Dazzling design – the joy of the Jazz Age

IF you have often thought about visiting the American Museum at Claverton just south of Bath but have never got round to it – make this the year you remedy that, because this year’s special exhibition, The Jazz Age, has to be one of the region’s unmissable 2017 events.

Through the beautiful fashions of the 1920s, the wonderful photographs of James Abbe and the films and literature of the period, this extraordinary decade comes vividly and memorably to life.

It was the era of The Great Gatsby, the height of Art Deco, the period that bridged the social, cultural, political and economic crises of the Great War and the Great Depression. It was the decade when silent film actors and actresses became stars and household names, when women shortened their skirts, flattened their busts, cut their hair and partied. It was a time of sexual adventure, literary exploration, an increasing breakdown in the old rigid social classes and an explosion of creativity on stage, on the radio and of course on the silver screen.

Photographer James Abbe captured many of the famous faces of the time and this exhibition includes some of his beautiful black and white images – Gertrude Lawrence in costume to sing Parisian Pierrot, Gertie and Noel in a scene from London Calling, silent  movie star Louise Brooks, the first supermodel, Dolores, and many more.

There is a section devoted to the flamboyant fashionista Beatrice Pratt, mother of one of the founders of the American Museum, and a fascinating series of paintings and illustrations by the designer Gordon Conway.

And then there are the fashions – clothes you want to wear, clothes that would turn heads today as they did 90 years ago, dresses in exquisite fabrics from some of the great couturiers, ornamented with beads, paillettes, devore velvet and gold lame, fabulous pyjamas, elegant housecoats and many covetable pieces with fabrics designed by the great Sonia Delaunay.

At a time when the world is looking at the USA (or at least its new President and his scary entourage) with fear and loathing, this exhibition is a welcome reminder of why so many fell in love with America. It celebrates the creative energy that sent cultural shockwaves around the world – from skyscrapers to the stars of silent cinema, from the jazz music to the new  fiction of Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis and F Scott Fitzgerald.

Jazz Age: Fashion and Photographs features more than 100 fashion items that show how fashion changed over the decade, how women’s shape changed as the waistlines and hemlines went up and down.

The fashion exhibition has been organised by the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, and runs until 29th October.

Pictured: A pink sequinned evening dress, and photographs by James Abbe of Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward, and the supermodel Dolores.