Author Archives: eargun

Seeing in Technicolour: The (Un)dressed Body Brought to Life

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Edward Steichen, Cover of Vogue. July 1, 1932. Courtesy Condé Nast. © 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

As coloured photography started to seep into the pages of Vogue during the 1930s, it shifted the ways in which fashion consumers and spectators appreciated the dressed body. Simultaneous to this technological progress of fashion magazines was the modernisation and arguable liberation of the body itself. The first in-colour Vogue cover by Edward Steichen in July 1932 attests to this. Playfully raising a beach ball above her head, the model is sporting red swimwear with a white belted detail to emphasise her lean frame, and a white cap. Mirroring the colours of her ball, her vibrant body juxtaposes the gradated blue sky that upwardly intensifies behind her. This is an image of colourful contrasts; red stubbornly clashes with blue, white breaks up the composition, and even her shoes are two-toned. The depth of the colours evoke a sense of warmth and humidity. We can only hope to be transported to where she is and to look as chic as she does in a swimming cap. Perhaps buying Vogue will help get us there…

Although shot indoors in the studio using a 108-inch plate camera that Condé Nast insisted his photographers work with, Steichen’s lighting techniques evoke summer evening sun. This convinces the viewer that the model has spent an entire day of leisure and sport at the beach. The connoted low sunlight highlights the contours of the model’s armpits, her toned arms, wrist tendons, sharp elbows, the dents on her knees and the overall sculptural quality of her tanned body. The white segment of the beachball that orbits her athletic frame evokes a waning crescent moon, perhaps signalling that dusk is approaching. Her shadowed face creates a canvas of anonymity onto which the Vogue reader can project themselves. We can see that she is smiling in unapologetic enjoyment. Her averted gaze suggests that she is unaware of being watched, or even being photographed in an inorganic, staged setting.

Aside from a hint of feathery eyelashes, her body is totally hairless, stressed by the cap that protects her hair from seawater and the unrelenting sun. This evokes the smooth, marble-like texture of her skin. The primary colours evoke a sense of childish playfulness; this is a woman unshackled by social convention or responsibility. She embodies care-free leisure as well as women’s progressively and fashionably active lifestyles. Having been exposed to this vibrant image, it is hard to imagine what her body, or the overall composition, would look like in black and white.

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Harper’s Bazaar, June 1939, New York Vol. 72, Iss. 2724, pp. 60-61, Proquest

Harper’s Bazaar’s swimwear editorial from June 1939 stands in stark contrast to the highly saturated cover of their rival Vogue. Shot in black and white, the models’ skin takes on the luminosity of classical marble statues. Unlike the evocation of the setting sun in Vogue’s cover, here we get a sense of bright moonlight illuminating exposed flesh. In the image on the left, a woman stands with her back to us, reflecting the pose of the statue situated in the centre of a pool within a secluded wood. This mirror-image establishes a direct connection between woman and sculpture, as if the touch of moonbeams has metamorphosised her from antique marble into living, breathing flesh. Her closed-off body language could suggest that she senses she is being watched in this intimate moment of midnight bathing. The article reads ‘five bathers beside the moonlit pool, four of flesh and blood, one of stone’, which heightens the idea of mythical transformations.

The model’s striped swimsuit takes on a silvery quality and the low scooped back exposes the gentle curvature of her spine. The image on the right depicts three more models poised tentatively on the edge of the pool. They resemble mythological nymphs bathing out of view of mortal eyes. Their poses are fairly natural; their bodies have not been manipulated to cater to the male gaze, perhaps explained by the female photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe and the predominantly female readership of Harper’s Bazaar. By presenting the female body at different angles, it offers a three-dimensional, sculptural appreciation of the body as well as a well-rounded impression of the swimwear. Their toned bodies highlight that these are active, modern women. There lingers a sense of seclusion and privacy through the implicit separation from the male gaze. Fashion magazines including Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar promoted exercise regimes linked to classical ideals of athleticism, which were often untaken in separation from men. This image potentially evokes this secure seclusion away from prying eyes. In this instance, even when women are depicted as active and exercising, they still retain a sculptural quality. Perhaps if this image had been captured in colour, it would imbue their statuesque bodies with vitality and thus reflect the cultural shift towards women’s more dynamic and active lives.

By Claudia Stanley


Rebecca Arnold,Movement and Modernity: New York Sportswear, Dance, and Exercise in the 1930s and 1940s’, Fashion Theory, vol. 12, no. 3 (Oxfordshire, 2008), pp. 341–57,

Susanna Brown,Introduction: Inventing Elegance, Horst: Photographer of Style, exhibition catalogue, Victoria and Albert Museum (London, 2014), pp.11-21

Harper’s Bazaar, June 1939, New York Vol. 72, Iss. 2724

Relaxed Royal Tailoring and Archaic Court Dress: Menswear of the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, 1932-1953

During last week’s study trips, we were lucky enough to snoop around Hampton Court Palace’s Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection. Items within their collection of 10,000 objects date from the late sixteenth century to the present day. They range from Queen Victoria’s monogrammed underwear to That Dress worn by Princess Diana when she danced with John Travolta at a White House dinner in 1985. All of Hampton Court’s archive storerooms are located in converted palace apartments and, rather fittingly, the dress collection is housed in an old laundry room. Curator Matthew Storey kindly showed us some highlights of the collection which sat neatly within the 1920-1960 timeframe of the Documenting Fashion course. From ambiguously-shaped white garment bags suspended ghoulishly from rails, he revealed two examples of menswear with royal significance.

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Fredrick Scholte, tweed jacket made for the Duke of Windsor, 1932, Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection

The first was a tweed suit belonging to the Duke of Windsor, previously titled the Prince of Wales and later King Edward VIII before his abdication in 1936 in order to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson. Made by Savile Row tailor Fredrick Scholte in 1932, the jacket embodies the Duke’s philosophy of ‘dressing soft’. Prioritising comfort and movement, the Duke severed ties with social rituals of dress and became an icon of men’s style in Europe and America. His sense of ease helped loosen the stiff grip of conformity in relation to men’s tailoring. Most noticeable about the garment itself was its own movement. As it was handled delicately by gloved hands, the double-breasted jacket billowed of its own accord with an unusual fluidity for such stiff tweed. The movement of the garment itself catered to the dynamism of the wearer. Scholte’s expert tailoring, known as the English drape or London cut, included more material across the chest and back, enabling this ease of movement as well as creating a broad, masculine silhouette. In his own words, the Duke praised Scholte’s ‘rigid standards concerning the perfect balance of proportions between shoulders and waist in the cut of a coat to clothe the masculine torso’.

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Governor of the Bahamas, Duke of Windsor Holding Asparagus Picked by Bahamian Labourers During World War Two

In this image, the Duke manages to look suave whilst posing with bunches of asparagus. Pipe clasped between teeth, he stands with one leg raised. The double-breasted cut, broad lapels, sloping shoulders and buttons on the cuffs are all similar, if not the same, to the tweed jacket held within the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection (it’s surprisingly difficult to identify patterns of tweed by squinting at black and white heavily pixelated reproductions of houndstooth without inducing a hefty migraine). Despite pulling across his abdomen, the jacket holds its shape over his chest and shoulders, maintaining its neat, square silhouette. Curator Matthew Storey explained the difficulty of finding a mannequin to best display this garment, looking for images of the Duke in swimwear to get an understanding of the body held within the garment. Under the broadening silhouette of Scholte’s construction, the Duke’s frame is almost surprisingly slender but still athletic. Usually mannequins are built to fill a garment and offer bodily support. However, with Scholte’s English drape, the jacket is designed to hold its shape with minimum support even on a humble hanger. 

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Duke of Windsor during a cruise of the Adriatic Sea, August 1936
© Kerry Taylor / BNPS

The matching trousers, made by Forster and Sons, are also cut in a quintessentially English way; they are high-waisted to elongate the leg, with loops for braces to be attached. They also feature a zip fly, a fairly recent innovation, instead of buttons, which further adds to the idea of ease and practicality promoted through the Duke’s clothing. His clothing was customised, such as the left pocket of his trousers being bigger to accommodate his cigarette case. However, the Duke stated ‘I disliked the cut of [English trousers]; they were made…to be worn with braces high above the waist. So preferring as I did to wear a belt rather than braces with trousers, in the American style, I invariably had them made by another tailor’. Following his abdication, his style was progressively Americanised as he severed ties with his regal roots. The Duke sent his fabric to H. Harris in New York, to be tailored in the low-waisted American style. The Duke ‘gave [H. Harris] a pair of my old London trousers, and he copied them admirably. Since then, I have had my trousers made in New York and my jackets in London, an international compromise which the Duchess aptly describes as “pants across the pond”.’

In 1924, Men’s Wear magazine stated ‘the average young man in America is more interested in the clothes of the Prince of Wales than in any other individual on earth’, revealing the global impact he had on the relaxation of men’s fashion. In his autobiography A Family Album, the Duke articulated that ‘I was in fact “produced” as a leader of fashion, with the clothiers as my showmen and the world as my audience. The middle-man in this process was the photographer, employed not only by the press but by the trade, whose task it was to photograph me on every possible occasion, public or private, with an especial eye for what I happened to be wearing.’ The Duke expressed how fashion is an ongoing, collaborative process and an ever-advancing expression of self-image.

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Court coat, 1953, Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection

In total contrast to the Duke’s understated yet trail-blazing style, court dress, worn in the presence of a royal, remained stubbornly rooted in the past. It exists outside trends and time itself. From the collection, we were also shown a court coat worn to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. The rank and status of the wearer is communicated through the sheer splendour of the silver and gold gilt embroidery, adding a symbolic and literal weight to the garment. The embroidery stretches proudly across the chest, evoking the gold braiding that adorns military uniforms. In 1820, King George IV lessened the strict regulation of court dress, meaning that garments resembling military uniforms usurped men’s colourful court coats. Instead of evolving with the times, these garments remained cemented in the past, due to tradition and ceremony that are intrinsically woven into the formality of court dress. On first inspection, a court coat from 1885 created by Henry Poole & Sons on Savile Row for Lord Boston is almost identical to the 1953 garment in the opulence of its decoration (the triangular embroidery around the collar is slightly different).

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Court coat by Henry Poole & Sons, wool & metal embroidery, 1885
© Historic Royal Palaces / Robin Forster / Bridgeman Images

This demonstrates that court dress exists outside of the magnetic field of fashion and resists the thrust towards modernity. In contemporary civilian dress, any peacocky ornamentation was regarded as subversive to traditional notions of masculinity. In 1930, C. Flügel’s The Psychology of Clothes explored the notion of ‘the great masculine renunciation’ of elaborate elegance. For men, fashion was inherently feminine, and to be too invested in your clothing was to deny your own masculinity. Yet the court coat is separate from this. It seems to embody male vanity, neatly interweaving tradition, militant male aggression, and the feminine flair of decorative embroidery.

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Gered Mankowitz, Portrait of Jimi Hendrix in his Hussars military jacket, 1967, bromide fibre print, National Portrait Gallery
© Bowstir Ltd 2018

The masculine rejection of trivial fashion remained firmly in place until the 1960s, when androgyny and experimentation became the new mode. Almost ironically, youth subculture groups appropriated archaic military dress as a means of breaking away from traditional masculinity. The Portobello Road store I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet sold on army surplus as well as vintage military jackets throughout the 1960s. Rockstars, such as Jimi Hendrix, flaunted their military gear, to protest against the Vietnam War or to sever themselves from the dull mundanity of conventional drab-toned suits. Or, like the court coat, perhaps military jackets served the purpose of self-promotion and performative male fortitude.

By Claudia Stanley


J. C. Flügel, ‘The Psychology of Clothes’, in The Rise in Fashion: A Reader, ed. Daniel Leonhard Purdy (Minneapolis, 2004)

Maria Costantino, Men’s Fashion in the Twentieth Century: from frock coats to intelligent fibres (London, 1997)

The Duke of Windsor, A Family Album (London, 1960)

Off to the Races: Sport, Style, and the Equine Influence

Over the weekend my Instagram feed was graced by an image of Audrey Hepburn (Eliza Doolittle) at the Ascot Races from the 1964 classic film My Fair Lady. I was immediately struck by the photograph, not solely for its aesthetic splendor but rather by the questions it raised in my mind surrounding the relationship of high fashion to sportswear within an Edwardian equestrian microcosm. It may also have left a lasting impression as it reminded me of a black and white cocktail dress which has been lingering in my online shopping basket for a number of weeks now, but that’s beside the point. In any case, throughout this blog post I’d like to discuss the fascinating juncture of style and sport which has manifested itself throughout history at the cultural scene of the horse race.

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Figure 1: Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, 1964.

The professionalisation of sport at the turn of the twentieth century marks an important moment when looking to understand the existence of horse racing events as platforms for fashionable display. The social and economic character of spectatorship shifted radically towards consumption and the need ‘to get people through turnstiles’. This helped foster the symbiotic relationship between the crowd and the actual sporting event of horse racing as the audience became part of a now choreographed performance of athletic spectacle. The centrality of the spectator to the races, and, further, the significance of the clothes they wore as an essential element of the sporting event is thus highlighted, as aesthetic display became inherently tied to the successful execution of the affair. Dress historian Valerie Steele  explains how fashion ‘can only exist and flourish in a particular kind of dramatic setting with knowledgeable fashion performers and spectators’. A horse racing event can therefore be understood as an occasion placated upon an attendee’s dual responsibility to contribute to the overarching fashionable spectacle, and to equally function as an aesthetic viewer. The fashionable spectator was not relegated to the side-lines of the event taking place, but rather played an active role in generating the action which characterized race-day culture. The crowd, and those elusive celebrities or flamboyantly dressed individuals which composed it, were as much sights to be studied as the horses and jockeys themselves.

Consumption lies at the heart of horse-racing fashion culture in terms of both garment shopping and the subsequent reporting of the events in newspapers and magazines. From the early 1910’s the emerging allure of race-day fashions can be charted throughout print media, as the sporting occasions became voyeuristic opportunities to ogle at the extremities of ostentation. In this sense it is clear to see how horse racing fashion served as yet another social catwalk for an elite class who had disposable incomes sizable enough to afford both a race day ticket and outfit, as well as funds to spend on betting. In this way I feel that the advent of an elaborate media coverage at these events elevated their societal weight. To quote the article featured in Figure 2, ‘The apogee of fashion is reached at the spring Paris races and horse shows where the modes worn by the smart world receive their final stamp of approval’. Clearly, race-day fashions were viewed as social barometers to the current state of stylish aesthetic taste, yet, what I believe differentiates them from other forms of public display are their inherent ties to affluence. Unlike other forms of entertainment such as the theatre (which was becoming increasingly accessible to the general public at the turn of the twentieth century), horse racing retained a level of exclusivity which rendered its fashions deeply aspirational.

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Figure 2: Fashions at the Paris Races and Horse Shows. Vogue Vol 39, Issue 11. (June 1912).

The rarefied environs of the Royal Enclosure at a race such as Ascot, alongside a crowd composed of well-known figures and public leaders served as a direct taste-making source for the socially aspirational. Using print media this influence was aided in its spread across previously oblivious sections of society, and thusly race-day fashions became associated with a wider public understanding of taste.

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Figure 3: Fashion at Ascot Races, The Advertising Archives 1911.

At this juncture the emerging place of sportswear within the wider ‘equestrian-wear’ culture of the Edwardian period should be addressed and noted as distinctly separate from the conversation held thus far surrounding extravagant race-day fashions. By the end of the 19th century it was becoming exceedingly evident that the traditional, ornate women’s riding attire of earlier periods was fading in popularity. To quote Power O’ Donaghue in Ladies on Horseback from 1889 – ‘A plainness (…) is to be preferred before any outward show. Ribbons, and coloured veils, and yellow gloves, and showy flowers are alike objectionable. A gaudy “get-up” is highly to be condemned, and at once stamps the wearer as a person of inferior taste. Therefore avoid it.’ The image below can be considered an exemplification of this dying style.

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Figure 4: Madame La Comtesse de Saint Géran, Joseph Parrocel, 1675-1682.
Therefore, by the turn of the century women’s equestrian fashion was in a state of unparalleled flux as riding sidesaddle began to fall out of favour, and the wearing of jodhpurs became acceptable for females. I would argue that this understanding of the practicalities of female equestrian-wear links directly to the conversation already held surrounding race-day fashions. As discussed in the 1923 Vogue article below, horse racing began to emerge as an increasingly feminine exploit.
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Figure 5: Where Smart Women Will Give their Kingdom for a Horse, Vogue 62, Issue 7 (1923).

Women constituted almost half of all competitive horse owners by this period, and thus squarely located the culture of the sport within an increasingly feminine sphere. In this sense I feel that both in practical and deeply artistic terms the fashions of the equestrian world during this revolutionary period offer an insightful perspective on the nuanced state of early twentieth century femininity. Whether parading in a Royal Ascot dress or donning a pair of jodhpurs in a stable yard, an exploration of equestrian fashion conventions provides a compelling platform from which to analyze a period of significant historical upheaval.

By Victoria FitzGerald


Goodrum, Alison. ‘The Style Stakes: Fashion, Sportswear and Horse Racing in Inter-war America’ Sport in History 35, no.1, (2015), pp.46-80.

Steele, Valerie. Paris Fashion: A Cultural History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 247-264.

Amy Winehouse: The Abiding Queen of Camden

Amy Winehouse photographed in her bedroom by Valerie Phillips, 2003. Reddit.

Yesterday I visited Amy: Beyond the Stage, the Design Museum in London’s eclectic tribute to Amy Winehouse. Amy is my favourite artist of all time; she was my number one listened-to artist on Spotify last year, and He Can Only Hold Her was my most streamed song. So, as you can imagine, I had high expectations for this celebration of her life and musical career. The intimacy constructed by the exhibition between viewer and Amy’s dresses, interviews and music did not disappoint.

From the moment you descend the narrow white stairwell into the exhibition, you are immediately transported into the world that was Amy’s. Pages from her childhood notebooks are pinned to the wall as you enter the first room; her jotted poems and shopping-lists speak of the charm and wit she had as a child and flourished in her public presence in the early years of her career. In the next room, a great screen plays videos of some of her best moments on stage as you read her hand-written lyrics and pick up headsets to listen to her in interview or in the recording studio. These deeply personal moments are punctuated by mannequins wearing her playful ensembles, with pieces from noughties high-street labels like Dorothy Perkins and Karen Millen that made her both charismatic and relatable to her fans. These mannequins, while scaled to her petit frame, are almost unable to capture how her clothes worked with her: sculpting not only to her figure, but also her spirited personality. After all, she was never an artist who required costuming to forge her on-stage presence: the clothes never outshone her, but became an indelible part of her iconic appearance.

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Amy: Beyond the Stage’s fashion section, photo by Ed Reeve. The Design Museum 2021.

Some of the most affecting moments of the exhibition occur not in the audio experiences, but in the small labels beside each exhibit. Each one describes the item next to it, whether it be her baby-pink retro Roberts radio or a pair of Dolce & Gabbana stilettos, with a reverse-embossed lyric and love hearts in Amy’s handwriting. The detail is ghostly but touching, permeating each object with her inimitable character. Anecdotes from her stylist, Naomi Parry, are testament to the significance of fashion in Amy’s life and career. One label reads: ‘we found a style that she was really comfortable with, and it became synonymous with her. It was like her armour – she put that on and she became Amy Winehouse.’ Accordingly, the third room of the exhibition, with a tiered stage of mannequins wearing her classic rockabilly styles, literally presents us with an army of Amy’s. Small glass cases on the lowest tier contain some of her accessories, many of them thrifted in Camden market. On the wall facing these mannequins is an exploration of her emblematic beehive hairstyle, and its 1950s girl-group influences, with a poignant label quoting Amy: ‘The more insecure I feel, the bigger my beehive gets.’ What prevails here however is a joyful celebration of her style, each piece imbued with a memory from her electrifying rise to stardom.

The only thing I wished for in the exhibition was more film and photographic documentation of Amy wearing these specific pieces, seeing as so many of them were worn at significant moments in her career. Here are just three of my personal favourite outfits showcased in the exhibition, worn by Amy herself:

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Red Zip Up Adidas Dress, worn at a Birmingham performance to publicise the Frank album, 2004. Harper’s Bazaar.

This red Adidas zip-up dress appears in the section of the exhibition dedicated to her first studio album, Frank (2003). Amy wore the dress at several performances to promote the release of the album. The loose-fit lycra dress is elevated from being mere sportswear with the addition of a black lace bra that peaks through the drawn zip, giving her a sultry appearance to match the jazzy R&B aura of the album. Here she is as she takes the stage at an HMV store in Birmingham, beaming to the crowd before her. With her ‘Sonic Blue’ Fender Stratocaster guitar in hand (which is also in the exhibition), the sporty dress shows Amy ready for action as her career takes off.

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Black Dolce & Gabbana Mini Dress, worn at the 2008 Grammy Awards where Amy Winehouse was awarded ‘Record of the Year’, 2008. Twitter.

This black Dolce & Gabbana mini dress is seen on the stage of mannequins in the exhibition’s room dedicated to her style, and was worn in possibly my favourite Amy moment. Amy donned the dress in 2008 as she was awarded ‘Record of the Year’ for the track Rehab, from her second studio album Back to Black (2006). The camera pans to Amy as Tony Bennett reads out her name as winner, and at first she seems oblivious to the announcement. Realisation suddenly dawns on her and she gazes up to the screen in disbelief, members of her band rushing to her side to celebrate their win. They embrace her in a group-hug so that all we can see of her is the flowers pinned into the back of her beehive. As she musters an unexpected acceptance speech, she proudly declares: ‘This is for London, ‘cause Camden town ain’t burning down!’

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Fred Perry and Amy Winehouse co-designed collection Fall Winter 2010/11 ensemble, modelled by Amy Winehouse, photographed by Bryan Adams, 2010. Design Scene.

To the far-right of the stage, a few mannequins down from the Grammy dress, is an assemblage of some of the pieces created in a co-designed collection between Amy and Fred Perry. She regularly wore Fred Perry clothing off-stage, a brand which has proclaimed itself as ‘a badge of honour for just about every music-led subculture from ska to hip hop’, and also emerged as a staple in British streetwear in the 1950s. The collaboration was thus a perfect homage to Amy’s style: merging her rockabilly influences with her unrelenting dedication and love for London. While the ensemble shown here is not a direct match of the skirt and polo-shirt outfit in the exhibition, I think the elation Amy found in her style is captured perfectly in this instance. Her iconic silhouette – her waist cinched in with a characteristically large belt and her towering beehive – draws attention to her face as she laughs during the shoot.

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An installation called ‘Finale’, designed by set designer Chiara Stephenson with animation by Studio Moross, photo by Ed Reeve. The Design Museum 2021.

For me, the most poignant moment of Amy: Beyond the Stage occurs at the very end of the exhibition. In a small curtained-off room, a performance of Amy singing Tears Dry on Their Own is projected onto a translucent screen as the music floods the compact space. The projection is like a painting in motion, its brightly coloured brushstrokes capturing Amy for a fleeting moment before they dissolve and reconfigure elsewhere on the screen. As the music fades, the projected curtains close on the screen, marking the end of the exhibition with a moving silence. Despite the absence of Amy Winehouse today, what is left is the feeling that the legacy of her music and her dynamic character will endure long into the future.


Amy: Beyond the Stage is open until 10 April 2022. Tickets can be purchased following this link:


Here is a link to the Amy Winehouse Foundation, a charity established in Amy’s memory ‘to inspire children and young people to build their self-esteem and resilience, so they can flourish’:


By Erin-Atlanta Argun