It may be half a century since we were in the throes of the swinging Sixties, but in an unassuming corner of London, we’ve found a place where you can still make like it’s 1966.
As part of a brand-new exhibition in the capital, you can strut down Carnaby Street, the sound of Martha and the Vandellas in your ears, window-shop the latest Biba styles or gawp through the glass of Vidal Sassoon’s new salon.
You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 is the V&A Museum’s tribute to the decade that dreamed big. From music to fashion to festivals and space exploration, it celebrates a time when everything went to the very limits of what we thought possible – so much so that even our skirt hems and hairstyles reached for the heavens. Brought to life with more than 350 objects from the era, we take a look at some of our favourite moments from the exhibition – and that unforgettable decade.
Dedicated followers of fashion
We were happily moseying along in our modest Fifties outfits, when the Sixties brought in a ‘youthquake’ of change that overturned, more than anything else, our wardrobes. Suddenly, this loud, trendy shop called Biba emerged on the high street and a girl called Twiggy, with her doe eyes and cropped hair, gave us a brand new meaning for cool.
The youthful London look was making its mark, hailing psychedelic colours, androgynous bodies and these snazzy new fabrics such as PVC and Perspex. In a flash, the height of hip was owning a Dispo paper dress, a disposable futuristic outfit designed by Harry Gordon to be worn up to six times and then thrown away (wonder why that never caught on!).
Hair, too, was now an extra thing to worry about. We teased our locks into a Dusty Springfield style beehive, or flattened it like a pancake with the iron, while Vidal Sassoon dreamed up hairstyles we’d never even thought of, modelled by the likes of Mia Farrow and Mary Quant.
And then the world went POP...
Who knew four ordinary lads from Liverpool could shake up the world as we knew it? But ever since we first spotted The Beatles, we knew there was something special about them. In a rare treat, the V&A has a behind-the-scenes look at their rise to fame.
Gaze at the National Health specs John Lennon first wore in 1965 for Help, take a look at the sketch for the Sgt Pepper album cover or admire The Beatles’ branded talcum powder and stockings. Then there are the original lyrics to marvel at: Taxman scrawled in George Harrison’s wobbly hand and felt-tip crossings out, scribbled by John over In My Life.
But of course it wasn’t just The Beatles who defined this decade’s musical revolution and you can spot the influence of artists like The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Sam Cooke all around the exhibition. Meanwhile, 250 records from the most coveted LP collection of all time – that of DJ John Peel – line the walls of the V&A, playing out snippets of The Beach Boys and The Kinks overhead. A great reminder of the tracks we used to twist and shout along to on our Dansette record players.
You may say I’m a dreamer
But we weren’t the only ones. Just as we were getting used to the idea of colour telly, the Sixties came along and introduced to us the sorts of innovations we’d only dreamed about. William Anders defied imagination as he made the first successful orbit of the moon in Apollo 8, taking that incredible Earthrise photograph on his way.
The birth of the credit card promised endless possibilities for our desire for stuff, while Pan Am airways opened up the skies as a paradise of exotic glamour and sophistication.
But perhaps the most startling invention showcased in the exhibition is the first-ever computer mouse designed by Douglas Engelbart, the tentative baby steps to a technological revolution that went on to truly transform our lives.
The V&A exhibition closes with the original lyrics to John Lennon’s 1971 hit Imagine, hastily written on a scrap of hotel writing paper. And while he certainly sings about a future world he hopes to come, you can’t help but feel that this more accurately sums up the visionary decade we’ve all just lived through: the sensational Sixties.
- You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970 is at the V&A Museum until February 26, 2017. Tickets cost £16 (concessions available). Advance booking advised. Call 0800 912 6961 or visit vam.ac.uk/revolution
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