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Designing Britain 1945 - 1975 > Exhibiting Britain > Britain Can Make It > Menswear
Designed by Ashley Havinden

…the Men’s Wear Section of the "BCMI" was designed to display only the selected examples typical of the clothes worn by the well-dressed man today, or likely to be worn by him during the next few years. Any attempt to exhibit outré examples would only have been misleading and would not give a true picture of Britain’s present contribution to design in men’s wear.
Havinden in COID 1946, 74.
Havinden’s commentary on the section he designed for BCMI, which appeared in the COID’s official book about the exhibition, Design ’46, offers a useful insight into the brief for the project. Although he would not have chosen the clothes on display (this was the task of one of the selection committees set up by the COID), his task was to show the selected examples of men’s clothing at their best. The form this display might take may be inferred from Havinden’s comment that nothing ‘outré’ would be shown. The implication is that the section as a whole should be as smart and discreet as the clothes on display. A final aspect to the brief would have been Cripps’ injunction that all concerned should ‘… design a show that would look complete in every detail if we didn’t get exhibits’.

Ashley Havinden (1903-1973) was one of the most eminent designers in Britain in 1946. Also known as ‘Ashley’ he had made his reputation as a graphic designer and Creative Director of W.S.Crawford, the most progressive advertising agency in the UK since the 1920s. Havinden had travelled in continental Europe and become familiar with the modernism of the Bauhaus school, later working with Laszlo Moholy Nagy and other émigrés to London in the 1930s. What made him suitable to BCMI was not just his undoubted skill at creating settings for display but his language of design. During the BCMI era, government favoured a modernism much less stark than that which had developed in continental Europe: traditional materials such as wood were favoured over metal and some decorative elements were also approved of. Havinden’s modernism fitted this approach. He was described as:
a natural modernist, producing work that is completely in accord with his time. Because it is natural to him, he is never highbrow in his modernity.
Anon, 'The Artist in Uniform, Ashley', Art & Industry, 32, (1942), 90-93.
The 'Men’s Wear' display formed the final third of a sequence of three sections devoted to the theme of post-war clothing. Of these, clothing for women, called simply ‘Dress’, had the largest and, indeed, most dramatic space, in the whole exhibition: a large circular hall. Leading from this came a rectangular space where 'Children’s Wear', 'Furniture' and 'Toys' were displayed. From this the visitor entered a smaller, square space. Of this, half the space was for 'Men’s Wear', the other for 'Dress Fabric', whilst through the centre the exhibition’s circulation route had to be accommodated. Further impeding the space were large structural columns which supported the gallery’s roof.

Given the gloomy, sparse space of the exhibition gallery which was the setting for Men’s Wear, Havinden opted to hide as much of it as possible by building a new space within it. The concept was that the display should be like that of a modern shop interior. A serpentine screen wall was used to create a series of bays which would accommodate the themed displays: day wear, evening wear, formal wear, town and country. Ranged along these screens and projecting out from the wall surfaces were a series of stands; their curvilinear form echoing that of the gallery space. Each stand contained a display panel upon which arrangements of clothing could be pinned and a row of columns from which garments could be hung.

Although the centre of the space was occupied by structural columns, Havinden chose to view these as a help and not a hindrance and incorporated them into the display. They were encased in plastic and small display windows were inserted at eye level. Havinden also used the columns as pivots for the central display stands of the exhibition. From one column a long display rack was extended which displayed men’s sweaters and jumpers. From the other, a curved display rack and flat stand was cantilevered, this showed smoking jackets and other evening wear paraphernalia. To complete the display large mural figures of men in day and evening wear were painted on the screen wall and the words town, country etc. mounted in relief letters.
Maquette of display stand ESD00152 Maquette of display stand

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General view of space ESD00977 General view of space

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Close up view of space and mural ESD00976 Close up view of space and mural

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View of room
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View of room
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ESD00978 & ESD00979 View of room
Man constructing display stands ESD00980 Man constructing display stands

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Views of completed chat ESD00981 Views of completed chat

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Ashley Havinden ESD00648 Ashley Havinden

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See next section - What Industrial Design Means