Fashionable Fashion

When has fashion become fashion in the exhibiting world, conveying a message of creativity, sustainability or consumerism? There are many different spheres which can be accentuated and illustrated by means of fashion. There were quite a few international exhibitions staged from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, where fashion were not illustrated as fashion but presented in the context of “industry”. The main goal was to promote the national identity through industrial achievements and economic value of the country which presented its goods.

However, the first prominent fashion exhibition, where fashion stood out as fashion, took place in the year 1900 at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. A large fashion hall, the Pavillon de la Mode, was divided into four seasonal sections, each organised thematically around specific events from the elite social calendar. Winter was presented by the great hall of a luxury mansion, while Spring appeared as a défilé (fashion show). Summer demonstrated the seaside resort at Deauville and Autumn featured the Longchamp races. All the exhibitors were members of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and included such names as Worth, Doucet and Paquin.

Worth’s exhibition stand 1900. Source: Google

Jacques Doucet (1853-1929) and his couture

Madame Paquin’s exhibition stand 1900

Within the frame of that exhibition there was an installation from a museum of historically styled fashionable fashion, Le Palais du Costume, coordinated by Monsieur Félix, a prominent couturier.

Meanwhile Victoria & Albert Museum in London hardy acquired any “fashionable” historical dress into their collection until the outbreak of the Second World War, when male curators on a senior curatorial level were, due to military service, replaced by female colleagues.

In 1913 the museum accepted a donation from the exclusive department store Messrs Harrods Ltd., consisting of fashionable “English costumes”, worn by men, women and children between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including  some earlier items. The dresses were displayed in the Long Gallery of the V&A museum. Contemporary dresses were at that time considered to lack historical distance and perspective and thus were a sort of an anathema for the curators.

A Gallery in the Victoria and Albert Museum devoted to Old English Costumes. Source: Google

The utility garments made for use during the war produced by Britain, created a huge interest in tenacious curators at the Brooklyn Museum and they asked for prototypes. The V&A acquired those samples for their own collection, which became the first collection of contemporary dress and was exhibited for the first time in the Britain Can Make It exhibition of 1946.

Waiting to see the Britain can Make it Exhibition – Victoria and Albert Museuim – London – 1946. Source: Google

Britain Can Make It, 1946. Source: Google


The fist curator for dress, Miss Madeleine Blumstein (later Ginsburg) was appointed at the V&A only in the 1950s. The Textile Department of the museum got “and Dress” added to its title only in 1978, what clearly illustrates that dress as such was only interesting as a textile from industrial and cultural point of view.

Apparently, each time has its own fashionable appearance, whether we like it or not. The fashionable side is an equal complement to the industrial and social ones, as fashion is a mirror of an epoch.

Exhibition “Utopian Bodies Fashion Looks Forward”, 2015 Liljevalchs, Stockholm

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