V&A to celebrate ‘power of the diva’ in new exhibition, from Cher to Marilyn Monroe

Featuring costumes worn by Maria Callas, Cher, Elton John, Marilyn Monroe and more, the V&A’s latest fashion exhibition will capture the ‘creativity, ambition, and resilience’ of these showstopping divas

Cher, Elton John and Diana Ross, part of V&A Diva exhibition
Cher, Elton John and Diana Ross, who feature as part of ‘Diva’ at the V&A this summer
(Image credit: Photography by Mark Sullivan/Contour by Getty Images, courtesy of V&A)

Announced today, a new exhibition at London’s V&A museum will celebrate ‘the power of the diva’, collating costumes from some of the world’s most glittering stars – from Maria Callas to Marilyn Monroe, Elton John to Cher.

‘Diva’  (24 June 2023 – 7 April 2024) aims to capture the ‘creativity, ambition, and resilience’ of these global megastars with over 60 looks from stage and screen, many of which are on display to the public for the very first time. 

These include a fringed black gown worn by Monroe as Sugar ‘Kane’ Kowalczyk in 1959’s Some Like it Hot, the only surviving dress worn by icon of silent film Clara Bow, and various works by American fashion designer Bob Mackie, who is best known for his longtime collaboration with Cher. 

Defined by themes of drama and excess, other garments on display include a Louis XIV-inspired look – complete with towering powdered wig and train – worn by John for his 50th birthday celebration, and Janelle Monae’s ‘vulva pants’ designed by Dutch designer Duran Lantink for the music video ‘Pynk’ in 2018.

A pink gown by Julien MacDonald for Dame Shirley Bassey’s Glastonbury performance in 2007 – complete with diamanté-studded Wellington boots – also features in the display, which is completed with photographs by Sheila Rock, David Corio and Nick Knight and ephemera from the various stars’ careers. 

As for the contemporary definition of diva – derived from the word ‘goddess’ in Latin and first used to describe a celebrated female opera singer – Bassey offers her thoughts in a statement from the V&A. ‘It is wonderful to see the diva celebrated in this exhibition, and to see the V&A reclaiming the title,’ she says. ‘To me, diva is all about the power of the voice and the ability to entertain, to succeed against odds, to fight, and breakthrough barrier after barrier: to have your voice heard.’

In this spirit, ‘Diva’ will be divided into two acts; the first will look towards the ‘timeless opera diva’ of the stage, while the second will look towards those artists which have subverted and reclaimed the descriptor. These include Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Prince, Siouxsie Sioux and RuPaul, each of which has expanded the meaning of ‘diva’, often against the backdrop and challenges of social and political change. 

‘The V&A, with its world-class collections of art, design and performance and its mission to inspire creativity in all its forms is the perfect stage to celebrate the multifaceted Diva,’ says Kate Bailey, curator of ‘Diva’.

‘Today the word diva holds a myriad of meanings. At the heart of this exhibition is a story of iconic performers who with creativity, courage and ambition have challenged the status quo and used their voice and their art to redefine and reclaim the diva.’

‘Diva’ runs 24 June, 2023 – 7 April, 2024 at London’s V&A museum, with tickets available now.


Fashion Features Editor

Jack Moss is the Fashion Features Editor at Wallpaper*. Having previously held roles at 10, 10 Men and AnOther magazines, he joined the team in 2022. His work has a particular focus on the moments where fashion and style intersect with other creative disciplines – among them art and design – as well as championing a new generation of international talent and profiling the industry’s leading figures and brands.