From Christian Dior’s childhood home turned museum, to dedicated wings of the V&A in London and The Met in New York, these are seven of the best and most beautiful fashion museums in the world.
With collections showcasing iconic designers and exhibitions displaying fashion that dates back to the 20th century, these museums combine art, culture and architecture and will take you on a visual journey as well as deliver insights into the costumes and designs of the past, present and future.
1. Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), London
From its early beginnings in 1851, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London has been a leading global museum of art and design, hosting a permanent collection of 2.8 million artworks spanning over 5,000 years of evolving creativity. Fashion aside, the museum holds objects of architecture, textiles, furniture, photography, sculpture, painting and jewellery. However, it is the fashion department that flashes its feathers; the fashion collections displayed here have been said to be the largest and most extensive worldwide. The gallery has had immense success over the years, hosting monumental exhibitions featuring Alexander McQueen, Vivian Westwood, Chanel and more, as well as rare fashion-antiques including 17th century gowns, 18th century ‘mantua’ dresses and 1930’s evening wear.
Current exhibitions: Africa Fashion (open until 16th April 2020)
2. Museum at FIT, New York
The Museum at FIT is one of a handful in the world solely devoted to showcasing the art of fashion and, since opening its doors in 1969, has been home to innovative and eclectic exhibitions celebrating art and fashion. This specialised fashion museum presents a permanent collection of more than 50,000 garments and accessories dating back to the 18th century – showcasing the evolution of design and creativity through the decades. The list of designers that have been displayed here include Chanel, Dior and Adrian with a focus on clothing, accessories, textiles and an emphasis on the avant-garde.
Current exhibitions: Fresh, Fly, And Fabulous: Fifty Years Of Hip Hop Style (displayed until 23rd April, 2023)
3. The Anna Wintour Costume Center, The Met, New York
Founded in 1870 and presenting over 5,000 years of art and culture from all over the world, The Metropolitan Museum of Art or “The Met” in New York City is one of the biggest art galleries in the world. Situated across two iconic locations in the Big Apple, The Met Fifth Avenue (the main building) and The Met Cloisters are collectively home to over two million works of art from around the globe. In 1946 the Museum of Costume Art merged with The Met to create The Costume Institute, showcasing more than 33,000 costumes and accessories representing seven centuries of garments, clothes and accessories for both men and women. The institute also displays one to two carefully curated exhibitions each year. Over the years it has shown designers including Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Gianni Versace and many more. In 2014 and to honour Anna Wintour’s years of raising funds for it through the annual star-studded event, the Met Gala, the costume institute reopened as the Anna Wintour Costume Center.
Upcoming exhibitions: Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty (May 5th – July 16th, 2023)
4. The Yves Saint Laurent Museum, Paris
Since its opening in Paris in 2017 the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris has showcased Saint Laurent’s creative collections as well as the process of designs coming to life. The museum pays homage to the building that served as the Yves Saint Laurent headquarters for nearly 30 years while the exhibitions and fashion displays aim to discuss the history of the 20th century and traditional haute couture. The museum hosts temporary collections on a yearly rotation system, offering insight into Saint Laurent’s creative mind and the process behind his garments including the haute couture, ready-to-wear and accessories but also his illustrations and drawings.
Current exhibitions: Gold by Yves Saint Laurent (on display until May 14th, 2023)
5. The MoMu, Antwerp
Housing over 38,000 pieces, the MoMu collection is the largest collection of contemporary Belgian fashion in the world. A recent addition to global fashion museums, MoMu presented its first exhibition in 2002 and has since presented two contemporary showcases every year. Primarily known for immersive experiences, the artworks here are designed to take viewers on a journey through the world of a designer or a chosen theme. Focussing on homegrown designers from Belgium and alumni of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, the thematic artwork encompasses clothing, accessories, textiles and patterns. With a mission to create curiosity around fashion and to make fashion more accessible, the museum space is completely transformed for each exhibition, making every visit a unique experience.
Upcoming exhibitions: Man Rav and Fashion (from 22nd April – 13th August 20203)
6. Palais Galliera, Paris
Built in the 19th Century, the Palais Galliera preserves some of the richest collections in the world. The museum owes its existence to the Duchesse de Galliera, once the wealthiest woman in France. With a whopping collection of nearly 200,000 works of art including clothing and accessories, sketches and photography, the collection reflects the evolving creativity in French fashion from the 18th century to today. To commemorate their 100th anniversary in 2020, the gallery transformed their “fashion vault” and doubled their exhibition space. Displaying a visual timeline of the history of fashion through marvellous artwork, the pieces range from a 1730’s flying dress to the avant-garde designs of Comme de Garçons.
Current exhibitions: 1997 Fashion Big Bang (on display until 16th July 2023)
7. Christian Dior Museum, Granville
Set in the nostalgic Villa ‘Les Rhumbs’, Christian Dior’s childhood home in Granville – Musée Christian Dior – is dedicated to the couturier. The museum made its debut in 1988, and has since aimed to mend the bridge between his sweetest memories and the designs of his couture house. Headed by curator, Jean-Paul Claverie (who is also LVMH’s director’s counsellor), the museum houses an annual thematic exhibition, as well as an autumn-winter exhibition, “une maison, des collections” showcasing permanent collections alongside the most recent. As well as featuring the designer’s beautiful creations, the space also exhibits pieces by the fashion house’s other notable designers, including Yves Saint Laurent, Marc Bohan and John Galliano.
The museum will reopen its doors on April 29th 2023 after a temporary closure.
Main image: Palais Galliera, Paris, courtesy of Pierre Antoine