Style: Fashion stories and the modern spectacle

It’s pretty clear to the pop culture fans that fashion exhibitions are enjoying a boom in popularity right now. From Charles James: Beyond Fashion to Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty and the upcoming Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition at the NGV in Melbourne, the idea of fashion as art has increasingly moved into the mainstream.

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A few weeks ago I attended a talk by the journalist Mitchell Oakley Smith for the launch of Fashion detective at the NGV. There was one point that struck me particularly; as fashion shows become more of a performance and as brands turn their advertising and visual merchandising into an exhibition, what does that mean for the modern museum? If exhibitions are entertainment and each collection becomes an exhibition, the line between them must surely blur.

The rise of digital culture and the changing face of fashion media mean that brands have more power than ever before to control their own stories. There are now countless ways to communicate with your customer; whether it’s through the myriad of fashion bloggers, traditional advertising or through new digital platforms. Conversely this makes it harder for brands to cut through the noise, with designers making ever grander statements. This may explain the trend for fashion shows as performance. From Karl Lagerfeld’s Chanel Supermarket to Marc Jacobs’ nostalgic farewell at Louis Vuitton, so much depends on the spectacle.

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It’s not just traditional forms of showcasing each collection that are evolving. Fashion brands are increasingly traversing the boundaries between commerce and art. Take Prada’s ‘A Therapy’ film directed by Roman Polanski , which was released last year. It showed there’s no longer such a need to rely on the costume department of a big budget movie to showcase your new collection. You can create your own mediums.

So where does this leave the museum? I personally think there’s an important role to play in impartially telling fashion stories. In the same ways magazines have had to adapt to a new digital landscape, there’s still room for careful and authoritative curation of content. That’s why I’m looking forward to the new Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition and the ways the museum will find to tell that story. Also, I need to find a way to get to London next year to catch Savage Beauty at The V&A. Is it too early to start a petition to bring it to Australia?

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