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A brief history of underwear (Touring)

Start Date 29 April 2017
End Date 30 July 2017
Venue Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art
Location St. Petersburg, Russia
Curator Edwina Ehrmann

The great retrospective exhibition of underwear design from the 18th century to the present day, which was carefully prepared by the curators of V&A, will reside in Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art in St. Petersburg for a few months.

The show will display more than 200 examples of underwear for men and women, highlighting the enduring themes of innovation and luxury, from the custom-made, such as a rare example of home-made ‘stays’ worn by a working woman in England in the 18th century to pieces by designers including Agent Provocateur, Stella McCartney, Elie Saab, Dolce&Gabbana, Vivienne Westwood, Calvin Klein, Givenchy and other world known brands.

Through elegant corsets, crinolines, boxer shorts, bras, hosiery, lingerie and loungewear the exhibition will tell the detailed history of underwear, exploring the “intimate” relationship between underwear and fashion, the role of underwear in formation of male and female images, and how designers have challenged accepted ideas about private and public, gender, sex and nudity.

The show will raise the vigorous debate about corsets and how to make them supportive and healthy. A restrictive whalebone and cotton corset with a waist under 19 inches in circumference will be displayed alongside x-rays and illustrations revealing the dramatic impact on the body of wearing such a garment. An austerity corset made from paper during World War One and a waist training corset, a slimming tool endorsed by celebrity figures such as Kim Kardashian, will also be on display.

The development of the bra will be traced throughout the 20th century: from a lace and satin  bust bodice from 1910 to push up bras and innovative Spanx designs from 2010.

The importance of fit will be shown in a focus on men’s underwear that includes the packaging for a pair of David Beckham for H&M briefs from 2012 and a display figure for Y-front pants dating from the 1950s. These objects illustrate the way that underwear advertising often plays to the appeal of a youthful, fit, sexually attractive body.

Highlights will include floral embroidered stockings worn by Queen Alexandra; a sheer dress by Liza Bruce famously worn by Kate Moss; an exquisite negligée by Carine Gilson, like that worn by actress Bérénice Marlohe in the film Skyfall; and Antonio Beradi’s monochrome dress, worn by Gwyneth Paltrow, featuring a trompe l’oeil corset which reveals the underwear worn beneath.