Swinging London: A Lifestyle Revolution will present the fashion, design and art of the Chelsea Set; a group of radical young architects, designers, photographers and artists who were redefining the concept of youth and challenging the established order in 1950s London. At the forefront of this group of young revolutionaries were Mary Quant and Terence Conran.
The exhibition will span the period from 1952 - 1977 and will present fashion, textiles, furniture, lighting, homewares, ceramics and ephemera in an exhibition that explores not only the style but the socioeconomic importance of this transformative period of time. Key pieces include rare and early examples of designs by Conran and Quant, plus the avant-garde artists, designers and intellectuals who worked alongside them, such as designers Bernard and Laura Ashley, sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi and artist and photographer Nigel Henderson.
PVC coats, OP Art and Space Age dresses by Mary Quant are seen alongside the early smocks, textile designs and dresses of Laura and Bernard Ashley and the radically new wicker, steel and glass furniture of Terence Conran. The exhibition will also include the textiles, ceramics and furniture of Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi - the artists who earlier had co-founded the Independent Group and together created innovative designs, under the 1954 company Hammer Prints.
The exhibition will explore not just design of the period, but the creation of trailblazing shopping experiences – from Mary Quant’s rebellious London boutique ‘Bazaar’ (opened in 1955) to Terence Conran’s Habitat (opened in 1964). These shops were not just about designing for a new youth generation, but also promoting a new way of shopping and living. With Bizarre, Quant irreversibly altered the traditional approach to fashion design and retailing and outraged the all-powerful French fashion establishment. With Habitat, Conran created a retail environment that was a total work of art; ‘a Gesamntkunstwerk’, combining the theatre of The Chelsea Set’s London, with the relatively new phenomenon of ‘serve yourself’, supermarket-style shopping.
In order to spotlight not just the fashion, but the lifestyle and design of the time, Swinging London: A Lifestyle Revolution will be presented in the form of detailed tableaus. During the mid 1950s, the increasing availability of inexpensive foreign package holidays and of films with exciting European settings inspired the eruption of coffee bars, bistros and other such distinctly continental establishments on British high streets.
Throughout the exhibition, individual sets are inspired by these new and exciting continental trends, utilising fashion, furniture, textiles, ceramics and more to highlight how changes in social attitude intertwined with new ways of shopping, to create the designs that are now synonymous with 1960s life.
The exhibition will also present an oft-overlooked insight into the far-reaching work of Laura and Bernard Ashley, whose ideas were influencing culture long before their iconic florals. Bernard Ashley’s textile design, Jazz Players, was probably the first example of a ‘Pop’ textile, whilst Laura’s simple hard-wearing striped smocks, aprons and the easy to wear ‘basic dress’ would go on to become design classics. Furnishing fabrics by Laura and Bernard Ashley will be shown alongside ceramics by W.R Midwinter, jewellery by Wendy Ramshaw, textiles by David Whitehead, lighting by Bernard Schottlander, untouched makeup palettes and accessories by Mary Quant and a myriad other ephemera, which will together create a comprehensive insight into the period.
Swinging London: A Lifestyle Revolution will provide an extensive and provocative look at a truly innovative era in London’s history, exploring the origins of Pop culture and how fashion, music and art were used to demand and effect societal change in the years that followed.