The fashion industry has for a long time functioned like a secret club: insiders privy to new trends and forecasts long before the general public. With recent technology this gap has been closed, allowing live streaming of shows and designs accessible to the global public within minutes. In one sense, it has never been so easy to be on trend. The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A Museum) in London isn’t satisfied with this sort of thinking though; to them, nothing compares with seeing the thing itself live. Hence the beginning of Fashion in Motion
A program dedicated to recreating fashion shows within the museum — open to all who should want to attend a live show —their most recent project was for London-based designer Peter Jensen to mark his brand’s 10-year anniversary. The catwalk featured Jensen’s signature bold, inspired, and playful designs, including those that have been worn by the likes of Dakota Fanning and Drew Barrymore. Working hands on with the V&A Museum, Jensen and museum staff compiled a catwalk show exhibiting the designers most remarkable and memorable pieces, while also pulling items from his most recent collection as well as accessories and collaborative pieces.
In conversation with Jensen about the curated show, the designer talks of his many sources of inspiration including tabloid figure Tanya Harding and the 1970s waif Shelley Duvall. “Each season we have a different muse, someone a bit different, someone interesting,” says Jensen.
It’s evident from his praise for his show’s host that the designer feels honoured to be Fashion in Motion’s recent featured subject. “I have always loved the museum, having first visited on a school trip to London from Denmark as a child,” he shares. It is a truly inspiring place and one that I have always dreamt of being locked in after hours or for a whole weekend without anyone else about.”
Conceived in 1999 by museum curator Claire Wilcox, her passion project was born out of a desire to break standard museum practices — i.e. keeping clothing on display upon static mannequins shown under low light, all so as to preserve the garments — and show fashion as it is meant to be seen: in motion. So she began recruiting contemporary fashion designers to showcase their own pieces within the museum. “Initially she started out with just two models and several Phillip Treacy hats,” recalls current V&A Museum Curator of Fashion in Motion, Oriole Cullen. “The girls just wandered around the Museum galleries so that the visitors could happen upon them. As the program grew it became increasingly popular, and due to the number of visitors, it had to be moved to a static space. Now we do four shows in one day with a seated audience of 400 at each show.”
Overall, the response of the fashion community has been extremely positive: designers are very happy to be approached and to take part. When approached they are then invited to decide the agenda. It is not necessarily a retrospective, but in the past presentations like this have been the norm, a fact that the V&A Museum curator is quite excited about. “When they do chose to do a retrospective its always fascinating to see their body of work all in one show,” she says. “The designers themselves often remark how revealing it is for them to go through their archives and revisit previous collections.” In essence, the museum isn’t just bringing fashion inspiration to the public, but to the designers themselves.
Public reach is something the museum has not taken for granted. On board with current trend in uploading major fashion shows to the World Wide Net, Fashion in Motion too can be seen streaming live on the internet with featured collections including Christian Lacroix , Jean Paul Gaultier, Roksanda Ilincic, Yohji Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen, Erdem, Gareth Pugh, and Vivienne Westwood.
It’s obvious to see amongst the pack Britain’s most prominent fashion names accounted for with more to be revealed, a goal of the museum, shares Cullen. “While we like working with international designers, we are very keen to promote the wonderful design work that is going on in this city,” says the curator. “We are incredibly lucky to have such a rich array of fashion talent on our doorstep.”
And for the museum, it’s all about sharing this wealth of fashion, specifically making high fashion accessible to a wider demographic of the population through online, but also its visitors who are invited without cost to physically experience the sound, the atmosphere, and the sense of anticipation that characterizes a live runway show.