Ultra Vanities at the Goldsmiths’ Company: Bejewelled Make-Up Boxes From the Age of Glamour

More than 300 pieces from the 1920s to the 1970s by the likes of Cartier, Tiffany, Boucheron, and Van Cleef & Arpels.

The exhibition begins in the foyer, with compacts filling two glass display cases, as a sort of advertisement for the rest of the collection. One flight up, and the real glamour takes form.

In the main room it is quite dark, and the items themselves sit in lit cubbies in the walls, framed by red velvet drapes. This gives a somewhat voyeuristic impression, even a brothel effect; you feel like you shouldn’t be looking.

The make-up boxes are exquisite, especially the earlier items. Below are two very different compacts from the 1930s:



Parisian music of the era is piped gently into the rooms, evoking illicit speakeasies from a time long since past. You don’t quite feel that you are ‘there’ but the exhibit is fairly successful in inducing nostalgia. However, the beautiful interior of the building is an excellent vehicle for the collection, and there is an actual powder room in the ladies bathroom.

Although the exhibition is small in size, it’s certainly worth taking a look if you are at all interested in make-up, fashion, glamour or even design, especially since entry is free.

You can purchase the accompanying book Ultra Vanities – Minaudieres, Necessaires and Compacts by Meredith Etherington-Smith on Amazon.