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10 Fashion Museums to Visit Before You Die

by Alexander Cavaluzzo on October 5, 2011

Editors note: As a small break from our extensive #OccupyUSA coverage we reached out to Hyperallergic’s art and fashion in-house commentator Alexander Cavaluzzo to divulge what he considers histop ten must-see fashion museums around the world. Where does one see haute couture on display? And where the hell in the world can we see Napoleon’s socks?

Here are his picks.

10. The Balenciaga Museum in Getaria, Spain

As the first museum dedicated to the so called “designer’s designer,” the Balenciaga Museum is a shining beacon to the Basque designer. Currently, its exhibition displays 70 articles of clothing and 20 accessories from the 1,200 pieces in its permanent collection, amassed from private collectors and close friends of the designer. Cristóbal’s career skyrocketed after WW II when he set up his business in Paris, producing modern, forward-thinking looks that contrasted to his peer Christian Dior’s sense of escapism and fantasy. But included in the museum are rare looks that predated this ascendance, offering a comprehensive overview of the designer’s creations.

9. The Gucci Museum in Florence, Italy

Gallery view of the Gucci Museum in Florence, Italy (photo via gucci.com)

The highly celebrated 90th Anniversary of the iconic Italian house culminated in this collection of Gucci works. Housed inside the medieval Palazzo della Mercanzia, the ultramodern space holds incredible gowns, sporty leather luggage, and even a Gucci-designed Classic Cadillac Seville. The museum does not exclusively display Gucci products, however. Including contemporary art installations in the galleries, the inaugural exhibition is a video installation by artist Bill Viola, to close in January.

8. The Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, Canada

Chestnut crushing clog, France (1800-1900) Bata Shoe Museum (photo via batashoemuseum.ca)

Carrie Bradshaw, eat your heart out. Containing nearly 10,000 examples of fashionable footwear in their collection, the Bata Shoe Museum celebrates the broadest scope of the singular accessory. With shoes from all seven continents, the museum contains more than just pair after pair of Manolo Blahnik strappy sandals. Chinese foot-binding shoes, European armor, Syrian kabkabs and Ugandan sandals are just some examples of their all-encompassing collection. Aside from their semi-permanent exhibition All About Shoes, the museum orchestrates inventive displays of shoes around themes such as time periods (the roaring ‘20s), cultural traditions (wedding shoes) or ethnicity (Native American footwear). And they own Napoleon’s socks.

7. The Fashion and Textile Museum in London, England

Founded by the exuberant, romantic British designer Zandra Rhodes, the Fashion and Textile Museum stands as a storehouse for contemporary clothing, fabric and jewelry. With pieces ranging from 1947 to today, the collection features notables like Christian Dior as well as British icons Mary Quant and Vivienne Westwood. The museum also has a very strong educational department, making a range of courses in design, styling and computer programs accessible to young patrons.

Slave Dress, Gift of the Black Fashion Museum founded by Lois K. Alexander-Lane (photo via nmaahc.si.edu)

6. The Black Fashion Museum Collection in the Smithsonian, Washington, DC

Lois K. Alexander-Lane was met with hesitation in 1963 when she declared her desire to write her Master’s thesis at New York University on the role of African-Americans in Manhattan retail. When she was told that was an anomaly, it prompted her to research the African-American involvement in American fashion. This culminated in this collection, highlighting everything from slave garb to works designed by prominent African-American designers. Now housed at the Smithsonian, the collection is an ever-growing historical record of Black fashions in the USA.

5. Musée Galliera in Paris, France

Housed in a 19th-century palace owned by the Duchess Galliera, the capital of fashion’s most exceptional museum preserves a staggering 70,000 articles of clothing. Naturally, France’s historical fashion icons Marie-Antoinette and Empress Josephine are represented heavily in the collection, with contemporary pieces from the likes of Jean-Paul Gaultier and Yves Saint Laurent rounding it out.

4. The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan

Vignette from "Gothic: Dark Glamour" at the Museum at FIT (via fitnyc.edu)

Helmed by leading fashion theorist Valerie Steele, the museum attached to one of New York’s pre-eminent fashion schools is the only museum in New York exclusively dedicated to the conservation and exhibition of fashion. With a budget-friendly entrance fee of $0, the museum attracts over 100,000 visitors each year, enlightening the public on an incredible range of fashion topics. Featuring 50,000 pieces in their permanent collection, as well as relationships with notable collectors, the Museum at FIT is able to display an enormous breadth of fashions, typically coordinated in informative exhibitions focusing on a facet of fashion history whether it’s Gothic: Dark Glamour or Eco-Fashion: Going Green.

3. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in Manhattan

After the massive ticket-seller that was Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, the Met has solidified its place as not only an authority on Western Art History, but the history of costume as well. With more than 80,000 costumes stashed in their archives the museum regularly mounts fascinating, crowd-friendly exhibitions such as 2008’s Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy, which showcased comic book costumes as well as the high fashion inspired by them, and 2009’s Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion, which focused on the influence of covergirls on designers’ creations.

2. The Kyoto Costume Institute, Japan

Though located in Japan, the scope of this museum is to examine the cultural importance of Western fashion and its impact on the world. Armed with 11,000 items of clothing and 13,000 fashion-related documents, the Kyoto Costume Institute examines the trajectory of European and American costume, with a strong emphasis on research and scholarly interpretations of fashion. They publish the biannual journal DRESSTUDY, and have collaborated with Taschen on a comprehensive catalogue of Western Costume from the 18th Century to present.

1. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England

Grace Jones in a maternity dress designed by Jean-Paul Goude and Antonio Lopez, (1979) Part of the Victoria & Albert Museum's Postmodernism Show (photovia www.vam.ac.uk)

Probably the leading museum of art and design in the world, the Victoria and Albert Museum has an extensive selection of fashion from the 17th-21st Centuries. The museum boasts over 14,000 items, including the wedding suit of James II of England (1633-1701). In 2004 they mounted the largest retrospective of British designer Vivienne Westwood, amassing 178 pieces from her archives. Currently, the museum is exploring transgressive elements of design in Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990.

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  • Cassandra Bromfield

    Got to get my passport together.

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