Fash­ion-hun­gry public drives suc­cess of de­sign mu­seum


Their cre­ations are usu­ally re­served for a few wealthy clients, but Euro­pean mu­se­ums are cur­rently al­low­ing the public to ad­mire up close the works of star fash­ion de­sign­ers Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen and Karl Lager­feld.

The Gaultier show, which opened in Paris Wed­nes­day as part of a global tour, and the McQueen one in Lon­don run­ning for the past 2 weeks have proved to be hits ac­cord­ing to or­ga­niz­ers.

The Lager­feld ex­hi­bi­tion, in the Ger­man city of Bonn, has just be­gun and is cer­tain to draw crowds cu­ri­ous about the Chanel designer's work.

“Those who don't get a chance to at­tend the fash­ion shows rarely see what a haute cou­ture cre­ation looks like,” said Jean-Paul Cluzel, the pres­i­dent of the Grand Palais ex­hi­bi­tion hall in Paris dis­play­ing the Gaultier ret­ro­spec­tive.

“Even the very best images, the very best tele­vised re­ports are not able to show the rich­ness of the ma­te­rial, of the em­broi­dery. Only an ex­hi­bi­tion al­lows com­mon mor­tals to see that.”

The suc­cess of the Gaultier ex­hi­bi­tion shows no sign of flag­ging. It has al­ready been seen by 1.4 mil­lion vis­i­tors since start­ing out in Mon­treal in 2011 and mak­ing eight other stops around the world.

The French designer is fa­mous for in­no­va­tive and some­times out­ra­geous pieces, per­haps most fa­mously Madonna's cone bra.

In Lon­don, the Vic­to­ria and Al­bert Mu­seum is fea­tur­ing “Sav­age Beauty,” the big­gest-ever ex­hi­bi­tion in homage to Alexander McQueen, the bril­liant UK designer who com­mit­ted sui­cide in 2010 aged 40.

The dis­play started out in New York's Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in 2011, or­ga­nized by its Cos­tume In­sti­tute, where it achieved “block­buster” sta­tus that year with 660,000 vis­i­tors.

Trend Started by US Jour­nal­ist

The Met has been at the fore­front of the thriv­ing ret­ro­spec­tive shows of de­sign­ers ever since launch­ing the trend in 1983 with an Yves Saint Lau­rent show that was the brain­child of in­flu­en­tial Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist Diana Vree­land.

Vree­land, a Harper's Bazaar and Vogue colum­nist who was also con­sul­tant at the Met's Cos­tume In­sti­tute be­fore her death in 1989, was be­hind nu­mer­ous fash­ion exhi- bi­tions around the world.

“She felt that cloth­ing as art had to be as­so­ci­ated with in­di­vid­u­als, charis­matic in­di­vid­u­als in any pe­riod,” ex­plained Harold Koda, the cu­ra­tor in charge of the Cos­tume In­sti­tute.

“She didn't be­lieve that art per­co­lated up from the masses, she be­lieved it trick­led down.”

But, Koda ad­mit­ted to AFP, “she had a very loose con­nec­tion to fact. I think if peo­ple saw her shows now they would say 'But there is no con­tent!’”

That as­pect has changed, as to­day's public is more so­phis­ti­cated and knowl­edge­able, the cu­ra­tor said.

Now, the fo­cus is on more sub­stance — “the public re­quires it,” he said.

'In­ter­pret­ing,' Not Sell­ing the


Olivier Ga­bet, direc­tor of Paris's Mu­seum of Dec­o­ra­tive Arts that or­ga­nizes two or three fash­ion ex­hi­bi­tions each year, also stressed how much more de­mand­ing the public has be­come.

“It's so hard to es­cape fash­ion th­ese days. Ad­ver­tis­ing is ev­ery­where. And, what's more, it fas­ci­nates peo­ple,” he said.

What is im­por­tant in the mu­seum ex­hi­bi­tions, he said, is to in­clude sci­en­tific and artis­tic in­for­ma­tion. “There has to be a point of view and anal­y­sis. Oth­er­wise it's just a mar­ket­ing op­er­a­tion.”

The col­lab­o­ra­tion of a designer with a mu­seum show­ing his or her work is valu­able, but con­tains its own dan­ger of the designer “also be­com­ing his own cu­ra­tor.”

The need to keep some dis­tance was the cause of some ten­sion when the Mu­seum of Dec­o­ra­tive Arts showed works last year by the Bel­gian designer Dries Van Noten. “There was a real dis­cus­sion — a fairly sharp one some­times,” be­tween the designer and the mu­seum, Ga­bet said.

Koda said “it's al­ways more fun” to have the artist in­volved in the ex­hibit.

But he too noted that “it's very im­por­tant for the mu­seum to draw a line” and tell the designer that their work is be­ing in­ter­preted and “it isn't your rep­re­sen­ta­tion of your own work. And that's not ne­go­tiable.”

He added: “A great art work is some­times be­yond the in­ten­tion of the artist.”


(Top) A man­nequin adorned in one of the first cre­ations by French fash­ion designer Jean Paul Gaultier is dis­played dur­ing a press-pre­view of an ex­hi­bi­tion de­voted to Gaultier’s work in Paris on Mon­day, March 30. (Above) Dresses of the “Punk Can­can” col­lec­tion are dis­played dur­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion de­voted to French fash­ion designer Jean Paul Gaultier in Paris on Mon­day.

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