new issue of KULTURKIK, a free, quaterly magazine about museum experiences, has just been released. The magazine is aimed at the general public – an elaborate advert for cultural heritage institutions, if you like, but with decent journalism and graphics – and distributed through museums in the greater Copenhagen area. And this, the third issue, zooms in on the trend for fashion in museums over 23 pages of articles and interviews (OK, some of the connections are a bit contrived, such as the styling of John Falk’s museum types, but still).


The main article builds in part on an interview with and the report by Marie Riegels Melchior, so it’s all familiar territory to me (as it should be), and mirrors the sentiments and articles quoted in earlier blogposts here and here. But it is remarkable that this trend is now so significant that it attracts general interest. 

In short, the rise in fashion exhibitions is attributed to two things: a growing appreciation of fashion as a cultural form reflecting society, and the realization that fashion exhibitions attract a large audience (generating good press coverage as well as controversial sponsor deals). This popularity is in part thanks to the tradition for staging couture as theatrical spectacle introduced by Diana Vreeland during her time as curator for the Met. Curators from Charlottenborg and Arken also point to the cross polination between art and fashion as a reason for exhibiting fashion.

Whatever the reason, there are a lot of fashionable exhibitions around these days. Right now, in Copenhagen, there’s a choice of the already mentioned Rokoko mania at Designmuseum Danmark, Royal Galla at Amalienborgmuseet; India: Fashion Now at Arken and Mirror mirror at Den Sorte Diamant. A very diverse selection, actually. Perhaps, over time, my choice of focus will seem less exotic than it does now.

Rock on \\m// (> . <) \\m// ! Listening to Metallica’s Enter Sandman – one of the tracks on the fashion exhibition mixtapes I asked my informants to make as part of the cultural probes, which I’ve now turned into one long playlist on YouTube. Sure woke me up. And this music business really is a great way to get transported into the mood or mindset set by my informants. Yay! There’s quite a lot of dark and moody stuff on the playlist (and a few off-beat ones, like Metallica, Verdi and Doris Day. Plus the quirky, dancy, electronica numbers, but still often with a sombre twist). Interesting that this is the sort of connotation fashion has, or the mood that my informants would like to set for a fashion exhibition – very similar to the kind of soundtrack you would find in a lot of fashion shows. It would seem that in a fashion context, dark and moody translates as cool and sexy.

I’m using the playlist as background music as I’m sorting through the images I’ve been sent and trawling instagram for additional imagery (pictures uploaded by my informants).With all the weird and wonderful photos, links, cards, maps and comments that have been trickling in over summer, I now have a whole wall full of material. I mean, get a load of this:

The amount and quality of the returns is pretty much as I hoped and expected – including a nice selection of surprises. As described in an earlier post, I will not attempt to analyze this material, but use it for inspiration. Still, there are a couple of things that call for a comment.

Like the woman who sent a picture of her son in response to the #Copenhagen Style-theme. Bang on the money; kids surely are the must-have accessory around these parts, and the whole toddler-hipster (tipster? toddster?) things is huge too. Fashion is many things. Or the one budding designer, who sent a picture of a drawing she made in response to #My media. (Her list of bookmarks for where she finds her inspiration online, which she also sent, is a mile long, and she runs a blog and uses her phone to share images on Instagram; still it’s the pen and paper that is closest to her heart). The media-category also included pictures of newspapers, magazines and a website, but no mobiles, tablets or laptops (is this because the mobile was used for taking the photo, or because the informants didn’t consider it a medium?). And then there’s the nail varnish collection inpspired by baroque with names like Johan Sebastian Bach, Peter Paul Rubens and Ludvig XIV (an all male cast, as was the order of the day) – again, i didn’t see that one coming, but it’s a great reminder that inspiration has no limits, and fashion goes all over the shop when it comes to finding it.

Interestingly, I have had only one response to my call for Polyvore sets (+ one in paper form, i.e. a response to the restyling of New Look, but shying away from using the social media platform). Similarly, I have had only one Pinterest board, even though most repondents have a profile (but seem to use it irregularly). So even though these social media platforms may hold an interesting potential seen from a museum mediation point of view, getting people to use them to participate – or at all – could prove a challenge. Which is pretty much the experience in the museum community anyway. And only one person opted to visit the Rokoko-mania exhibition, even though all had been issued with two free tickets. She also tried the (in beta) accompanying app, but found that it didn’t really add much to the experience, although she thought it useful that she could use the app to read the texts in preparation for the visit.

The workshop is scheduled in a couple of weeks. Only four of the original eight informants will participate (one withdrew from the whole project; another has sent in a good lot of photos but couldn’t make the date; one contributed a map and other paper-tasks, but has now moved elsewhere, and one I just never heard back from (all the more puzzling as she was the one who posted on her own blog how interesting and relevant the project was for her). But then they are all really creative and engaged in each their particular way, so I’m sure some interesting things will come out of the workshop. Now it’s up to me to plan it well!

A belated note on the press coverage of Copenhagen Fashion Week and some good points from Eva Kruse, director of Danish Fashion.

As per ususal, and in keeping with the intentions of the CFW to be not just an industry event but a public festival, fashion week brought an influx in fashion-focused articles in the general press. Judging by the standard of the articles, however, it would seem that the extra attention is a bit of a mixed blessing, as they reinforce the stereotypical take on fashion as a rather foolish affair; lazy journalism for the silly season. Granted, I have not been doing any kind of proper survey on the coverage, and so these pickings are just the bits and bobs I stumbled across.

Take this summary from (DK equivalent to the Guardian), linking to picture galleries from this seasons catwalk shows -nothing wrong with that – but with a header reading Inspiration: Your look for next summer (implying that fashion followers are a mindless herd) and with the image caption Moonspoon Saloon recommends that we wear turbans and clown-ish jackets next summer (a really daft idea, we understand by this condescending phrasing, which completely ignores the performance art and queer groundings of the brand, and hence the context of the collection and show).

Even more toe-curling was a summary double interview on (the public broadcast company), with quotes like:

– Den her uge for mig har været 60er modernisme og regnbueis. Man kan kalde det soft porn – der er noget erotisk gemt. Man har lyst til at spise det. Man har lyst til at spise hinanden, siger [Chris Petersen, editor of Cover magazine]
-This week for me has been about 60’s modernism and tri-colour ice-cream. You could call it soft porn – there’s something erotic hiding. You feel like eating it. You feel like eating eachother, says [Chris Petersen, editor of Cover Magazine].

Sådan en skatteforvaltningsdame skal da også sidde og se sexet ud. Så vil man også hellere betale sin skat, siger [Lotte Freddie, modejournalist]
The taxlady should also look decorative and sexy. Then you’d be happier to pay you tax, too, says [Lotte Freddie, fashion journalist]

And the spot-on ‘fashion is so gay’-cliche:

– Du var lige ved at få en fashionorgasme af alle de farver, griner Chris Pedersen.
-You almost had a fashion-orgasm from all those colours, laughs Chris Pedersen.

(A response to a previous, non-informative and rather embarrasing video/article in which the same ‘fashion expert’ Lotte Freddie has a rant about the Danes’ predilection for subdued colour, whereas Lotte herself favours pink, we learn. After all these years covering fashion, is this really the best she can do? Is this an expert perspective on fashion? Or just cheap TV?)

To be fair, and fortunately, the coverage also included slightly meatier (albeit still in this low-carb-high-protein fashionable diety way, we’re not talking real brain food here) articles like a newsy item explaining how front row seats formerly given to fashion bloggers are now reserved for buyers, thanks to the recession, and a breakdown of the nature of trends in an interview with fashion researcher Maria McKinney Valentin. And Berlingske added a few articles on the business aspects to their runway reports.

Fashion is also culture
Overall, I can only second the points made by director of the Danish Fashion, Eva Kruse, in an opinion article from 2010; Mode er også kultur (Fashion is also culture).

In the article, she argues that fashion deserves a more serious coverage – in the press, and in museums! and as a research field –  one that considers the cultural aspects of fashion. This approach would not only better reflect the real impact of fashion, but also strengthen the fashion industry.

Hear hear!

Generelt i det kulturelle Danmark har diskursen omkring mode et lidt gammeldags islæt, og noget tyder lidt groft sagt på, at man helst kun udstiller tøj, hvis enten en dronning eller en viking har haft det på. Og det er egentlig ærgerligt, for en mere kulturorienteret tilgang kunne være til gavn for både forbrugerne og statskassen. Tøj er jo ikke blot ensbetydende med penge i kassen hos forhandlere og eksportører, eller at vi kan holde varmen de koldeste trefjerdedele af året. Nej – tøj er også i høj grad med til at definere vores identitet over for vores omgivelser. Præcis som dine præferencer inden for musik, indretning og lekture gør det, bidrager også det tøj, du iklæder dig, til at forme, hvem du er – eller hvem du gerne vil være. Derfor kan mode også sagtens gribes an som et seriøst stofområde i medierne og kan fx anmeldes på præcis samme vilkår som musik, kunst og film.

At formulere mode som kultur gør altså ikke blot modebranchen stærkere, men kan i bedste fald skabe en enorm merværdi, fordi Danmark i fremtiden blandt andet skal tjene penge på at sælge kultur og kulturelle oplevelser. Så hvorfor ikke føje moden ind under »kulturhatten« med en seriøs behandling af stoffet i medierne samt en opgradering af udannelsernes forskningsfelt på moden?

Eva Kruse, August 2010,
(As the quote is long I won’t translate it; it’s not that she says anything revloutionary, but more the fact that she makes this statement that I find interesting)

As described above, this change hasn’t quite happened yet. But it’s good to know that Danish Fashion is on the ball. And it will be interesting to see if the report on fashion, media and culture mentioned in the article will provide some good points as to how museums may play their part in the process. (Unfortunately I can’t find a link to the report, but managed to get a pdf copy from Lead Agency).

A highlight of this summer holiday was a visit to the Fashion Museum in Bath, a museum small in size but with a grand scope and a substantial collection of female costume dating back to the 17th century as well as modern womenswear fashion and couture.

Whilst I remembered to record voice memos and take snapshots (blurry and underlit misrepresentations, I’m afraid, and I do apologize for the poor quality) during my visit, I later regretted not doing a videoblog on site, as this might have been the best way to capture and share the experience. My errand with this post is not an analysis or presentation of the museum as such – Marie Riegels Melchior has already done a good job at that in her report on fashion museums for Designmuseum Denmark – but rather a few personal comments on the things that stood out or inspired me, that is, considerations on a visitor experience.

Yet another fabulous frock
Having spent hours and hours in the costume department at the V&A in the past, I was somewhat surprised to realise that actually I wasn’t all that interested in marvelling at the beauty and the details of the dresses on display. Perhaps all those visits to my Kensington haven along with all the books on fashion and costume I have collected over the years did finally manage to quench my thirst for brocade and bias cut? So really I wasn’t that excited to see ‘yet another’ pannier/empire line/flapper dress (exquisite as they were). Which in itself gave me food for thought – if even someone like me, with a specialist interest an a life long infatuation with fashion and dress, is not that interested in a fashion exhibition, then who is? Then again, I’m sure there’s many more like me out there who are still hungry for more, as I might also be on another day. And I guess there will also be egyptologists/archeologists/geologists who are less than enthused by ‘yet another’ canopic jar/stone axe/fossil, which wouldn’t be an argument for not showing these in a museum. Still, going back to fashion exhibitions, perhaps curators also experience some form of faille fatigue, needing, and therefore curating, bigger kicks in the form of fantabulous couture blockbuster shows to get their fashion fix.

But let’s get back to Bath, which did have displays that pushed my buttons.

Childhood pleasures

Take this riding costume from the current sports display. No sartorial wonder, but just like the one Jill manages to find in a pawn shop in the first book of the series (Gitte-bøgerne, in Danish (and btw, That’s 30 years ago, and I still recall that passage?)) that I used to devour as a kid, dreaming that one day I too would have my own pony, and be kind and pretty and win people’s hearts and all the gymkhanas. In other words, all my girly dreams and aspirations in textile form.

The lure of fashion in a nutshell.

Apart from this ensemble, I was mainly inspired by the museum’s many diverse takes on mediation. Like the dressing up activities, which catered to adults and children alike. And judging by the buzzing, giggling and posing for photos going on as I passed through, this really hit a spot. It was social and fun, playing to the inner princess, and at the same time a physical learning experience that would help you relate to how dressing up in corsets and crinolines would have been like, and thus appreciate the collections in a new way.

Sense and sensibility
The ‘Behind the scenes’ section was a double-bill kind of affair, showcasing both a chronological display of 19th century fashion and a glimpse into the art of textile curation, as the dummys are set amongst storage boxes in the actual museum store. The subdued lighting and half unpacked collection pieces wrapped in acid-free paper illuminates the delicacy of the textiles. Furthermore, the historical fashions were set in context by paratexts quoting contemporary literature, and elaborating on the cultural significance of fabrics and styles of the time. The juxtaposition of the dresses on display with excerpts like

‘She lay awake ten minutes on Wednesday night debating between her spotted and her tamboured muslin, and nothing but the shortness of time prevented her buying a new one for the evening’
Northhanger Abbey by Jane Austen 

brought both to life, and with the museum being situated in the Assembly Rooms in the middle of Bath with all its regency splendour, it was almost an experience of Gesamtkunst. Brilliant.

A similar take was used in the display of 20th century fashion, were minute descriptions of the objects were omitted, to be replaced by associations with cultural references.

Current fashion
Another interesting idea was the display of current trends using collection items, to illustrate the cyclical nature of fashion.

Finally, I liked the ‘Dress of the Year’ concept, each year inviting a front figure of fashion to select an outfit that captures the Zeitgeist. Only I was a little bemused by the use of batting to line the floor, giving the crammed display more of a home made santa village feel than the Ice Queen glamour intended to compliment the gown by Sarah Burton for McQueen.

‘Mode er mange ting, mest af alt når folk tør!’ (Fashion is many things, most of all when people dare!) Quote Ditte Andersen, in H&M’s current Trendscout competition on Facebook.

The prize is a ticket to the Roskilde music festival, where the lucky winners will be assigned to document festival trends and eye-catching styles, (brilliant bit of social media marketing cum trend research there, H&M!), and the contestors are now presenting themselves, their style and their thoughts on fashion on the FB event page in the hope to get picked for a spot in the Reboot Camp.

With statements like the one above, this makes for a very fine source of inspiration on how people view fashion, so here’s a couple more:

I guess these are some of the thoughts that I would like to hear from my informants; in fact, people like these could be my informants, people who will define themselves as having a passion for fashion (even if in this case the real driving force may be the hope of a cheap festival) What is interesting to me is that this take on fashion is very different from the museums’ understanding, where the thinking behind the former focus on the curation of costume or dress still seems to dominate even if the focus is now on fashion, i.e. it is centered around artifacts, artistry & artisanship and not on cultures of use.

I guess I need to qualify that a bit, but feel that it makes more sense to do that in yet another post.