Exhibiting Fashion

By Babette Radclyffe-Thomas

How do you chart the history of every fashion-related exhibition hosted globally? A new project spearheaded by Professor Judith Clark’s team including the Society’s own Dr Ben Whyman (MWEG and Yarwood Awards Co-ordinator) aims to do just that.

The Exhibiting Fashion website is a growing archive of international fashion exhibitions developed by the Centre for Fashion Curation, based at London College of Fashion. “We want to provide the facts about exhibitions so that students and interested parties can look them up and explore them further. It is important as a Research Centre for Fashion that we create and facilitate rigorous research around the discipline and that we work collaboratively and internationally. This is an opportunity to pool information and stimulate debate,” Clark shares.

The website has been four years in the making;  the idea grew out of the book Fashion: An Anthology by Cecil Beaton Professor Amy de la Haye and Professor Judith Clark co-wrote together around the V&A’s Cecil Beaton exhibition. “We had both used the book repeatedly as a case study in our teaching as there were so many persistent parallels with contemporary exhibitions. The V&A Cecil Beaton exhibition spoke to many of the dilemmas of staging fashion in a museum. We asked Jeff Horsley to look at fashion exhibitions since that exhibition [1971] and he created a wonderful addition to the book entitled ‘An incomplete inventory of Exhibitions’ where he tracked what seemed to be an exponential rise in fashion exhibitions.”

The archive is organised chronologically, as the team felt that this added an important contextual framework, and uses images and description of each exhibition as issued by the host at the time. “These are not our words as we will increasingly find the language or preoccupations are outdated,” Clark emphasises. The Responses section of the website asks new voices to examine exhibitions, in whatever medium they like, for example a poem, a painting or a critical essay and the reception to the website has been widely positive so far. “We have been hugely supported as it is acknowledged what a huge endeavour this is and that it is free to use. We have a huge commitment to the scrutiny of this discipline.”

There was a great need for this project as Clark shares; “We built this website first of all for our students. We have always asked them to look at precedent and this provides an extraordinary resource for them as it is easy to use, to theme searches etc. Sometimes the smallest exhibitions had the greatest ambitions for change within our discipline. We are still searching for documentation of many we know are not yet listed.”

Head over to Exhibiting Fashion now and revel in the global history of exhibiting fashion.

This article first appeared in The Thread, the members' magazine of the Costume Society. If you would like to find out more about becoming a Costume Society member and receiving your copy of The Thread, read more here.

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