Offered exclusively to MA Fashion Studies students in Paris, a new course on museology asked students to transcend current approaches to exhibiting fashion in museums. The project — helmed by Laurent Cotta, curator and head of graphic design at Palais Galliera Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris — entailed having students consider the fashion industry’s relevance in a larger global context to develop a critical understanding of fashion and its complex intersections with contemporary identities, histories, and cultures. The exploration resulted in a multidisciplinary exhibition on view at the Mona Bismarck American Center, a cultural institution in the heart of the 16th arrondissement.
In the course Curating Fashion: History, Theory, and Practice, students were active participants in building robust coursework that would support their progress towards reinvigorating the fashion exhibition. Using for a case study Palais Galliera, with its rich history in pushing the boundaries of museum space, students investigated four different museological practices: collecting, inventorying, conserving, and exhibiting. Palais Galliera offered students rare access to its departments, internal documentation, and hands-on workshops on different techniques employed by professional curators and conservators. This experience equipped the students with long-lasting and invaluable skills that can be applied to evolving career opportunities for fashion students in the museum. The culmination of their work was the exhibition Anatomy of the Fashion Museum, which deliberately took inspiration from Anatomie d’une Collection, the 2016 show that presented key pieces from Palais Galliera's archive to explore the museum's diverse collection.
For their own exhibit, students were asked to select four garments from Anatomie d’une Collection and use them to expand the Galliera curators' insights while shedding light on the museological practices hidden behind the pieces. The installation's design was inspired by the encyclopedic art history panels created by German cultural theorist Aby Warburg. The MA students echoed Warburg's project in their installation, which included four metal grids constituting a kind of "atlas" to provide a narrative related to each museological practice addressed. Each grid presented museum documentation materials, such as exhibition catalogs, interviews with Galliera employees, and secondary sources to highlight the quotidian, bureaucratic activities of curators and conservators while contextualizing the staff's work in relation to the logistics and ideologies governing fashion museum practices.
In light of the proliferation of fashion exhibitions, museums worldwide strive to reinvent themselves and their curatorial practices to stay relevant and honor the fashion industry’s historic effects on individuals, society, and the world. In a city that is home to cultural resources and a global network found nowhere else, MA Fashion Studies students had the unique opportunity to research, curate, and present a new museological style offering broaden perspectives on the industry. Illustrating Parsons’ approach to innovation, the students behind Anatomy of the Fashion Museum redefined fashion in museums as more than a matter of tagging garments in an empty exhibition space.
Anatomy of the Fashion Museum project team:
CURATION: Molly Apple, Danielle Barnes, Berline Cherelus, Kandace Clifton, Nicolette Contursi, Sandra Mathey Garcia-Rada, Deandra Green, Fanny Lerner, Clara Montre, Victoria Nergaard, Or Rosenblum, Rocio Sanchez, Svitlana Soboloyeva, Amanda Stedman. CONCEPT & COORDINATION: Laurent Cotta, Marco Pecorari. EXHIBITION DESIGN & PRODUCTION: Justin Morin. RESEARCH SUPPORT: Antoine Bucher. GRAPHIC DESIGN: Monica Fraile Morisson. COMMUNICATION: Lisa Sarma & PRC Communication. ASSISTANTS: Sandra Mathey Garcia-Rada, Amanda Stedman, Olivia Johnston