The Concise Dictionary of Dress is an unusual exhibition in a fascinating location.
Blythe House near Olympia is the V&A’s storehouse – chock full of precious things that the museum doesn’t have room to display. The building was originally a Victorian bank and it’s not hard to imagine hundreds of sallow-faced clerks trudging to work each day through its slightly grim courtyard.
The Concise Dictionary of Dress is part exhibition, part immersive experience, and also serves as a quick whip through Blythe House’s myriad storerooms and catalogues. Security is understandably tight (it took curator Judith Clarke three years to get permission to use the space) and CDoD is shown to a maximum of seven people at a time.
The show involves 11 exhibits located at various points throughout the building – the first is on the roof, the final one is at sub-basement level, with many staircases, storerooms and security points along the way. Each exhibit takes a word associated with dressing – fashionable, loose, comfortable, etc. – and displays articles of clothing and/or accessories accompanied by a card where several definitions of the word are written (author Adam Phillips‘ contribution). You’re asked to read and observe and to not ask questions until the end.
It’s hard to describe the show itself – a lot is left to your own interpretation and experience – for example, the resin statue on the roof for â€œArmouredâ€, lit golden by the afternoon sunlight when I saw it, would seem completely different in wet weather. I’m sure some would find all this pretentious (in fact, that was one of the words) but for me it was thought-provoking and intriguing, not least due to the opportunity for tantalising glimpses of the little-seen treasures of Blythe House as we were taken through.
Concise Dictionary of Dress is at Blythe House until 27 June.