A First Look at the V&A's New Music-Influenced Exhibition

Lucy Hawes
You Say You Want a Revolution installation at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Mining the past for inspiration is a long-held tradition in fashion and film (look no further than designers’ current but steadfast preoccupation with the '90s and TV’s insistence on '70s-era music dramas like Vinyl and The Get Down).

But a nostalgia trip was not the curatorial intention for London’s Victoria & Albert Museum’s latest exhibition, You Say You Want a Revolution? Rebels and Records 1966-1970. “It is a look back,” concedes Victoria Broackes, who co-curated the show with longtime V&A colleague Geoffrey Marsh (the duo was also responsible for the museum’s blockbuster show  David Bowie Is, which is still on tour three years after its debut). “(But) what we wanted to do was look at how this period actually formed the era that we now live in.”

Whether Broakes and Marsh achieved that objective is questionable, but the sheer abundance of relics and souvenirs that they acquired for the show is impressive, not just in the largesse of items like the Beatles’ satin and fringe soldier garb for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover or an actual piece of moon rock on loan from NASA, but in its minutiae, like an original Barclaycard (one of the first credits cards introduced in the U.K. in 1966) or the maps and logistical paperwork from the desk of Michael Lang during his Woodstock planning.

The show is unequivocally at its best through the medium of music -- tunes can be heard through Sennheiser headphones that accompany the visitor, with a soundtrack that changes as one moves through each exhibit room -- and all that comes with it, including performance fashion and ephemera. An ode to Carnaby Street fashion includes Mick Jagger’s velvet embellished jumpsuit by '60s "it" designer Ossie Clark, while later on a cavernous room devoted to Woodstock includes everything from Mama Cass and Grace Slick caftans and to Mitch Mitchell’s fringed and velvet suits and Jimi Hendrix’s turquoise jewelry (not to mention a 30-minute clip of the 1970 documentary Woodstock, which includes Jimi Hendrix’s crucial performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and airs on a movie screen behind a stage set with Keith Moon’s drum kit). The exhibition is also peppered with historical denim pieces from Levi’s -- the exhibition’s sponsor -- ranging from folk-friendly '50s styles to a pair of customized patchwork jeans which Broackes and Marsh plucked from the brand’s San Francisco archives.

As the exhibition’s title would suggest, the show is also littered with LPs, starting with Woody Guthrie’s The Land Is Your Land and ending with John Lennon’s Imagine.

“(There are) a lot of records on the wall, and that’s to underpin the fact that music is essential to the story,” says Broakes. “The music and the social and political culture moved hand in hand.”

You Say You Want a Revolution is on view at the Victoria and Albert Museum now until Feb. 26, 2017; vam.ac.uk