Museums cash in on fashion with new exhibits

Jean Paul Gaultier

French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier at the Dallas Museum of Art.

While in Dallas for market last week, I took in the Jean Paul Gaultier retrospective at the Dallas Museum of Art. You may remember that my friend Cindy Graff Cohen did a guest column here about it in December. I couldn’t wait to go and it didn’t disappoint.

Just as I felt last summer after seeing the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I was exhilarated and amazed at both these designers’ genius and grand intentions to challenge entrenched societal codes. They were true visionaries.

Fashion exhibits at museums are becoming significantly more frequent and more popular. Last summer’s McQueen exhibit at the Met was among the institution’s 10 most-visited exhibitions ever. Fashion is “fashionable” this year. What is the appeal?

“There’s a loyal following – besides the fact that fashion is fashionable,” noted Pamela Golbin, chief curator at Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris, France’s national museum for textiles and decorative arts, in the Dec. 30 issue of Women’s Wear Daily.

In addition, she says, “there’s something very intimate about clothes” that keeps these exhibits popular.

“What is endlessly fascinating about fashion is that it can be approached and interpreted from so many different angles,” said Harold Koda, curator of the Costume Institute at the Met. “In the end it is about the object: its transformational originality, its details of unequaled technical virtuosity and its incomparably compelling aesthetic.”

A spate of other museum fashion exhibits this past year highlights the popularity of style showcases.

“Inspiration Dior” at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow last year attracted long lines of viewers.

More than 70,000 visitors viewed the “Culture Chanel” expo at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai.

Max Mara’s “Coats” exhibit at the Moscow State Historical Museum logged in more than 90,000 visitors.

The opening gala for the “Balenciaga and Spain” exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco drew stars, fashion celebrities and six-figure donations

More exhibitions are set for this year. Next month, a highly anticipated show devoted to Diana Vreeland opens at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice; the first retrospective of Christian Louboutin shoes opens at the Design Museum in London; and an exhibit of clothing and accessories by both Louis Vuitton and Marc Jacobs opens at Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris. In May, London’s Victoria& Albert Museum opens “Ballgowns: British Glamour since 1950,” which promises to be an exceptionally glamorous combination of royal gowns and runway standouts.

US museums focus

Closer to home, “Yves Saint Laurent: The Retrospective” opens March 25 at the Denver Art Museum and covers more than 40 years of his work at Dior.

The Chicago History Museum, home to one of the top costume collections in the world, is showing work by Charles James though April 16. He is considered the first American couturier.

In May, the Met’s Costume Institute opens “Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada: On Fashion” in New York – an exploration into two very different iconic Italian designers.

The popularity of these museum exhibits highlights the significance of fashion as part of our culture.

While we see an upsurge in the number of television shows focusing on fashion design, let us not forget the wonderful opportunities to see – up close and in person – high-style classics by the real trendsetters of the fashion world, both past and present.

And if you have been procrastinating about flying to Dallas for the Gaultier exhibit, you have just one more week, my friends. It closes Feb. 12.

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