What will the fashion museum, exhibition or archive look like in the future? The answer to this question may actually lie in the past.
As a part of London Fashion Week last year, I attended the presentation of Sadie Clayton’s Spring/Summer 2017 collection at the Royal Academy. Sadie Clayton tends towards the futuristic, in both her design and general aesthetic, so it was no surprise that her show rejected the usual use of models. Garments were tied up and suspended from cords around the room, complementing the intricate design and allowing close examination of the details. However, the main focus of the presentation was on the series of holograms of a model wearing these clothes, interspersed throughout the space. In a series of looping videos, the model danced and struck poses, and multiplied in kaleidoscopic symmetry. The static clothes, hanging on the wire, were suddenly animate.
This is far from the first times that technology has been used to simulate models in shows. Famously, Alexander McQueen’s 2006 ‘Widows of Culloden’ show culminated with a hologram of an ethereal Kate Moss floating down the catwalk. This image was subsequently revived for the 2015 V&A McQueen retrospective, ‘Savage Beauty’. More than displaying McQueen’s clothes on static mannequins, or replaying recordings of models walking in the original show, the return of the hologram for the V&A show allowed another audience a chance of viewing of the gown, exactly as McQueen had envisioned it almost a decade earlier.
Because clothing is undeniably made to be worn, museums and archives have often faced issues around exhibiting their garment collections. A dress can look frozen and unreal when displayed on a mannequin; fabric does not drape in the same way and we cannot tell how the garment is supposed to move on a body when it is displayed statically. There is no method of animating dress collections better than that of a live body. Which is why, for a time, it was common practice for museum collections to employ the use of live models when exhibiting their garments. Models appeared in live runway presentations of historic clothing collections, and adorned postcards and advertisements in such dress. The advantages to this – that clothes were displayed as close as possible to how they might have looked on their original wearers – were, of course, outweighed by the risk that such use posed to increasingly delicate garments.
Although common in the 1950s and 60s, this practice is now widely prohibited, and fashion curators seek other ways of animating their collections. Diana Vreeland famously resorted to props and perfume to introduce a new layer of theatricality to such exhibitions, and many others have followed suit, using a combination of film, music, performance and, occasionally, even lights, mirrors and wind effects, within the gallery space. It seems, too, that holograms could soon be added to this repertoire, allowing the possibility of replicating the clothes in motion, modelled on a living body, without the associated risks.
Clothes would, of course, need to the modelled before they enter the museum collection, and committed to holographic memory that can be stored in their archives until needed. This is unlikely to solve the issue for current collections, but remains a possibility for new acquisitions. The quality of the illusion can only get better as technology improves, and it may well be the case that the fashion museums of the future are full of holograms.
Mida, I. (2015). Animating the Body in Museum Exhibitions of Fashion and Dress. Dress, 41(1), 37-51.
Williams, E. (2015) How we made Alexander McQueen’s Kate Moss hologram. Creative Review. Available at: https://www.creativereview.co.uk/how-we-made-alexander-mcqueens-kate-moss-hologram/