“Catwalk”- fashion at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

The Rijksmuseum is an altogether more professional and smooth-running operation than the van Gogh. If visitors need to queue outside one of the entrances into the museum, at least the museum shelters them from the worst of the Dutch weather – though the wind can howl freely through the tunnel underneath the building.

Once through the entrance, one descends stairs which lead into the large hall with museum shop, museum café, cloak room, information desk, toilets, lockers. If you do not like stairs, there are elevators available. The only snag at this museum: there are never enough free lockers.

It took over ten minutes to secure one. But after belongings were stuffed inside and the door locked, it was back to the large hall and one of the entrance gates. Card or ticket are scanned and one is free to roam the museum. Which is such an infinitesimally better experience, than the cumbersome kettling and queuing at the van Gogh.

Many tourists forget that the Rijksmuseum is not just about Rembrandt’s “Night watch”. It is ages since I visited that painting. There are rooms full of interesting paintings and statues. There are rooms full of applied art. There are temporary exhibitions which change regularly, in the museum’s Philips-wing.

The small exhibition on “Kimono Girls” is situated there. Right next to this exhibition, another one recently opened. It is all about fashion and is aptly called “Catwalk”

201602 RM Catwalk 1Curators selected male, female, children’s clothes from the large “wardrobe” the Rijksmuseum owns. The result is an exhibition of clothes dating from the 17th century to the 20th. Best thing to do before entering this exhibition: sit down and watch the introductory video, which gives background information to the exhibition – or scroll down and click the Youtube link.

On entering the first room, children’s fashion is shown by a circle of small mannequins circling slowly around a larger one to the tune of nursery rhymes. High on a wall, another video shows the changing female fashion silhouette.

Of course, all these clothes once belonged to members of the upper-classes. The poor had no money to follow fashion or regularly buy new clothes. They handed them down, sold them, cut and sewed them into other items, finally turning pieces into patchwork blankets.

The next room contains the earliest clothes on show: 17th century male costumes. They belonged to murdered members of the Orange family. A few pieces of bones from a shot wound are actually on display as well. Less gruesome is the male cloak which was designed to be worn multiple ways.

201602 RM Catwalk 4In another room, a splendid 19th century dress takes one’s breath away. But it is the room after this one, which gives you the idea you are at an important fashion house presenting its collection. It has a real catwalk! It is so popular among visitors, it takes ages for a chair to become available.

Once seated, grab the brochure which goes with your seat. Take a quick look at the number of the doll approaching you. Look up the number in the brochure and start reading the information on the dress, suit, pyjama, cocktail frock.

There are over twenty items being modelled, ranging from dresses from the late 19th century till works by Schiaparelli and contemporaries. The only thing lacking is you being able to order the numbers you like and having them made to measure at the fabulous Maison RM, Amsterdam.

201602 RM Catwalk 2The next room shows row after row of costumes from the 18th and 19th century. It is quite a dazzling display. Where the previous room provides sitting visitors with plenty information, more information on material, changes in styles, ways costumes were worn and altered, might have helped.It is now a display of frocks and costumes which only experts can date. The average visitor misses a lot of interesting, historical details.

Here, the green riding dress bordered by lilies of the valley – try finding it – is my coveted ensemble! Also take time to admire the exquisite embroidery on buttons and borders of male costumes. The hours that went into these creations!

Elsewhere, there is a white dress made for a modern woman who did not burn her bra, but her 19th century corset. As with the bound feet of Chinese women: the bodies of European women were used to being rigidly supported by corsets. The corset may have been burnt; underneath this layered dress a woman still wore body-support.

The exhibition’s poster girl wearing an 18th century dress … is photo-shopped. The dress is too delicate to wear. It is not at first obvious, but the dress is so extremely low-cut, nipples become partly exposed. Not unusual at the time: milk bottles were milk bottles and nothing sexy about milk bottles. That may be the case, but what about comfort?

There are more rooms full of beautiful dresses which make today’s fashion seem terribly drab. In some rooms, the dolls wear masks, as if going to a ball in Venice. In another one, the hairstyles are paper-like period pieces.

201602 RM Catwalk 3Towards the end of the exhibition is a beautiful 18th century wedding dress. The embroidery is exquisite. Natural materials ensured the colours were preserved. Whoever wore it, really had to enter a room sideways. The hips are artificially enlarged to roughly two meters.

Fashionista or not: this is an exhibition a woman has to visit! Just park partner and kids in front of the Rembrandts, Breitner’s girls, ship models and other boys’ stuff. Tell them to find you at the catwalk and make sure, you take plenty time to admire the costumes and sit down to experience the catwalk!

“Catwalk” can be visited at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam till 16th May 2016
Youtube: Rijksmuseum introductory video to “Catwalk”



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