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September 25, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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Museums get Fashionable: Why New Zealand Needs to Celebrate its History of Fashion

Over the summer in New York, cues of people snaked around the block, all waiting for the hottest new thing to hit the city.

It was not the newest Apple product that had people waiting up to five hours in the rain but the exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. This was held in celebration of the late British fashion designer, who since the early 1990s continuously took the fashion world by storm with his controversial and trend-setting designs. With 661,509 visitors, it was the eighth most popular exhibit to be held at the Met in its 141 years. The museum has recently announced that the recent four major exhibitions held at the Met, including Savage Beauty, generated $908 million from visitors to the city. Clearly such exhibitions are money-making opportunities for public institutions and hosting cities. The public want to see fashion design, and institutions that give it to them are increasing their visitor numbers exponentially. New Zealand should get on board this international trend and celebrate its history of fashion.

Firstly, some of our public museums and galleries are already taking part in this evolving area of research and exhibition display. Te Papa continuously exhibits its textile collections in the Eyelights space. Currently on show is New Zealand In Vogue, which celebrates the former New Zealand version of the publication synonymous with fashion. There are other significant textile collections all around the country, including the Auckland Museum and the Hawke’s Bay Museum.

Secondly, in 2009 the New Zealand Fashion Museum was established and has already produced two exhibitions. Their most recent is titled Black In Fashion, opened to coincide with the Rugby World Cup. The New Zealand Fashion Museum is an organisation ‘without bricks and mortar’ and with that brings flexibility that enables exhibitions to be curated to suit the space and the designs. Black in Fashion will be travelling to Wellington in February next year.

Finally, two recent publications to be produced in New Zealand on the history of fashion are The Dress Circle: New Zealand Fashion Design Since 1940 by Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, Claire Regnault & Lucy Hammonds and New Zealand Fashion Design written by Angela Lassig. Not only do these publications contain mouthwatering imagery of some of our most celebrated fashion designs, but they open the door for further research and publication.

I believe these are all steps in the right direction. Douglas Lloyd Jenkins argues in his introduction to The Dress Circle that New Zealand has previously treated its fashion history as a recent phenomenon, starting year one at the moment ‘The New Zealand Four’ (Zambesi, Nom D, World and Karen Walker) took on London Fashion Week in 1999 and the New Zealand fashion industry got significant public recognition for the first time. However there is a far richer history of our fashion industry to be discovered, a lot of which has not been recorded. There needs to be major steps taken in order to preserve that history, including research, collection and conservation. Exhibitions that celebrate fashion are clearly popular and public support is there. Unveiled: 200 years of wedding dress is visiting Te Papa from the Victoria and Albert Museum in December and is already looking to be a popular exhibit with a large amount of pre-press and public interest. Next time, Te Papa could call upon its massive textile collection to present an exhibition the size of Unveiled, but instead celebrating New Zealand fashion history and our designers. Perhaps Karen Walker or Zambesi will get a queue around the corner too…

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