The Salon Project : A Night to Remember

I attended a piece of installation theatre. It was spectatorship and cultural commentary and fancy dress all rolled in one. It was fabulous.
Probably best to start with how I found myself here and what happened when I arrived.


Dressed, pinned and cinched the other members of Jonquil and I assembled at a very ordinary backstage door.

The gentlemen rejoined us, dapper and charmingly penguin-like. Upon seeing their be-tailed selves I had the distinct urge to waltz (preferably with a gentlemen sporting an outstanding mustache and wearing regimentals).

Everyone primped and preened and twirled for each other though I observed more than partook. I was still licking my lame-dress wounds.

Despite my disappointment the giddy anticipation was infectious. Behind that door, at any moment, our theatrical, monumental Experience would be unveiled.

What would it be like? What were we supposed to do? Who would be there and what would they be wearing?

It was, I imagine, not unlike the thoughts of a certain cinder-girl rocking up to similar party in a giant pumpkin.


Not a moment too soon a gong sounded and we were ushered to the gate, opened by footmen in silk breeches and powdered wigs. Our dark backstage cavern flooded with luminous white.

The earlier seatings had already been ushered into the grand ballroom beyond our doors and, as if on queue, everyone turned to stare at the new arrivals in unabashed curiosity.

Jonquil  stood huddled together. The staggering brightness and peering eyes gave us all momentary stage fright.

At last, at Matron’s prodding, we gingerly stepped blinking into The Salon Project.

By the time I found my feet and the first glass of fizz was in my hand (the first of woefully too few), the evening was in full swing.



You wouldn’t know it from the floor-to-ceiling windows and dizzingly tall mirrors,  but it was 9pm on a cold evening in late October.

The outside world was pitch black but in our salon the gas lamps burned brightly.

Time seemed frozen.

I almost forgot there are other people in the world who were not careening about in gowns and fascinators. I wondered briefly if our insular fascinations and shallow preoccupations were purposeful, critical even, in the curation of the evening and felt a pang.

But then I would catch sight of dresses like this and stop minding:



I spent much of the evening talking about clothes but it wasn’t all flippant.

In fact we had a very interesting, semi-philosophical discussion about the clothes making the man and vice versa.

For almost everyone it seemed (I hesitate to include myself, I’m still not reconciled to that sack), the anonymously chosen couture was made to measure.

Exhibit A:

My worldy, traveling friend was just back from three weeks on the Indian sub-continent.

She is obsessed with all things Japanese, and here she found herself the embodiment of the Orientalism that so fascinated Victorians.

Exhibit B:

The delightfully eccentric diva and avid gardener who convinced me to buy my ticket had a velvet train as long as she was tall and covered in a corsage that almost reached the floor. She looked like an opera star.

The flower garland wrapped around her. Twice.


Exhibit C:

Already famous in certain circles for her retro-tacular shoe collection, Anna made a splash in Silver Screen glamour that suited her tasteful, glamorous (and shiny) sensibilities to a T.



And that lady from above? Without ever being seen before tonight, the costumers somehow managed to pick the dress that would accentuate her taste perfectly.


If a fashion destiny is possible, tonight it was abounding.

While A and I were unified in mourning our lack of trailing hems and plunging necklines,  we cut rather elegant figures don’t you think?







There was a good deal of lively chatter and plenty of discussion that did not pertain to our clothes too.

Anne Elliot once said “clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company”. I’m rather inclined to agree with her.

Aside from fashion, we spoke of nuclear power and contemporary art. The state of public funding and the rise of conservativism.

Speakers, philosophers and academics each gave little monologues, sparks of conversation and Speaker’s Corner opines. The concept was better than the delivery in some cases but I was energised and heartened by a new experience and some stimulating if not entirely flawless ideas.

Besides, when a speaker was less than enthralling (or indeed the self-righteous mistook the floor for a pulpit) I found myself very grateful for the huge scrolled mirrors. They bounced the light beautifully, but more importantly they were incredibly useful for discreetly studying as many fellow guests as possible without turning your head.

It became a game for us in the end, catching each others’ eye and sliding our gaze from guest to guest. I imagine ladies of the time hung looking glasses in drawing rooms for just such purposes, obviously.




At regular intervals artistic tableaux were presented for perusal as well.

Before my Jonquilians and I arrived, this gramophone DJ [literally] set the tone.



At various points living nude statues, some video art and a pianist all appeared in our midst, and all the work focused to some extent on the contrast between modern and period. I particularly enjoyed the pianist’s iPad score of Debussy, though I did miss the rustle of furious sheet-music flicking.

Our lives and technologies were thrown into relief [and in some cases echoed] by the transitory and monumental mechanical and social shifts of Edwardian life, a concept which has given much food for thought in the month that followed since.



This modern/period dichotomy ran throughout the evening in other small ways too.



Just as he’d change a lightbulb as if he was in jeans, they encouraged us to be ourselves and not some caricature of the era. To discuss what was important to us and record the event in ways we would find meaningful.

There were many ladies in tulle on iPhones, and many gents digitising their waistcoats to no doubt upload on facebook later. At least every half hour I’d check for reception* so antsy was I to tweet about the whole thing. (My technological dependency issues are not, I think, ones I’ll tackle today, relevant and fascinating though they may be.)

The line between modern and period, stylised and casual was ever-present — and as unsettling as it was interesting.

*I have wondered since if this isolation from outside world was deliberate or accidental. I rather hope the former.


In the end it was primarily an evening of stimulating discussion, debate and just spending time with people, both old friends and new acquaintances.

All of us hanging out in one big, bright room and looking at things. Talking about stuff. Having ideas.

If you’d told me up front I was to pay £25 to stand for three hours and make small talk with strangers I would have laughed in your face.

But bolstered, inspired and free-spirited, in no small part by our physical transformations, it’s one of the most interesting night’s out I’ve ever had.

Maybe it was the costumes, or the pomp and circumstance, but life felt different as we disrobed. Smaller somehow, pallid.

I like to think we could be those charming, informed, confident people all the time.

They were certainly fun [if rather imperious looking].



Reading that back I make it sound romantic. And those things are true.

But there were awkward bits. And uncomfortable shoes. Parts were boring, and some of the artistic tableaux were weak.

As a whole though it was invigorating and deeply intriguing.

It was full of verve and vivant, and maybe a little bit ambitious.

I left energised and brimming with thoughts and experiences I’ll chew for a long time to come.

And that is something you just don’t get everyday, even in my line of work.

So this is one Salonista sending digital gratitudes to the hundred-odd army that made it possible.

Seems fitting somehow.

Hats off to you sirs, bravo.


4 Responses to “The Salon Project : A Night to Remember”
  1. Thank you so much for blogging about this!

    Marvellous you be

    Drew Taylor
    Associate Artist – Untitled Projects


  2. throckmorzog says:

    Are you wearing fur cuffs? The Victorians were so fascinated by the lines between alive and dead. Vegetarians and seance attendees alike often had taxidermied animals in their parlors and Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley on their bookshelves… what a neat mix.


    • serasara says:

      I am indeed! Vitnage Arctic fox apparently. The headpiece was porcupine quills as long as your arm.

      The whole morbidly gothic thing was very Victorian – there was one woman at the party wearing two foxes sewen together, with glass eyes and everything.


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