New exhibition explores 70 years of Contour Fashion

A new exhibition celebrating 70 years of Contour Fashion at De Montfort University has opened at the DMU Heritage Centre.

The centre has been transformed to showcase student work from the past 70 years alongside current work and future trends predicted by course leader Gillian Proctor.

The School of Corsetry within the Leicester College of Art – the predecessor to DMU – was founded in 1947 by the Corsetry Guild of Great Britain as part of a post-Second World War effort to inspire an upswing in local designers.

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Before this course, many fashion manufacturers took their lead from the contour houses of Paris and America.

The contour fashion course, with its emphasis on design flair as well as technical expertise, marked a new era for British fashion, training generations of designers who would change the face of the intimate apparel industry.

Now known as a BA (Hons) Degree Course, Contour Fashion has become widely praised by industry experts and is considered to be one of the best in the world.

The new exhibition is being held in conjunction with the Market Harborough-based R & WH Symington collection – the most cohesive collection of corsets in the world – and Leicestershire Museums Service.

Curator Elizabeth Wheelband said the exhibition tells the story of women’s emancipation.

She explained: “If you think about the clothes that were worn in Victorian times, women were in restrictive whalebone corsets, and wearing these heavy, voluminous undergarments. They would even swim fully clothed.

“Gradually, with dress reform and changing attitudes on the active woman we see changes in foundation weardesign and fabric technology – which needs to cope with women going cycling, playing tennis and becoming more physically active in the late Victorian and Edwardian era.

“The First World War brings about an immense change in outerwear fashion and by the 1920s, women don’t want the curvy silhouettethey want shapeless, flat-chested clothes to complement their looser fitting dresses, the 30s popularises the bra and girdle and by the time DMU begins its Contour Fashion degree in 1947, it was all about using as little fabric as possible because of rationing.”

This exhibition will look at a range of garments from the collection, focusing on those which showcase pioneering designs or technological advancements that influenced the foundations of fashion.

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