Fashionable exhibitions

Unsurprisingly, I have always had a bit of a penchant for visiting fashion exhibitions, from Erik Mortensen’s couture at Nordjyllands Kunstmuseum in ’89 to Peter Jensen’s muses in Designmuseum Denmark this autumn.

During my years in London, the fashion gallery at the V&A was a favourite hangout, where I could spend hours in the dimly lit and softly carpeted rooms, devouring 18th century panier dresses, richly embellished flapper styles and those Vivienne Westwood platforms. The Mode 2001 Landed-Geland exhibition in Antwerp was a remarkable spectacle, showcasing cutting edge fashion from the Belgian avantgarde alongside historical exhibits and art installations taking over the entire city. The current Walter von Beirendonck retrospective was another great show at MoMu, one which I intend to get back to in another posting. Not to mention all the great exhibitions in Øksnehallen, Dansk Designcenter and Kunstindustrimuseet over the years.

As a fashion student such shows have been an obvious source of inspiration, but there’s more to it than that. Enjoying the beauty and craftsmanship of historic costume, haute couture and straight-up, damn fine fashion is a feast for the senses. I mean, the fabrics! The colours! The luxury, sexiness, attitude and creativity. What’s not to like?

So to me it seems pretty self explanatory that museums are increasingly realising the potential in exhibiting fashion. Still it’s nice to hear it from the horses’ mouth, in this article from NYT which I just came across. Here Geraldine Fabrikant has spoken to the likes of Harold Koda, the curator in charge of the Met Costume Institute, who speaks of “a generational shift,” adding: “Until about 10 years ago, there was an uneasy relationship between museums and fashion. But today there are more museum directors who are engaging in contemporary fashion.”

One obvious explanation, which nevertheless needs pointing out comes from Valerie Steele, fashion scholar and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology: “Most museum administrators are not particularly keen on fashion because it is not generally considered art, and these shows do take place at art museums, but they recognize that they are popular with the public,” Ms. Steele said. “Of course we realize that art is commercial, but it has a reputation for transcending that, whereas clothing does not.” But, she added: “Women make up the majority of the museum-going audience. Museum directors are aware of that.”

Now, I’m sure that I’m not alone in believing that despite the obvious appeal and undeniable frivolity, fashion can indeed transcend its commercial bindings. The cultural aspects as well as the artistry and artistic quality should earn fashion a place in museum halls (and don’t even get me started on the structural downgrading of female interests!), so for me, the blockbuster potential is just an added bonus. Indeed, such exhibitions might even draw in a younger crowd, too.

Therefore, I’m looking forward to learning more about the motivations of the audience(to-be) and about the plans for the future of fashion exhibitions at Designmuseum Danmark, whom I will be collaborating with, and not least to learn about the findings of Marie Riegels Melchior in her research project on fashion in museums.

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