Each year the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York stages a major exhibition focusing on an specific era, brand, or theme. The Met’s 2011 exhibit, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty became the museum’s most viewed fashion collection of all time. Almost 700,000 visitors saw the exhibition during the three months it was on display, and the museum extended both the opening hours and the exhibition period to accommodate the high public demand.
Sadly, I did not make it to the Alexander McQueen exhibition; instead I found myself on the opposite coast at the Balenciaga in Spain exhibition at the de Young Museum, San Francisco. The exhibit focused on the impact that Spanish culture and history had on the work of Cristobal Balenciaga, and focused on six recurring themes in his work: Spanish art, regional dress, the Spanish Court, religious life and ceremony, the bullfight, and dance.
I had seen pictures and illustrations of some of the pieces on display, but they were even more breathtaking up close. The attention to detail and the use of colour and texture was remarkable, as was the quality of materials used – and all were displayed like precious works of art. My only criticism was the lack of movement; Balenciaga designed clothes to be worn, and subsequently, to move. For museum exhibitions of modern fashions, curators get around this problem by showing the original runway footage of a look in the display. When exhibiting clothing that was never caught on film, museums instead try to recreate the effect of movement. They achieve this with varying success, but sadly this touch was lacking in the Balenciaga exhibit. So should fashion be confined to the catwalk or enclosed in glass cases for all to see?
Fashion as art is a growing trend and is hopefully one that all fashionistas will be able to enjoy at some point. The Met Costume Institute 2012 exhibit has just been announced as Elsa Schiaparelli and Miuccia Prada: On Fashion. I imagine this speaks for itself.
Image – Viva Vivanista