ed. by Marie Riegels Melchior and Birgitta Svensson. Bloomsbury, August 2014. 232 p. ill. ISBN 9781472527660 (pbk.), $34.95; ISBN 9781472525246 (cl.), $112.00.
Reviewed March 2015
Kathryn Stine, Senior Digital Curator, Visual Resources Center, UC Berkeley History of Art Department, email@example.com
The edited collection of essays, Fashion and Museums: Theory and Practice includes accessible yet provocative discussions of historic, contemporary, and potential intersections between fashion and museums. This publication comprises papers originally presented at a 2011 conference titled "Public Wardrobe: Rethinking Dress and Fashion in Museums" that was organized by the Nordiska museet in Stockholm in collaboration with the Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen. Thorough notes and references at the end of each essay cite an emerging literature on the topic drawn from scholarly, trade, and popular publications as well as primary sources. The index could include more synthesized topical access points, and while the essays very effectively describe often elaborate and visually-refined fashion exhibition strategies, readers may long for a few full color examples among the well-chosen black-and-white images.
Fashion and Museums is divided into three sections which successively build a reader's understanding of the topic, from historical context to controversies and then case studies that show museological methods put into practice. Editors Marie Riegels Melchior and Birgitta Svennson have balanced historical examples of fashion's inclusion in museums with a critical perspective on how this inclusion has evolved over the latter part of the twentieth century through present day. Discussions throughout the publication investigate relationships that fashion and museums have to the academy, the market, and both popular and elite culture.
The role of fashion in a museum context (and vice-versa) are relatively novel areas of study relevant to students and scholars of fashion and exhibition design, visual culture, and the politics and economics of both the fashion industry and cultural heritage institutions. Several essays here establish key figures, events, and exhibition strategies in the short history of fashion's inclusion in both canonical as well as bespoke, innovative fashion museums. A number of the essays dissect a distinction between fashion and dress, bringing up important questions about clothing's role as a social signifier and how this can be explored through museum collections and exhibitions. As such, this publication will appeal to those looking to develop collection strengths in the history of fashion, dress, and exhibition design as well as the critical study of fashion and its cultural and economic role in contemporary culture.
In her introduction, Melchior quotes an aspirational assertion made by curator Claire Wilcox: "Clothes are the shorthand for being human." The editors of and contributors to this publication make a compelling case for the potential museums have to explore how clothes, whether interpreted as either fashion or dress, provide evidence of the complexities of the human experience.