Museum Life: The Australian Fashion Week archive

I received an interesting question from a Masters student in the UK asking about the difference between the display and collecting of fashion in an art gallery as opposed to a museum.  In my experience the main difference is in a gallery context, fashion is usually displayed on mannequins with minimal labels and descriptions. Much the same way painting and sculpture is shown. In the Museum I work at, when we display fashion it is done within its cultural, industry and historical context. This often means the use of audiovisual interviews with designers and other industry leaders. It may also include anything from newspaper articles, receipts, drawings, scrap pieces of fabric- items that help to build a story and context around displayed fashions.

An example of how fashion is displayed and collected can be shown in the context of Australian Fashion Week (now Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week). One of the biggest events in the Australian fashion calendar, fashion curators from the Powerhouse Museum have attended since its establishment in 1995.  Happening in the first week of May each year it showcases the Spring/Summer range from leading local designers. The Museum’s fashion curators attend the shows so they can document each fashion week. This is done through collecting select outfits as well as collecting everything from fashion week footage, photographs, invitation, delegate passes, newspaper articles and designer ‘goodie bags’.  The collecting of such items has led to the establishment of the Australian Fashion Week Archive at the Museum, which now holds over 15 years of fashion week related material.

The collecting of such material has made it possible for the Powerhouse Museum to do a range of fashion related exhibitions over the years. This includes Frock Stars: Inside Australian Fashion Week, which I have already written about in a previous post on travelling exhibitions. This exhibition included a range of material collected from Australian Fashion Week over the years, much of which would of been next to impossible to source at the time of the exhibitions development. This material also helps to give visitors an ‘experience’ of fashion week, they not only get to see fashions from the past 15 years but experience the role of a buyer, editor, model, makeup artist, producer, designer and celebrity. This has been achieved through the inclusion of invitations, front row interviews, hair and makeup displays, a VIP lounge and replica fashion designer’s studio. I think that the inclusion of such creates an behind the scenes experience of fashion week as opposed to simply seeing the fashions, it helps to describe the large workforce, passion, creativity and time that goes behind such an event.

I’d like to hear from you on this topic. How do you think fashion is exhibited differently in a gallery and museum context? In your experience, do you think one is better than the other?

Image: Exhibition view including Evening gown by Michelle Jank, 2007 (left) and  Iced VoVo outfit, 2009, (right) Romance Was Born, 2009 with invitations and newspapers in showcase, Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia, Photo: Geoff Friend

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