We suggest you grab a ticket now before they sell out...
Picture the scene at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute back in 1973. Standing in legendary ex-Vogue editor Diana Vreeland’s office is a tall, shy intern called Andre Leon Talley. “She said, ‘André: you realise that Cleopatra is the queen of all of Egypt. But she is a teenager…And she spends all day in her gardens, in the sun, walking her white albino peacocks’. She was giving me the thoughts to explore. She didn’t say, ‘Go put this dress on a mannequin’.” They were discussing how to display a gold lamé dress worn by Claudette Colbert in the 1934 film Cleopatra, for a show on iconic Hollywood costumes. What did Talley do? He nipped off, begged a technician for gold paint and sprayed a mannequin with three coats of it to match the dress. The effect was “gold on gold, like the sun,” Talley remembered. Vreeland (of course) loved it and the show itself, ‘Romantic and Glamorous Hollywood Design’, was a roaring success. Before Vreeland hit the Met’s Costume Institute, where she became Special Consultant after leaving Vogue, it’s hard to believe no one was interested in fashion exhibitions.
Seen as a dusty, fusty niche aimed at costume geeks and industry types, Vreeland, with her antennae for the zeitgeist and her genius for innovative presentation, built the Costume Institute’s shows into the first modern fashion blockbusters. Her ‘Treasures of Tutankhamun’ set a Met record for visitor numbers in 1978. It was only overtaken last year by the ‘Heavenly Bodies’ exhibition (which looked at Catholicism and fashion) which was visited by 1,659,647 people. London’s V&A has seen ever-increasing success in recent years with standout shows including 2015’s ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’, which attracted more than 480,000 visitors, and last year’s ‘Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams’, which sold out all pre-bookable tickets only three weeks into its six month run and had to be extended for a further seven weeks. In 2020, fashion is entertainment and is now considered part of the cultural conversation in the same way as say, an exhibition on the latest Japanese photographers or a study of Impressionism. The new Alexander McQueen store in London even includes a special exhibition space which will house past collections, talks and other events. The Design Museum has a starry new director (ex-RA boss and arts broadcaster Tim Marlow) and looks set to rival the V&A with some of its fashion offerings this year. So, without further ado, here are the fashion exhibitions to get excited about and get booking ASAP.
When: Now until 16thFebruary
Why: Still not been? You must. The Mary Quant retrospective is one of the V&A’s biggest ever successes and is on until February – this is your last chance to catch it. There was a public call-out for original pieces that resulted in several star exhibits donated by members of the public. Revel in a rollick through Swinging Sixties London and marvel at the iconic Quant designs that launched the concept of affordable ‘youth’ fashion.
Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk
When: Opens 29thFebruary
Why: Ever wondered what John Galliano, a geisha and 16thcentury Dutch paintings have in common? Why, the kimono, of course. The first of the V&A’s major exhibitions for this year will trace the history of the Japanese design from the 16thcentury to its influences on modern-day designers and culture. Expect press buzz a-go-go and the presence of influencers like Tokyo electro DJ Madame Yulia for the opening in February.
Bags: Inside Out
When: Opens 25thApril
Why: Your Chloe ‘Aby Lock’ obsession is now officially explained. This year in sponsorship with Mulberry, the V&A is celebrating bags in all their glory – why we love them, where they began (that would be with the medieval ‘chatelaine’) and will explore the history of iconic examples including Maggie Thatcher’s top-handled number and, of course, the Carrie Bradshaw Fendi Baguette that launched the notion of the ‘It’ bag. We cannot wait.