Museum Crawl: MUST See 2022 FASHION Exhibits – Africa Fashion, Virgil Abloh, McQueen, Guo Pei, and more

When we start to see how fashion serves a purpose in our culture and history, we begin to dismiss the frivolous segment of it and assimilate a more responsible and ecosystem-protective conduct. Fashion needs to be seen and not just a 20-minute catwalk or shopping spree. 

Museums are a cure for cultural curiosity. The old establishment and historical perspectives are great but EDGE makes the case for balance. Contemporary fashion makers, inclusive of emerging and underrepresented voices, can offer awe-inspiring exhibits that feed the curiosity and fascination of fashion.  For the viewer, the experience can be magical by the pure aesthetics alone, and unforgettable in witnessing a narrative that goes deeper than the aesthetics.

An Amazing Journey of Childhood Dream Collection, Fall/Winter 2007, Copyright © Guo Pei / Asian Couture Federation. Photograph by Lian Xu. All rights reserved | Image provided courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Too often the privileged, old guard designers, with legendary status such as Christian Dior, are the mainstay of exhibits, but that mold was broken when The Met showcased Alexander McQueen’s’ work, “Alexander McQueen: Savage” in 2011.  McQueen (1969 – 2010), the first most awarded and socially provocative designer, exceeded all records as the highest attended show at the time and still ranks within the top ten of all exhibitions at The Met.  To view the work of all – the old guard, the prestigious talent of McQueen, and living contemporary designers – is a celebration the public seeks.  We could use more of contemporary from the living and dead.

Alexander McQueen | Courtesy of The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

LACMA presents the first McQueen exhibition on the West Coast, “Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse”, April 24–October 9, 2022.  The exhibit explores the artistic process and innovation in fashion and art, examining McQueen as both a conceptual and technical virtuoso.  Displaying select McQueen garments from the Collection of Regina J. Drucker alongside artworks largely from LACMA’s permanent collection, the exhibit synthesizes the designer’s proficiency in tailoring and dressmaking with both encyclopedic and autobiographical references that spanned time, geography, media, and technology.

Alexander McQueen, courtesy of The Los Angeles Museum of Art (LACMA)

The attention to contemporary, particularly of living designers, is changing at The Met.  “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion”, exhibited September 18, 2021 – September 5, 2022, is at the forefront of conversation, due partly in recognizing the underexposed in American contemporary fashion.  Approximately 100 men’s and women’s ensembles by a diverse range of designers from the 1940s to the present are featured.

13. Coat, Andre Walker (American, born 1967), Pendleton Woolen Mills (American, founded 1863), spring/summer 2018; Courtesy Andre Walker Studio. Image © Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The body of work of Guo Pei, a living contemporary designer, opened 16 April 2022, and because of its popularity, averaging 11,500 visitors per week, was extended to 27 November 2022, at the Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco. 

In the early twenty-first century, China emerged as a leader in the fashion world. The exhibition explores the career of Guo Pei—hailed as China’s first couturier—within this context.  “Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy” is presented as part of the Museums’ Costume and Textile arts global exhibition program, which highlights extraordinary artists and movements that have changed the course of fashion history.  

Seeing Pei’s body of work up close was extraordinary, and one of the best fashion exhibits I have seen.  Pei’s artistic hand is truly one of sculpted art.  Engaging with these objects led to interesting findings and knowledge about the process and why she creates on the scale that she does.  The docent and an enthusiastic staff member shed some light on her creative power:

  • 50,000 HOURS!  The Da Jin (Magnificent Gold, 2005) dress from the Samsura collection took 50,000 hours to create. 
  • 2.5 YEARS, UP TO 3 MILLION DOLLARS (or more). That’s an average of the time and costs it takes to create a collection.
  • 100’s OF YEARS. When the Docent was asked by visitors, where can you buy and who wears Guo Pei’s designs, she replied, “Guo Pei designs her runway collections not to be worn but to live in museums 100’s of years later”.
  • THE MANNEQUINS WERE TOO FAT… their waist had to be cut down in order for the extraordinary work of Chinese designer Guo Pei to be mounted.  Guo Pei and a team of 25 were planning to be in San Francisco to install the show, but were COVID quarantined.  She therefore directed the installation by video. It took 3 weeks to install, where an exhibit of this size could take 3 months.
Guo Pei, Alternate Universe, Fall-Winter 2019-2020, Photography by Lian Xu, courtesy the artist | Image provided courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Guo Pei, Alternate Universe, Fall-Winter 2019-2020, Photography by Lian Xu, courtesy the artist | Image provided courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

V&A Museum’s recently appointed curator of African and African Diaspora Fashion, Dr. Christine Checinska, is presenting a landmark exhibition celebrating the creativity, ingenuity, and global impact of contemporary African fashions.  Opened 2 July 2022, “Africa Fashion” will celebrate the vitality and innovation of this vibrant scene, as dynamic and varied as the African continent itself.

Africa Fashion at the V&A Installation shot (35), courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London, July 2022

Over 250 objects, drawn from the personal archives of a selection of iconic mid-twentieth century and influential contemporary African fashion creatives, alongside textiles and photographs from the V&A’s collection will go on display – many for the first time.  The work of African designer pioneers; Kofi Ansah, Chris Seydou, Shade Thomas-Fahm, Alphadi, and their peers; will mark the first time in which their work will be shown in a London museum.  The new generation of ground-breaking designers will also be on display across contemporary couture, ready-to-wear, made-to-order, and street-style. 

Africa Fashion, courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London, July 2022

An exhibition of this scale can reveal the diverse history and culture across an entire continent, but Dr. Christine Checinska puts a perspective on the focus.  She said in a statement, “To showcase all fashions across such a vast region would be to attempt the impossible. Instead, ‘Africa Fashion’ will celebrate the vitality and innovation of a selection of fashion creatives, exploring the work of the vanguard in the twentieth century and the creatives at the heart of this eclectic and cosmopolitan scene today.”

Africa Fashion, courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London, July 2022

V&A, like many other established institutions, recognizes the need to diversify their “privileged” designer collections, by representing underrepresented communities like the African Diaspora.  The exhibition forms part of a broader and ongoing V&A commitment to grow the museum’s permanent collection of work by African and African Diaspora designers and to tell new layered stories about the richness and diversity of African creativity, cultures and histories, using fashion as a catalyst.

Must See Exhibits:

Ruth E. Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design, Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle; Opens 18 June 2022

Virgil Abloh: “Figures of Speech”, Brooklyn Museum, New York; 1 July 2022 – 29 January 2023

Africa Fashion, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; 2 July 2022  – 16 April 2023

Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; 19 March–6 November 2022 

Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy, Legion of Honor Museum, San Francisco; 16 April – 27 November 2022, extended

Lee Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, and Muse, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; 24 Apr–9 Oct 2022

In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, The Met Fifth Avenue, now on view–5 September 2022

Patrick Kelly: Runway of Love, de Young Museum, San Francisco, now on view–24 April 2022

Thierry Mugler: Couturissime, The Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, now on view – 24 April 2022

Robert Wun: Between Reality and Fantasy, SCAD FASH, Museum of Fashion + Film, Atlanta, now on view – 24 April 2022

Head to Toe, The Museum at FIT, New York, 17 November 2021-8 May 2022

Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams, Brooklyn Museum, now on view – 20 February 2022

Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture, Fashion and Textile Museum, London; now on view – 13 March 2022

2023 Upcoming Exhibits:

Anne Lowe: American Couturier, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, Delaware; 9 September 2023 – 7 January 2024

Feature Image: Guo Pei: Couture Fantasy, 16 April – 27 November 2022, Legion of Honor,  Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.  Photography © Rhonda P. Hill, August 2022

Updated: 26 October 2022

Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor