Museums Get Fashionable

It was a banner year for the fashion exhibition in 2011 and the pace shows no signs of slowing down in 2012.

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PARIS — Fashion is letting its exhibitionist streak run wild.

Whether organized by the curatorial staff of a museum or commissioned by a brand and brought to a host institution, showcases are multiplying, and attendance is surging.

One indicator of fashion’s drawing power was this spring’s “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which attracted 661,509 visitors, placing it among the institution’s 10 most visited exhibitions.

“Clearly the critical as well as popular success of the McQueen show suggests that fashion design has a more secure place in the precincts of an art museum,” commented Harold Koda, curator in charge of The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. “What is endlessly fascinating about fashion is that it can be approached and interpreted from so many different angles.…In the end it is about the object: its transformational originality, its details of unequaled technical virtuosity and its incomparably compelling aesthetic.”

“There’s a loyal following — besides the fact that fashion is fashionable,” agreed Pamela Golbin, chief curator at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris. “There’s something very intimate about clothes.”

Indeed, her museum extended the run of its hit Hussein Chalayan retrospective through Dec. 11, and is gearing up for the March 9 opening of “Marc Jacobs Louis Vuitton,” which is bound to attract healthy interest given recent headlines. As reported, the American designer recently halted negotiations to become the new couturier at Christian Dior and is expected to remain at Vuitton, where he’s been artistic director since 1997.

A rash of other exhibitions this past year underscored the popularity of style showcases:

• “The Art of the Automobile: Masterpieces of the Ralph Lauren Collection” attracted 152,000 visitors over its recent four-month run at Les Arts Décoratifs.

• Long lines also were a common sight outside the Pushkin Museum in Moscow earlier this year, when “Inspiration Dior” — boasting 120 couture dresses displayed next to priceless artworks — drew some 250,000 visitors.

• Chanel racked up 70,000 visitors to its “Culture Chanel” expo at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai, which subsequently moved on to Beijing’s National Art Museum of China.

• The Jean Paul Gaultier retrospective, which moved in November to the Dallas Museum of Art, attracted more than 173,000 visitors during its initial run at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, its second most visited exhibition in the past five years after “The Warrior Emperor and China Terracotta Army.”

• Max Mara’s “Coats!” — on display at Moscow’s State Historical Museum until Jan. 10 — has already logged more than 90,000 visitors as the retrospective visited Berlin, Tokyo and Beijing.

Then there were shows devoted to Azzedine Alaïa at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands and the Walter van Beirendonck retrospective at the Fashion Museum in Antwerp. Both shows run into 2012.

The pace of fashion exhibitions won’t slow next year, either. The Fortuny Museum in Venice will unveil a show devoted to Diana Vreeland in March, the same month the Design Museum in London opens its Christian Louboutin retrospective. The Barbican in London in April will open its show called “Fifty Years of James Bond Style,” with pieces from Giorgio Armani, Prada, Oscar de la Renta and other designers. The next month will see the opening of the Victoria & Albert Museum’s “Ballgowns: British Glamour Since 1950,” with designs by the likes of Zandra Rhodes, Norman Hartnell, Catherine Walker, Alexander McQueen, Erdem and Gareth Pugh. And let’s not forget the Costume Institute’s upcoming show “Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada on Fashion,” which it no doubt hopes will replicate the success of the McQueen show.

According to Chalayan, exhibitions are the exception to what is often perceived as an “isolated” fashion world.

“It reemphasizes the fact that fashion is a part of culture, and a lot of us forget this,” he said. “It reaches people who are not just interested in fashion. It adds a lot of value to what we do.”

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