Out of fashion – in Utrecht

Utrecht’s Centraal Museum is celebrating it was the first museum to employ a paid fashion curator. It celebrates in style: an impressive fashion exhibition numbering over one hundred items can be visited till the 22nd of October 2017. The exhibition title “Out of Fashion” is of course a small joke, but also hints at how items are displayed.

For the items are exhibited in an interesting manner. This becomes clear the moment visitors leave the “catwalk” to the exhibition. On entering the first room, visitors look down into the first display area, in which costumes are paired. After descending steps, one can wander four rooms focusing on themes.

Items are not presented in the usual, historical time-line manner. No, here are original toile de jouy dresses, lambs-of-mutton sleeves and other come-and-go designs or details, paired with modern takes. At various points throughout the exhibition, curators or fashion designers, old films or modern documentaries can be watched. Why use an old pattern, why reintroduce mutton-of-lamb sleeves, why preserve fashion and how?

As the museum explains: visitors find themselves immersed in a world of 18th-century robes, royal gigot sleeves and experimental men’s suits of today. Who are the designers, and who are the customers? How are these remarkable designs preserved, and when can a fashion design be considered ‘deceased’?

Most of these questions are answered in the exhibition. One thing becomes clear though: ideas may go out of fashion, nothing in fashion remains out of fashion for ever. But a few questions remain, like a small mystery: for whom was that beautiful court-dress designed? Was it really created for unhappy Queen Hortense?

The museum’s fabulous collection was started by first fashion curator. She was an aristocrat, though also a hard-working woman. She not just bought fashion; she asked family members and friends to donate items. The collection focused on preserving historical costumes, like the dress possibly designed for but never worn by Hortense de Beauharnais.

According to the museum, the focus has changed over the past century. Historical costumes and traditional costumes remain important, but just as important are modern ones and “conceptual and contemporary national and international fashion“. The last room of this exhibition certainly shows futuristic, modern creations.

The exhibition and way in which fashion items are displayed revolves around four themes. These are designers and creators; the wearers (usually very well-heeled); the restorers and preservation; the visionaries mainly found in the last room.

Thus visitors can watch a video in the third room, explaining the restoration of a beautiful dress, which is on display right next to the video screen. On certain days, visitors can even watch a restoration in progress in the same room. On these days, all questions can be asked and are answered on the spot.

Here, texts explain why certain items are in show-cases instead of shown on mannequins. In other rooms, texts explain who the designers were, sometimes the names of creations and what some designers – like Fong Leng – thought about their creations.

There are items worn by royalty and diplomat-wives, but also traditional costumes which are still worn on special occasions. Shoes and other accessories can be admired along the walls of one room. At times, one wonders: “Did we really wear this? Don’t wanna be seen dead in it now!”

The Centraal Museum worked closely with the Dutch fashion duo MAISON the FAUX. These talented designers “showed their work during the New York Fashion Week and the Guangzhou Fashion Week“. For the exhibition, MAISON the FAUX collaborated with ‘Tenant of Culture‘. Inspired by the different themes of the exhibition, they designed a series of objects which “preserve clothes ‘for eternity‘”.

Elsewhere, costumes designed by famous names can be admired. These include items by Iris van Herpen, Maison Martin Margiela, Vivienne Westwood, Jan Taminiau, Issey Miyake, Viktor & Rolf, Craig Green and Junya Watanabe. Half-way through this exhibition, my head was already tolling: so much to see, so much to absorb, so much to admire … from Worth to the latest designs – and many items “to die for”.

This exhibition is certainly a Valhalla for Fashionistas! Though it is also interesting for those who want to find out more about fashion, how toile de jouy and other items are produced, how dresses are designed, or even want to try out old-fashioned fashion items. Not at all into fashion, but being dragged along by a family member or friends? This museum offers more than one exhibition and across the road lies Miffy’s Museum.

Centraal Museum, Utrecht: “Out of Fashion” can be admired till the 22nd of October 2017. Exhibition catalogue on sale in the museum shop; 13 Euro.
Museum café: around the corner. As mentioned: the Miffy Museum lies across the road – but be careful while crossing, as it is a small but busy one.

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