Seamwork
 

The Seamworker’s Guide to
Fashion Museums

Take a tour of the best museums fashion has to offer,
by Charlotte Powell.

The Seamworker’s Guide to
Fashion Museums

When I travel, and when I’m preparing an itinerary for a holiday, I always check whether the city I’m visiting has a museum dedicated to fashion or textiles. If so, the museum goes straight to the top of my sightseeing to-do list.

If you’re the same, you might want to select one of the cities below as the destination for your next holiday; they are home to some of the world’s best fashion and textile museum collections.

London, United Kingdom

The Victoria and Albert Museum

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Liberty in Fashion at The Fashion and Textile Museum, London

The Victoria and Albert Museum holds the national collection of textiles and fashion, spanning over 5,000 years and almost all textile techniques. The museum’s permanent collections, including a fashion gallery ranging from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century, are free to visit. Textile collections are archived in the dedicated Clothworkers’ Center, which can also be visited during monthly open days or by appointment.

While in London, also visit The Fashion and Textile Museum, the only museum in the UK dedicated to developments in contemporary fashion. Located in an area of London with historical connections to the leather, wool, hat, and glue trades, exhibitions often explore British fashion and textile history.

Paris, France

Palais Galliera, Musee de la Mode

Housed in the beautiful Palais Galliera, the museum hosts temporary exhibitions, with a focus on French fashion history and design. The Eiffel Tower is visible from the peaceful courtyard surrounding the museum.

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The Women of Harper’s Bazaar, 1936–1958,
at The Museum at FIT, New York.

Paris is a fashion lovers mecca, so it is no surprise this city offers many options for those seeking historical and modern inspiration. Visit Les Arts Décoratifs located in a wing of the Louvre Palace (separate from the Louvre Museum), or take a tour of Yves Saint Laurent’s workroom at the Fondation Pierre Bergé. You can also visit the Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins to admire gorgeous French tapestries and furniture.

New York City, United States

Museum at FIT

Centrally located in the garment district and free to visit, the Museum at FIT hosts concurrent fashion exhibitions, some of which are curated by Fashion Institute of Technology students. If you can time your visit to New York to coincide with the annual Male Pattern Boldness Day, which regularly includes a visit to FIT, to visit in the company of fellow sewists.

While in New York, also visit The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Costume Institute’s collection contains more than 35,000 costumes and accessories representing five continents and seven centuries. The institute typically hosts one major fashion exhibition per year (Diana Vreeland curated from 1972 until her death in 1989), and examples from the collection can also be found throughout the galleries.

Brussels, Belgium

Museum of Costume and Lace

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The Glamorous ’30s exhibition at The Costume
and Lace Museum, Brussels, Belgium.

Founded to celebrate Belgium and Brussels’ textile heritage, the museum typically hosts one temporary exhibition per year, with a focus on fashion history, and houses a permanent lace collection. Exhibitions usually include an interactive element.

Tokyo, Japan

Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum

Affiliated with Bunka Gakuen School, which has produced some of Japan’s most influential designers, the Costume Museum hosts a permanent collection plus multiple temporary exhibitions per year. Also check out Bunka Gakuen’s book, fabric, and notions/equipment shops.

Florence, Italy

Museo Salvatore Ferragamo

Housed in the thirteenth-century Palazzo Spini Feroni, home of the Ferragamo workshop since 1938, the museum celebrates the Ferragamo Company and hosts temporary fashion exhibitions and film screenings. Highlights include shoes designed for Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Greta Garbo.

While in Florence also see the Galleria del Costume, which explores the history of fashion in Italy, and the Gucci Museum. Located in Florence, where Guccio Gucci started the label in 1921, the Gucci Museum showcases the history of the company within a building founded in 1308 to support textile guilds.

Getaria, Spain

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum

Located on a hillside in the Basque fishing village of Getaria where the designer was born, the museum celebrates Balenciaga’s history and legacy through permanent and temporary exhibitions.

Antwerp, Belgium

ModeMuseum (MoMu)

In 1988, several innovative Belgian designers, known as the Antwerp Six, showed their work together at London Fashion Week. When the ModeMuseum opened in 2002 it specifically focused on the Antwerp Six and their contemporaries, but has since expanded to include current designers, with two exhibitions per year. The museum is located in the heart of Antwerp’s fashion district in a nineteenth-century former department store.

Mexico City, Mexico

Museo Frida Kahlo

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Kahlo’s clothing was an extension of herself, her culture, and her artwork. Photo credit Jason Tester.

The Casa Azul (Blue House) is where Frida Kahlo was born, lived, and died, and is now a museum to the artist. It includes a sizable collection of Kahlo’s clothes, including gowns inspired by traditional Mexican handiwork.

Toronto, Canada

The Bata Shoe Museum

Home to the world’s largest collection of shoes and related objects (their collection boasts over 13,000 items!), which traces the cultural history of footwear over 4,500 years.

While in Toronto, also see the Gallery of Textiles & Costume at The Royal Ontario Museum.

Granville, France

Musée Christian Dior

The museum, which celebrates the work of Christian Dior, is located in Dior’s childhood home, a pink cliff-top villa on the outskirts of Granville, not far from Mont Saint Michel. The surrounding gardens are free to visit.

St. Gallen, Switzerland

Textile Museum

The museum preserves and celebrates international textile history, with a particular focus on Swiss embroidery and lace production. Their vast collection includes artifacts such as historical embroideries from the fourteenth century on, handmade lace from major European lace-making centers, ethnological textiles, historical fabrics and costumes, needlework utensils, and contemporary textile art objects.

Bath, United Kingdom

Fashion Museum Bath

Founded from the personal collection of a fashion historian, the museum’s permanent collection focuses on the history of fashion from the seventeenth century to the present. Highlights include work by British designers including Mary Quant and Alexander McQueen.

Notable Mentions
  • The Vienna Museum in Vienna, Austria aims to comprehensively document the clothes made in Vienna.

  • The Hamburg Museum for Applied Art in Hamburg, Germany has an extensive fashion collection. It specializes in German design, modern Japanese fashion, and avant-garde fashion.

  • The McCord Museum in Montreal, Canada has an important collection of Canadian garments and textiles, including North America’s oldest known patchwork quilt.

  • The FIDM Museum & Galleries in Los Angeles, California is located on the Los Angeles campus of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. It’s free to visit, and it specializes in high fashion, Hollywood costumes, and accessories.

  • The Textile Museum in Lyon, France is located in the eighteenth century residence of the governor of Lyon, and showcases the Lyon silk trade, plus textiles from around the globe.

  • The Museo De La Moda in Santiago, Chile exhibits Western clothing, with a focus on sportswear and twentieth-century design.

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