Black outfits from ‘little black dress’ to leather and latex take centre stage in exhibition

Cocktail dresses and cutting-edge catwalk creations will be brought together with punk and fetish outfits for a major new fashion exhibition at Scotland’s busiest visitor attraction.

Ying Gao's design 'Flowing Water, Standing Time' will be part of the National Museum of Scotland's exhibition Beyond the Little Black Dress next year. Picture: Malina Corpadean
Ying Gao's design 'Flowing Water, Standing Time' will be part of the National Museum of Scotland's exhibition Beyond the Little Black Dress next year. Picture: Malina Corpadean

Work by Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Dior and Jean Muir will be going on display at the National Museum in Edinburgh in a show reflecting how the colour black has shaped trends and reflected changing lifestyles over the last century.

The 2023 show, which will open for the city’s summer festivals season, will look at the “radical power” of the colour black in fashion.

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More than 60 different outfits will chart the history of the “little black dress” since Chanel’s groundbreaking design in 1926, recall how it became “a symbol of femininity and a byword for chic” and explore its relationship to race, gender and sexuality.

‘Florence’ hood and ‘Spray’ dress by Cimone, AutumnWinter 2017. © Cimone Ltd, Photo © Rhiannon Adam; Woman's evening dress. French, c. 1929. Image © National Museums Scotland; Ying Gao, Flowing Water, Standing Time, 2019. Photo © Malina Corpadean.
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The exhibition, Beyond the Little Black Dress, will also highlight the work of leading black British designers.

The official announcement on the exhibition states: “The colour black can be interpreted in many subtle and often contradictory ways.

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“The exhibition will explore how its complexities have made the little black dress simultaneously expressive of piety and perversion, respect and rebellion; from the well-mannered cocktail attire of the early 20th century to the leather and latex worn by members of punk and fetish subcultures.

 ”Beyond the Little Black Dress will open with a simple, short black dress designed by Coco Chanel in 1926.

A suede dress by the British fashion designer Jean Muir will be going on display as part of the National Museum of Scotland exhibition Beyond the Little Black Dress.

"Considered radically modern, it disregarded convention entirely in both the stark design and sombre shade that had traditionally been associated with mourning.

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"At the time it was hailed by US Vogue as ‘the frock that all the world will wear.

“The ‘little black dress’ became a wardrobe staple, a symbol of femininity and a byword for chic, with each new silhouette capturing the spirit of its time.

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“The little black dress remains a blank canvas for broader political and cultural shifts. It can challenge social norms around race, gender and sexuality to reflect evolving ideals of beauty and identity, proving its infinite capacity for reinvention.”

An ilustration of Coco Chanel’s 'little black dress' by Main Rousseau Bocher for Vogue in 1926.

Georgina Ripley, principal curator of modern and contemporary design at the National Museum, said: “Few garments are as iconic as the little black dress, which has often been held up by the fashion industry as the one piece every woman should have in her wardrobe. It has evolved dramatically in the century since its creation.

"From a simple shift dress which helped democratise women’s fashion to a bold political statement, it has moved through various iterations which reflect changing ideals of beauty and body image.

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"Displaying classic couture, avant-garde pieces and garments that make a political statement, this exhibition will explore its enduring success, and ask why, in the fickle and fast-paced fashion world, the little black dress has achieved that rare status of being truly above the fray.”

The next major exhibition to open at the National Museum will be devoted to Doctor Who and the science behind the long-running science-fiction series.

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A suede dress by fashion designer Jean Muir will be part of the exhibition 'Beyond the Little Black Dress' at the National Museum of Scotland next year.

Visitors will get the chance to come face-to-face with some of The Doctor’s most celebrated enemies including Daleks, Cybermen and Weeping Angels.

Doctor Who Worlds of Wonder will run from 9 December till 1 May ahead of the debut of Ncuti Gatwa as The Doctor in 2023 – the 60th anniversary of the show.

A ‘Florence’ hood and ‘Spray’ dress by Cimone will be going on display as part of the fashion exhibition 'Beyond the Little Black Dress,' which will be staged at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh next year.

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