FASHION may seem fleeting and frivolous to some people but it has become big business for galleries and museums around the world, helping to attract people who would once never have set foot inside their hallowed halls.
While the modern retail sector is struggling, lovers of fashion and popular culture are flocking to the world’s top fine art galleries to see masterpieces of a more mainstream kind.
And our very own National Gallery of Victoria is at the forefront of this new passion for fashion exhibitions. In recent years it has featured a series of world-class collections from internationally renowned designers that have drawn record numbers of people through its doors.
But none is more exciting than the House of Dior: Seventy Years of Haute Couture exhibition, which opens to the public at the NGV tomorrow and runs to November 7.
The collaboration between the NGV and Dior will feature a sumptuous and dramatic display of more than 140 garments from Christian Dior Couture, designed from 1947 to 2017.
The designer, who was born in northern France in 1905 and founded his fashion house in December 1946, had a unique affinity with Australia, choosing Sydney as the first destination outside Paris to show a complete Dior collection in 1948, making the exhibition even more relevant to Australian audiences.
But you don’t have to be a fashion devotee to enjoy these incredible exhibitions. Everybody wears clothes and admires them on others, so we can all relate to fashion in some way.
And, while haute couture was once seen and worn by only a privileged few, it is now accessible to the masses to view and comment on through the power of social media.
Interest has also been spurred on by the rise of the influence of celebrities in the fashion world and many of the pieces on show at exhibitions such as Dior and the previous Jean Paul Gaultier and Viktor & Rolf shows feature readily recognisable gowns from the red carpet. Some of the most popular pieces in the Gaultier show included gowns worn by Kylie Minogue, Nicole Kidman and Gemma Ward, while the Dior exhibition will feature Australian model Miranda Kerr’s spectacular wedding dress, among several celebrity gowns.
These pieces look incredible in photographs but audiences can truly get an appreciation for the artistry and detail in them when they see them up close at these unique fashion exhibitions.
But fashion is so much more than the exquisite fabrics, craftsmanship, creativity and detail in each piece and collection. It is a link with history, with the stories behind why and where these garments were made and who they were made for.
There has been criticism internationally around the rise of fashion exhibitions in fine art galleries and whether they undermine “real” art. The claim is that such exhibitions are merely commercial opportunities for international design houses.
But without doubt there is a place for fashion in our esteemed galleries and museums, especially when they are as cleverly and intelligently curated as the ones we have been lucky enough to see at the NGV and the Bendigo Art Gallery.
Art can be beautiful, thought-provoking, creative and confronting, but it should also be accessible. I applaud NGV director Tony Ellwood for opening the imagination and the doors of the NGV to a new audience through extraordinary fashion shows such as the Dior exhibition and others.