The V&A’s latest exhibition ‘Records and Rebels’ is less about fashion, which is what we’ve seen from them in recent years, and more about the counterculture revolution that grew in the late 1960s and its effect on fashion, music, design, art and social attitudes. Its trip down memory lane is a little trippy, moving from the Swinging Sixties of London’s Carnaby Street to California communes and festivals, as well as covering the emergence of the computer age and Silicon Valley, sexual freedom, race equality, environmentalism, consumerism, and the civil rights movement, all pulled together by the late John Peel’s impressive record collection that lines the galleries.
The exhibition is a little chaotic, not only in its tightly packed feel, I felt like this exhibition could have been at least 4 separate exhibitions, so it’s a little too jam packed for my liking, but also help along by the audioguide that blares out tracks from the era, as well as snippets from movies and interviews, which changes according to where you are in the exhibit gallery. I have, to be honest, I think that ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’ exhibition is supposed to tilt you off balance a little, as it certainly is thought provoking and intriguing.
Of course, you couldn’t cover the late Sixties without featuring the fashion, there are costumes designed for Mick Jagger and Sandie Shaw, as well as a dress worn by Twiggy, a Biba minidress, a Mary Quant skirt and a flamboyant striped suit by Mr. Fish, as well as the suits worn by John Lennon and George Harrison on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
There are more than 350 objects encompassing photography, posters, music, film, fashion, artifacts, design, and performances illustrating how “youth culture catalysed an optimistic idealism, motivating people to come together and question established power structures”. You have the wild and quirky Swinging Sixties at the beginning, complete with a Twiggy coathanger, a recreation of Carnaby Street, and a mock-up of Vidal Sassoon’s hairdressing salon, and each Sunday there will be a stylist cutting 60’s hairstyles.
There are also sections focusing on clubs and alternative lifestyles, before heading into politic protests and the volatile period of civil unrest, which led into slogans, adverts, and jingles, which of course, mentioned Don Draper, and featured the Souper Dress and a design by Pierre Cardin, a Pan Am uniforms, and even a space suit worn by William Anders. The next section then concentrates on festivals and revolutions in gatherings, with more a focus on Woodstock than UK festivals, before heading into the culture of communes in America.
The Records and Rebels exhibition kind of leaves you with your emotions all over the place, helped by a rather trippy video that pieces together the key moments from that era of the late Sixties and its impact on life today, before the final exhibit shows John Lennon’s handwritten lyrics to ‘Imagine’, which poignantly plays as you leave.
The ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970’ exhibition is on at the V&A in London from September 10 – February 27, 2017.