Self-promotion seems to be trending with fashion houses, both live and online

While museums have often staged professionally curated fashion exhibitions with great success, brands are increasingly bypassing them to put on shows under their own steam

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 September, 2015, 4:23pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 September, 2015, 4:24pm

In fashion, it’s all about the blockbuster exhibition, with multiple fashion houses staging their own exhibitions. Is it more than mere vanity?

In October 2000, the Guggenheim Museum  in New York opened a major retrospective of the work of Giorgio Armani.  The previous year Armani had become a benefactor of the museum, with an amount rumoured to be US$15 million. The museum denied that the exhibition of about 400 Armani garments was a result of the designer’s generous “gift”, but the exhibition – which went on tour to the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, as well as the Royal Academy in London – certainly sparked some cynicism.

Fifteen years later, single-brand exhibitions have become commonplace. “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” – which was created with the cooperation of the fashion house itself, in partnership with Swarovski  and supported by American Express  – was a  blockbuster hit this year at the Victoria and Albert Museum  in London, with more than 493,000 visitors. While there was collaboration with the brand, the show was rigorously curated (and any excess sponsorship money was sucked up by the elaborate staging).

In July, a major retrospective of the work of Yves Saint Laurent opened at the elegant Bowes Museum  in Barnard Castle,  England. “Yves Saint Laurent: Style Is Eternal”  runs until October 25. It was curated by the museum’s fashion and textiles curator, Joanna Hashagen,  in close collaboration with the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation  in Paris (although she made sure that the YSL pieces were put into context with clothes from the museum’s own collection) and is already the most popular exhibition in the museum’s 123-year history.

Life on Foot: Camper at the Design Museum | Exhibition Preview from Design Museum on Vimeo.

Other brand exhibitions include “Life on Foot”  at London’s Design Museum,  taken from the Spanish footwear brand Camper’s archives in Mallorca until November 1. And next month “Liberty in Fashion” opens on October 9 at the Fashion and Textile Museum  in London as part of the department store’s 140th anniversary celebrations (until February 28).

According to Nina Due,  head of exhibitions at the Design Museum, where the 2014 Christian Louboutin  show was the museum’s most visited exhibition (with Hussein Chalayan  and Paul Smith  close runners-up), the appeal is because “the exclusivity of these brands means they are not accessible to people on the street”. An exhibition opens up their world in a very democratic way, with recreations of designers’ creative spaces, sketches and an explanation of the processes used.

But there is also a rise in a new breed of what might be described as vanity exhibitions, where the brands can market themselves through Instagram and other social media. Fashion houses are no longer waiting for the honour of being invited to be the subject of an exhibition. They are bypassing the grand cultural institutions and doing it for themselves. “There is an influx of brands putting together shows about themselves and partnering with cultural organisations,” says Due. “The context is everything. We are the gatekeepers of the content.”

When the Design Museum exhibits brand shows, she insists, they curate them to make a culturally relevant show. The difference with exhibitions controlled by the brand itself is, Due says, that it simply becomes a form of advertorial.

In April, “Hermès Wanderland” was an exhibition opening up the world of the French luxury brand to the public with 4,000 objects from their archives at the Saatchi Gallery in London. And this autumn, Chanel will host three floors of Mademoiselle Privé,  which will be a “journey through the origins of Chanel’s creations”, including a rare chance to see Karl Lagerfeld’s  current Chanel haute couture collection up close. The exhibition will be free and run from October 13 to November 1 (mademoiselleprive.chanel.com).

Then there’s the Louis Vuitton “Series 3”, which opened this week  at 180 The Strand, London, a disused 1960s office building.  According to the organisers, it’s “an experiential fashion exhibition” that will take the viewer on a series of interlocking journeys through the creative processes of the luxury fashion house, and the world view of designer Nicolas Ghesquière.  

The show – designed in collaboration with Es Devlin,  the stage designer responsible for the 2012 London Olympics closing ceremony who is also working on the opening ceremony of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro – promises to be a total immersion inside Louis Vuitton’s autumn/winter 2015 collection.

With geodesic domes and giant 3D logos made from LED particles, it does sound quite intriguing. An “infinite show”features 48 LED screens with all the models from the A/W15 catwalk trapped in perpetual motion. The Walk-in Wardrobe room will have plexiglass boxes you can pull out allowing you to “interact”with the clothes - surely a poor substitute for simply going to the shop on Bond Street, where you can even try them on if you fancy - but the stickers that you can take away at the end of the show means you can, almost, own your own piece of Vuitton for free. All they ask for in return is that you share your experience on social media.

The Guardian