Fashion is art for the everyday. In the same way we experience culture by getting lost in a museum of paintings or sculptures, we can learn much about history and society in a fashion museum. All the best fashion museums, dedicated to specific designers or products, display pieces as important to our culture as an original Picasso. Plus, they’re always in fantastic cities, in majestic buildings, and are home to irresistible gift shops. Here’s our top ten…
1. Victoria & Albert Museum in London, United Kingdom
The V&A is the world’s largest museum dedicated to art and design so is heaven for most fashion-lovers. In the fashion section, the museum displays over 400 years of both men’s and women’s style, in a remarkable permanent exhibition. Vibrant textiles, insane footwear that look torturous, and a gigantic selection of hats are just some of the things on show. As well as the permanent displays, there also many temporary exhibits dedicated to iconic designers like Alexander McQueen. Current exhibitions include Fashioned from Nature, focusing on materials of fashion and the sources of our clothing, and Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up, exploring the life and fashions of the famous Mexican artist. The V&A’s permanent exhibits are free to enter, but you need to buy a ticket for one of the temporary displays – usually for a very low cost. They also put on some incredible workshops on and their gift shop is heavenly.
2. The Museum at FIT in New York City, USA
Housed in the Fashion Institute of Technology, this museum has earned the proud nickname as “the most fashionable museum in New York City.” It’s permanent exhibition alone houses over 50,000 garments and it constantly has rotating temporary displays covering a variety of designers, products, or trends. Every six months, the special exhibitions section is given a complete makeover with a new theme and exhibition. The current exhibition, running until November 17th, is called Fashion Unraveled and it examines the concepts of imperfection and in-completion in fashion. Many of the objects on display tell intriguing stories about their makers or wears through their breaks or blemishes. The Museum at FIT also hosts an abundance of special events, inviting designers, authors, experts, and other leading figures in the industry for discussions with the public.
3. Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, USA
Housed in the Met, the largest museum in America, this exciting department is a sprawling collection of costumes from the fifteenth century to the present. The space has been redesigned over the past few years with the guidance of Anna Wintour. The complex has many different spaces dedicated to varying eras and costumes. The collection is not on permanent public view due to the sensitive nature of the textiles, but you can go on one of the tours available. “Fashion in Art” dicusses constume history wihtin the context of the Museum’s collections of armour, textiles, paintings, scupture and decorative arts. Or, “Costume: The Art of Dress” is a recorded audio guide narrated by actress and style icon Sarah Jessica Parker through the different highlights of the costume collections. At time of writing this blog, the tours are closed due to renovation and movement of objects, but keep your eyes peeled for its reopening because the Met is a fantastic experience.
4. Christian Dior Museum and Garden in Granville, France
Located in Christian Dior’s beautiful childhood home – a cliff-top villa – this museum is as interesting as it is aesthetically stunning.The museum opened in 1988, and houses collections of the designer’s finest creations, as well as pieces from other big designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Raf Simons. The current exhibition, running until January 2018, is called “Treasures of the Collection” and takes you on a journey through each collection since it’s opening year until now. It’s fascinating to learn how each collection is put together and how they continue to grow, live, and honour Christian Dior. Don’t miss the gardens – they’re enchanting and offer superb views of the hills below.
5. Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence, Italy
Dedicated to Salvatore Ferragamo, a favourite of Hollywood stars, this museum is heaven for shoe-lovers. On display are heels designed for stars like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Greta Garbo. This museum is also housed in a striking building – the 13th-century Palazzo Spini Feroni which has been a Ferragamo workshop since 1938. Until March 2019, the primary exhibition is “Italy in Hollywood”; an exploration of Italian immigrants in Hollywood and their crafts. Inspired by Ferragamo’s time in Hollywood in 1915-1927, the exhibit explores music, film, art, fashion, and the influence of the Italian’s who helped to create Hollywood.
6. Tassenmuseum (Museum of Bags and Purses) in Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Starting as a collection of one womean, Hendrikje Ivo, and growing and growing each year, this museum is now the world’s foremost bag collection. Housed in a 17th-century canal house, the exhibitions cover centuries and centuries of pieces. Highlights include the 16-th century man purse with 18 secret compartments, as well as bags worn by famous figures like Madonna and Margaret Thatcher. The permanent collections are fascinating on their own, but Tassenmuseum also puts on a number of diverse exhibitions every year. The current exhibitions couldn’t be more different – besides the theme of bags of course – but they’re both provide insight into current society. “Made in Italy,” running until February 2019, explores what makes Italian style so distinctive, and why Italian designers rule the fashion industry each year. The other exhibition, on until the start of November, is called “The Stories We Carry.” This enthralling collection unravels the stories of refuges and their journey away from home. What do you take with you when you have to flee? By looking at the bags and belongings of refugees, this exhibition answers many questions about this current world crisis and its tragedies. The museum also offers High Tea in one of their magnificent 18th-century period rooms.
7. Gucci Garden in Florence, Italy
Located in the 14th century palazzo where Guccio Gucci started his label in 1921, this museum is dedicated to his unique designs and the fashion house’s rich history. Along with lots of art, Gucci handbags, couture gowns, iconic handbags, and other interesting items like bikes and cars, are on display. Each rooms is inspired by the codes that marked its history, with clothing designed by Guccio himself and past creative director Tom Ford. The museum hosts many collaborations with artists, puts on film screens, and there’s a Gucci-inspired cafe where you can sip espresso like royalty.
8. Palais Galliera, Musee de la Mode in Paris, France
This beautiful museum is housed in a lavish palace. Originally, the palace was constructed by the commission of Duchesse de Galliera to house her own art collection. As time went on, the palace has grown to house a collection of costumes, dresses, and other opulent garments of French fashion. The museum houses one of the world’s best collections of 18th-century dresses, including a bodice said to be worn by Marie Antoinette. It also showcases early Chanel garments, and has departments dedicated to high couture labels like Dior and Bamain. The palace is currently closed as the museum is being renovated and double in size, but if you’re in Paris late next year of in 2020, then it’s definitely worth visiting.
9. Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada
From ancient sandals, to Chinese bound shoes and yucca sandals, this museum takes you through an in-depth history of all things shoes. A whopping 4,500 years of the history of shoes are covered, exploring shoes as art forms, necessities, and of course, fashion. You can even see the iconic Union Jack platform boots worn by Ginger Spice. The current exhibition, “Manolo Blahnik: The Art of Shoes”, is running until January 2019 and is a retrospect on shoes as art by Blahnik, one of the biggest influencers in the industry.
10. The Foundation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, France
This museum aims to preserve the legacy of one of the world’s finest designers, Yves Saint Laurent. His partner, Pierre Bergé, opened the museum in 2002, when St Laurent announced his retirement. The stated goal is to “conserve the 5,000 Haute Couture garments and 15,000 Haute Couture accessories as well as more than 50,000 drawings and assorted objects that bear witness to 40 years of Yves Saint Laurent’s creativity.” There a huge spaces filled with his iconic designs, as well as temporary exhibits from contemporary artists who were inspired by the designer and his life.
You have to look your best visiting these fashion museums; here’s the perfect pair of glasses to complete your look…
Dark Havana round frames by Saint Laurent, perfect to wear while wandering his museum and admiring his designs.
Feel at home, drinking espressos in the Gucci Museum cafe, wearing these quirky Havana glasses.
What’s the best fashion exhibition you’ve ever visited? Tell us all about it in the comments below.