Saturday, 23 June 2018

Exhibition: OceanLiners

As an admirer of travel history, fashion, and feats of engineering, the Ocean Liners exhibit at the Victoria & Albert museum was one of my favourites. Starting from the early 20th century, the exhibit takes you through various stages of ocean travel, and each section dissects the history, engineering and style behind each major ocean liner and what they meant for the time period; including how they re-fitted tourist liners into World War II warships, and the post-war travel period.

Mural from the first class playroom on the Canberra 

Featuring impressive pieces of furniture and fabric from early liners, the exhibit describes the decadence the upper class was able to travel in, in the form of ships. 


The engineering and multiple uses of the ships were not glossed over as well, including the importance famous ocean-liner related incidences, such as the sinking of the Lusitania, played in the growing global conflict. The ship Queen Mary was used to transport allied soldiers, and cabins were refitted so the living space of 2 passengers could fit 20 soldiers. 

Fashion and style on the ships
Background: German actress, Marlene Dietrich, a constant famous face frequently on Atlanic liners
Right: "new look" Dior suit worn on 21 Dec 1950 worn aboard the Queen Elizabeth
Left: Maison Goyard luggage owned by Edward, Duke of Windsor, 1940-9
Tableware on various ships

Fashion and style played an incredible part on the ship's journeys as well. The 'Grande descente' occurred at the beginning of the evening, where ladies in the first and upper class cabins would descend into the hall wearing the latest fashions. Cecil Beacon on the Queen Mary remarked on its absence, and in every 20th century ocean liner, this was a theatrical part of any evening. More information on its recreation for the Victoria & Albert museum can be found on the Costume Rag,  and the V&A website.

Above: Piece of the Titanic
Bottom: Model of the Viking Jupiter ship, 2017

There is no doubt in denying the cultural impact of the ocean liners-- the exhibit itself ends with a clip from James Cameron's Oscar-winning phenomenon, 1997's Titanic, and 1953's iconic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. This exhibit delved into great detail about the importance of ocean liners from a travel and artistic perspective, as well as the advances it created in engineering that we are still learning from till this day. It also well described the innovation and importance ocean liners had during important events of the 20th century, as well as how ocean liners were re-fitted and re-purposed during the post war years, while air travel slowly became the new fashion. Entertaining, educational and expansive, this exhibit is worth the time that will have you slowly uncovering some of modern travel's early secrets.

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