey, starting with the Jewish immigrants as they arrived via boat, seeing how and where they lived and were schooled, with rooms laid out as evocations of shops and a tailor's workshop. The East End is then linked to Bond Street via Central Line corridor, the construction of that tube line better enabling these talented people to get their wares to West End. 

There are some beautiful handmade pieces on show both by unknown tailors and by well-known names such Cecil Gee, Chelsea Girl, Moss Bros, M&S, Mr Fish, Irvine Sellars and David Sassoon. Plus lovely leather luggage, some fabulous hats by Otto Lucas, and a stunning wedding dress by Neymar (Netty Spiegel). There are references to, and examples of, clothing worn by celebrities from the worlds of film, music, sport and royalty, as well as actual garments worn by Princess Diana and Dot Cotton. Oh, and the music and soundtracks in every room is cleverly designed to echo each era or district. 

It's really very good. I was so engrossed that I spent many hours in there reading every panel and assessing every sequin such that I forgot to take any more pics than the three shown above. I do love a well-made fitted coat, especially a red one, the bra with its interchangeable straps and evocative lace pattern reminded me of my mum, and I was blown away by the teeny tiny stitching on that Mr Fish shirt!

Museum of London Docklands (free)
This exhibition – 13th October until 7th July 2024 – Various prices – find out more here

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Thanks, Jane