The matter of fashion as artwork of art is often disputed, to the extent that calling it Hamlet of the visual art world wouldn’t be incorrect. Just like architecture and design, form follows function here, but it’s commercial aspect ad accessibility (something the aforementioned arts rely on too) are what keeps it away from inclusion into the realm of highbrow art. With the Metropolitan Museum of Art and V&A trying to change this discourse—the Met Gala going the distance to make this happen—fashion exhibits have altered the way we access wearable art. Seattle Art Museum’s Yves Saint Laurent: The Perfection of Style is just the latest one in this endeavour. Here’s a roundup of the best fashion exhibits of all time.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, 2011
Perhaps the first fashion exhibit to stir the kind of unprecedented intrigue previously reserved for rock concerts, The Met’s Savage Beauty turned the concept of a fashion exhibit on its head. Curated a little over a year of Alexander McQueen’s death, the exhibit allowed the visitor to be privy to one of contemporary fashion’s most brilliant mind. By opening up the conversation on the inner workings of McQueen’s design process and the various themes—from nationalism to Romanticism—this exhibition demonstrated the kind of virtuosic excellence the designer was capable of, demonstrating just how complex this can be…almost like art. Needless to say, The Met hit its highest attendance record in 40 years.
Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s, 2014
If you thought London was swinggin’ in the ’60s, the Club to Catwalk exhibit at the V&A brought to light a whole new explosive London from the ’80s. With over 85 outfits once worn by the like of Adam Ant and Leigh Bowery, the exhibition traces two trajectories—that of the evolution of the subcultures around the club scene and of the evolution of high fashion—until the final revelation – their intersection. From celebrating alternative movements like the New Romantic or High Camp, to charting the evolution of cult labels and alt magazines of the time (BLITZ in particular) this exhibit was a time capsule for London in the 1980s.
Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations, 2012
Sure there is art and fashion, and sure there is the convergence of the two. But the fundamental question this raises is the dialogue between the two. Instead of searching into the underlying purpose of the two, Met’s Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations delved into the lives of two pioneer Italian designers of their time – Elsa Schiaparelli, whose shocking life and ways resulted in the birth of Shocking Pink, a colour that encapsulated her perfectly, and Miuccia Prada who is notorious for being the most anti-establishment designers of our time. It is through a series of “impossible conversations” that a new facet of their works is thrown into sharp relief. The result is a new understanding of their designs, through the eyes of the other’s.
The Fabric of India, 2015
A part of V&A’s India Festival, The Fabric of India was a celebration of Indian textiles and fabrics dating way back from the 3rd century to present day, a legacy that has survived the test of time, technological advancements and cultural shifts. With about 200 curated objects, ranging from clothing, textiles, heirloom fabrics and contemporary fashion. This extensive collection was an inclusion of religious aspects, symbols of power and monarchy, results of industrial revolution and the global identity fashion has now assumed.