Sunday, 24 June 2018

Ocean Liners : Speed and Style.

If you bear in mind that on my list of 'my idea of a holiday from hell', cruising would be number two behind a beach holiday it seems ironic that earlier this month Soo and I went skipping off to the V&A to visit their Ocean Liners exhibition.
However when you consider cruising reached it's height of luxury in the 20's and 30's it's no real surprise at all and yes I was in absolute and utter Art Deco heaven.

The exhibition was fantastic, indeed it took us the best part of 3 hours to browse at a leisurely pace, also going towards the end of it's run meant it wasn't as busy which is always a plus. It began with travel posters and the history behind how cruising came about, basically as a way to take a holiday and also reach your destination in the days before air travel. Of course the levels of luxury between the classes (as shown in the film Titanic) were stark.

You saw how the design of the ships evolved and the mind blowing size of those first original boats through scale models. Which saw Soo and I both living dangerously to kneel/squat down to get a good look inside as this took considerable time because the detail was astonishing. All I can say is it's a good job I do pilates otherwise I'd still be there now, knees locked, weeping. Anyway I digress.

 It was astonishing to see how everything in 1st class was designed bespoke, from the furniture and specially woven carpets, to the cutlery and lightfittings. Master craftsmen made every item and even the artwork was commissioned from the leading artists of the day.

There were some wonderful clips of old film footage from the very earliest days of film through to the 1970's where if I'm honest everything just looked tacky. Even though it was still meant to be the very height of luxury the fact that everything was bright plastic just made it look like a bus station waiting room!

The frocks in the clips from the 30's had me swooning, I'd like to think I'd have been slinking about like those glamorous ladies but I have no illusions, lets face it, if I would have been there at all it would have been down in the hold sweating like a navvy whilst washing the dishes.

Indeed that was my only tiny criticism of the exhibition it was all about the upstairs so to speak. It would have been interesting to know just how many staff it took to maintain such luxury and how they lived.
I mean they even had live cows on board to provide fresh dairy produce!?! (You only learned that because of a graphic description of a near fatal voyage through desperate weather where one of the poor unfortunate creatures ended up hanging half through the dinning room ceiling.)

From the inside we moved on to life on deck and then on to the outfits, spanning from the 1920's to the 1960's they were a snapshot of leisurewear, swimming costumes and of course full on evening glamour.

There were also accessories
I had to resist doing a smash and grab for this clutch bag!

Oh and one of Marlene Dietrich's suits and a clip of film of her wearing it!

What I also liked was all through the exhibition there were sobering reminders, it wasn't all OTT glamour.
Like when the ships were requisitioned for both world wars to carry troops or do other war work which was fascinating. Or of tragedy, like the priceless tiara that was saved for one Lady by her maid as their ship went down. A bitter reminder that she and it survived but her daughter didn't.

Or this
A deckchair from the Titanic.

Finally we got to see the mechanics so to speak, inside the engine room as well as some of the designs showing how they made these huge beasts actually float. Finishing with some more recent interiors and art work and rather strangely clips from various Hollywood disaster at sea movies on loop.

All in all a fascinating exhibition.


  1. Would have loved to see this one. Thanks for going and bringing us the highlights.

  2. Wow. Really interesting exhibition.

  3. I really need to get off my bum and go to London more; I wanted to see this and never got round to it. I often mutter to Pete about wanting to go on a cruise, and he reminds me that what I want is to go on a cruise in 1935 and I'd *hate* modern liners.

    One of my friends went on a Disney cruise. Hell on the high seas, that.

    And the V&A missed a trick not reproducing those bags for the gift shops.

  4. I saw this exhibition advertised when I visited the V&A earlier this year - it does look fabulous. I hope I get a chance to see it...

  5. I'm still shuddering about Mim's comment about a Disney cruise - dear god, two of the worst things ever combined!
    That looks like an amazing exhibition. Your photos are wonderful. xxx

  6. Thank you for sharing these photos! I don't get to London as much as I would like (I'm far too provincial these days). I do adore the glamour of this kind of thing, I'd have been with you in the hold washing dishes though! Xx

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  8. The exhibition looks amazing, although a cruise would be my idea of a holiday from hell as well! xxx