Museum Life: collecting contemporary fashion

I often get asked what’s the oldest and newest garment in the collection I work with. The oldest is a bit difficult to answer as it depends how you define garment, but the most recent is 2012. Although museums are sometimes thought of as places of old stuff, many acquire contemporary items throughout collection areas. For example the Victoria and Albert Museum, London acquired a 2009 black mini mesh dress by Christopher Kane in 2010 and the Metropolitan Museum, New York acquired Alexander McQueen’s 2003 Oyster dress in 2003. These institutions not only have rich depositories of historic costume but also collect contemporary fashion. 

This fabulous example of contemporary Australian Fashion is the ‘Iced VoVo’ dress from the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney collection. Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales of Romance Was Born designed this dress for their S/S 2009/2010 Doilies and Lace collection. Flamboyant and whimsical the collection also included a 60s inspired crochet dress, octopus hats and a budgie inspired dress. Their clothes have graced the cover of Australian Vogue and in 2009 they won the Woolmark Young Designer Award. An eccentric and quirky take on a famous Australian biscuit this dress was acquired into the collection due to its Australian cultural references and that it was an iconic piece of 2009 Australian Fashion Week. This ‘Iced VoVo’ dress is significant as an example of unique and original contemporary Australian fashion design. Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales are among the most creative and challenging Australian design teams to emerge in the last decade.

What does the future of contemporary collecting fashion look like? How will Curators decide on new acquisitions in the future? I am not entirely sure. What I know is that items, like this ‘Iced VoVo’ dress will be acquired for originality in design and concept, popularity in the fashion media and local and international significance. I hope the acquisition of contemporary fashion will remain a part of museums and galleries with fashion and dress collection, as they document the fashion industry for now and the future.

What contemporary fashion item would you choose to acquire into a museum collection?


First image:  Ensemble, ‘Iced Vo Vo’ dress and shoes, designed and made by Luke Sales and Anna Plunkett of Romance Was Born, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 2009. Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia

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