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Conference 2024

Beyond the Blockbuster: Exhibiting Fashion Now
This conference seeks to bring together voices from the museum sector, academia, journalism and beyond to consider the practice of exhibiting fashion, and the role of dress, fashion and textiles in museums today.

It is held to mark the exhibition Fashion City: How Jewish Londoners shaped global style, the first fashion exhibition ever to be held at the Museum of London Docklands. It has been twenty years since the Museum of London last staged a major fashion exhibition (The London Look), and much has changed in that period. Fashion exhibitions have commanded increasing prominence and public attention in recent years. This is particularly true for ‘blockbuster’ fashion exhibitions, usually organised by larger institutions, often in conjunction with fashion houses, which draw substantial audiences and press coverage.  These types of exhibitions highlight the public appetite for fashion displays and provide important financial contributions to institutions at a time of dwindling public funding, but they are only part of the story.

Fashion City was one of numerous London fashion displays open to visitors in 2023, alongside designer retrospectives, archive displays at major fashion houses, commercial fashion interventions and thematic/narrative led exhibitions from museums of varying size and scope. Contemporary dress and fashion exhibitions have captured the imagination of the public and reinforced the capacity of dress collections to examine a variety of cultural and social issues. These exhibitions articulate the essential role fashion plays in the construction of identity for makers, individuals and communities. Fashion exhibitions have the ability to materialise otherwise marginalised stories, to challenge prejudice and to highlight inequality as seen in recent exhibitions Colour is Mine (William Morris Gallery) and Material Power (Kettle’s Yard). The global picture is even broader, with increasingly diverse topics driving the display of fashion around the world.

At this significant moment, the Museum of London, London College of Fashion and the Pasold Research Fund invite you to submit abstracts for 20-minute papers that could fit into the following strands:

The making of fashion exhibitions: how do collecting and research projects inform exhibitions? Who curates fashion exhibitions and what is the impact of this? What are the implications of collaboration and community consultation? How do budgets, institutional goals and strategic aims influence exhibitions? What role does marketing play?
Public perceptions and exhibition critique: how important are journalism and exhibition reviews to the perception and success of an exhibition? What counts as success? What makes a blockbuster? Should we be more open about visitor numbers?
Past, present and future: what is the role of fashion exhibitions today? What should their role be in the future? What has changed in the last 20 years?
Function and responsibility: what are the ethical implications of fashion curation? How can exhibitions diversify the stories we tell about fashion? Should fashion exhibitions be responding more directly to the climate crisis?
Museums and the fashion industry: how do museums contribute to the fashion industry and public perceptions of fashion? How are collections used as a source of inspiration for designers? What does the growing importance of in-house brand archives mean for the future of fashion exhibitions? What is the value of being featured in an exhibition for a designer or fashion brand?
Typologies of fashion exhibitions: design centred / social history / designer retrospective / political / personal / geographical / cultural / etc
We welcome submissions for 20-minute papers that address the themes and questions raised in this CFP. We invite speakers to submit a brief 250 word abstract of their paper, a title, and a 100 word biography via email to Speakers should also indicate if they intend to deliver their paper in person or online.

The deadline for submissions is Monday March 4th.

The symposium will take place in person at the Museum of London Docklands (Canary Wharf) and the London College of Fashion (East Bank) on May 30th and 31st 2024. There will also be an option for papers to be given online, and for online attendance.

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