London has long been known as a global fashion capital. It’s the birthplace of iconic clothing from Mary Quant’s mini skirt in the 60s, to Vivienne Westwood’s ground-breaking punk style in the 70s and Alexander McQueen’s 21st-century tailored menswear including bumster trousers and armadillo shoes. Leading designers like Sir Paul Smith, Stella McCartney and John Galliano started their careers in London before finding international acclaim.
But where can you go to celebrate this fashion culture? Obviously, you can head to the major shopping streets to visit stores, but what about the history? With only one dedicated museum to fashion, you have to know where to look for collections of fashion and textiles. So let us introduce you to the five best London museums for fashion.
83 Bermondsey Street, SE1 3XF
The Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Village was founded by the legendary British fashion designer, Zandra Rhodes. It’s the only museum in the United Kingdom dedicated entirely to fashion. It’s a fascinating place, providing inspiration to those starting out in the fashion industry and anyone with an eye for fashion trends, couture and textile design.
Our guide Molly says that “this museum may be small, but it’s the best place in the UK to go for all things fashion and textile design.” Look out for their eclectic and always interesting temporary exhibitions, workshops and talks from fashion industry players.
From the end of March to September 2023, Andy Warhol: The Textiles exhibition will explore the iconic pop artist’s textile collections and incredible print design.
Cromwell Road, Knightsbridge, SW7 2RL
The cultural institution that is the V&A is one of the few places with a permanent collection of fashion garments. There’s an array of clothes and accessories through the ages. Favourite pieces include Dame Vivienne Westwood’s influential creations like her bondage outfits, provocateur T-shirts and crazy footwear. Room 40 is the place to head for the fashion exhibition space.
Until December 2023, the V&A is hosting a Fashion Tour. You’ll be able to explore the evolving shape of fashion, from exquisite 17th-century garments to contemporary haute couture. And don’t forget the accessories – it’s all about the accessories. Fabulous handbags, wow-factor jewellery and footwear designed for stylish impact over comfort. Run don’t walk to this exhibition (if your footwear allows).
224-238 Kensington High Street, W8 6AG
The Design Museum is devoted to contemporary design in every form. It’s a must-visit for any budding designer. There isn’t a dedicated area for fashion, but they do host an array of exhibitions.
From September 2023, REBEL: 30 years of London fashion will celebrate our city’s leading role in global fashion. It’s sponsored by cutting-edge British fashion designer Alexander McQueen and promises to be something quite exceptional. It’ll feature over 300 contemporary fashion designers and their creative, trailblazing work. Rebellion is a prominent feature of London fashion and that’s something worth recognising and celebrating.
Controversial fashion designer McQueen draws inspiration from his surroundings. Having grown up in Bethnal Green, the streets of London influenced him greatly. He said:
“London’s where I grew up. It’s where my heart is and where I get my inspiration.” And also, “You take inspiration from the street, with the trousers so low. You don’t need to go to India, you can find it in places like Bethnal Green or down Brick Lane. It’s everywhere.”
150 London Wall, EC2Y 5HN
The Museum of London hosts a dress and textiles collection with a focus on history. There are sumptuous fabrics and beautiful garments all with connections to London. The clothes and textiles exhibited have been made, bought, sold or worn in London, from the 16th century to today.
There’s a real mix of pieces to admire here. You’ll find glamorous gowns created by couturiers for fashionable society events alongside hand-stitched everyday clothes worn around the home. With stylish garments dating back to Tudor times, it gives fascinating insights into the styles and designs of British history.
This fascinating exhibition puts the spotlight on London as a production centre. It’s a textile collection rather than just a fashion collection. There are historical print plates showing the textile design process from years gone by. It celebrates London as a manufacturer of fine fabrics. Plus, you’ll find a myriad of garments from military uniforms and theatrical costumes to sportswear and fancy dress.
Strand, WC2R 1LA
This striking 16th century neoclassical building is a design icon and home to cultural innovators including the British Fashion Council. The London landmark is a centre for contemporary arts and hosts regular workshops, exhibitions and cultural events. Look out for fashion exhibitions and talks here, they take place on a regular basis and are designed to make you think differently.
You’ll see diverse fashion and style wherever you walk in London. The city’s streets are a veritable catwalk. To explore British fashion history, you only have to stop to look at the garments worn in artworks across the centuries displayed in London art galleries and museums. But also look out for occasional exhibitions and collections at institutions including National Portrait Gallery, The Photographers Gallery and the Barbican in particular.