Costume Society, Costume Society Ambassadors, Reviews  |  September 30, 2015

Redefining the value of couture: Christian Lacroix at MUDE

For keen museum-goers Lisbon is an absolute haven (Museum of Tiles, Museum of Trams, Museum of Water, Museum of Coaches to name but a few) so while on a short city-break, I endeavoured to visit as many as I possibly could. After being recommended the MUDE by a tour guide, I ambled in out of curiosity and was left utterly astounded by the experience!

Museu do Design e da Moda (MUDE) is a stunning institution, the building alone is worth a visit. Located in what was formerly the headquarters of the Banco Nacional Ultramarino in Lisbon city centre, MUDE is an innovative use of a defunct building. Subverting its purpose by using existing interiors and features to showcase design from Portugal as well as the rest of the world, each floor of the former bank was dedicated to a different exhibit with the underground safety deposit space housing a temporary exhibition of Christian Lacroix designs.

Caleidoscopio: a alta costura de Christian Lacroix (Kaleidoscope: The Couture of Christian Lacroix) is the first in a series of exhibitions from the Fransisco Capelo Collection intended to make the restricted world of haute couture more accessible to the public. A selection of looks ranging from 1989 to 2000 collections showed Lacroix’s eye for colour, texture and technical awareness throughout his couture career, the notion of “kaleidoscope” being ever-present. Curated by Anabela Becho, each piece featured an explanation by Lacroix himself on the specific handiwork required to produce his designs and why each was selected.

The space was totally surreal; polished steel reflected jewel colours onto every surface as though I really was strolling through a kaleidoscope, and each piece was dramatically presented in a variety of settings, from inside a safe room to behind a reception desk. Each mannequin was beautifully and atmospherically lit. I was completely absorbed, I felt as though I’d fallen down a rabbit hole and found Lacroix at the bottom. The intention was to demystify the world of couture, and the harsh, functional geometry of the vaults helped to guide the eye towards the structure and skill involved with creating couture pieces.

It was a bizarre experience walking through the first heavy Chubb door, as though I had wandered in unnoticed and was soon to be escorted out by security. The character and identity of the gallery is integral to each exhibition; vaults once used to conceal and protect, now serve to display. Fitting that the deposit boxes and safe rooms which once housed vital documents, jewels and riches were now utilised as a platform for the most inaccessible level of fashion.

In the UK we have a strong record of unmissable design exhibitions, particularly focusing on designers. Fashion exhibitions are becoming larger and larger spectacles, and now integral to reaffirming a designer’s reputation in the 21st Century, so it is interesting to experience how institutes in other countries approach the huge task of representing design in their own way. It seems obvious, but fashion exists three-dimensionally and it makes sense for an objects’ surroundings to complement and interact with it in a physical way; MUDE integrated displays into the very concept of the museum. The completely unique setting of MUDE is an example of how to reinvent the rules of museum display and to create a dialogue between space and objects.

For me, what began as a moment of curiosity turned into one of my most memorable experiences in Lisbon and a highlight of my holiday.

FURTHER READING: MUDE: Design and Fashion Museum, Francisco Capelo Collection, Lisbon Barbara Coutinho, Scala Publishers Ltd., 2014

Sarah-Mary Geissler, Costume Society Ambassador 2015

  • Lacroix gown through a Chubb door, MUDE Lisboa. Photo by João Bacelar
  • Haute Couture behind bars, MUDE Lisboa. Photo by João Bacelar
  • Close up of Lacroix design next to safety deposit boxes, MUDE Lisboa. Photo by João Bacelar

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