FASHION AS HIGH ART: 5 Stylish Museum Exhibitions to See This Spring

The idea that “fashion is art” is nothing new—you’ve been using it for years to justify your more reckless retail moments. (It’s not a splurge, it’s self-expression.) But this spring, museums from New York to L.A. are backing up this notion with exhibitions that recognize fashion as one of our most fundamental art forms.

Here are some of our favorites.

I.

“Set in Style: The Jewelry of Van Cleef & Arpels” at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.

Long before this brand’s Alhambra collection started appearing on trendsetters’ earlobes throughout Manhattan, Van Cleef & Arpels was icing out the likes of Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor with some of the world’s most exquisite gems. With 350 jewels, timepieces, accessories, and objets d’art on display, this exhibition takes a look at the renowned jeweler’s history, beginning with its opening in Paris’s Place Vendôme in 1906. February 18 – June 5, 2011. For more info, click here.

II.

“Rodarte: States of Matter” at MOCA.

Everyone wants to get close to the red-hot Rodarte designers, and this spring, those in L.A. will get their fix when MOCA displays over 20 designs by the ever-edgy Mulleavy sisters. The exhibit will include looks culled from various runway collections (Spring 2010, Fall 2010, and Fall 2008) and costumes the sisters created for Darren Aronofsky’s psycho-thriller, Black Swan.  But instead of relying on the figures of Natalie Portman or the Mulleavys’ new mini-muse, Elle Fanning, to bring the looks to life, they will be presented on their own, as “inanimate objects in a state of flux.” And given Rodarte’s adventurous use of materials (from vinyl to cheesecloth) and atypical processes (they’ve been known to burn their designs), we have a feeling that these looks will speak for themselves. March 4 – June 5, 2011. For more info, click here.

III.

“From the Village to Vogue: The Modernist Jewelry of Art Smith” at the Brooklyn Museum.

Art Smith was more than one of the twentieth century’s leading modernist jewelry designers. As a civil rights advocate and a jazz aficionado, he pretty much embodied everything that was awesome about New York back in the day. This ongoing exhibit showcases 21 of his silver and gold pieces, including the Calder-inspired “Patina” necklace and the “Lava” bracelet, which envelopes the entire lower arm.  Your own jewelry may suddenly seem embarrassingly insubstantial when juxtaposed with Smith’s works, but take heart—at least you can lift your arm. Ongoing. For more info, click here.

IV.

“Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” at the Met.

The Met’s Costume Institute will pay tribute to fashion’s late enfant terrible, whose numerous fans range from East London club kids to our own trend-setting First Lady. You’ll browse over 100 looks spanning McQueen’s entire career, beginning with his 1992 postgraduate collection and ending with his 2010 postmortem presentation. From his famed 10-inch armadillo shoes to his ultra-exposing “bumster” trousers, McQueen’s legacy lives on in the minds of many (and in the closets of an absurdly fortunate few). May 4, 2011–July 31, 2011. For more info, click here.

V.

“Vivienne Westwood, 1980-89” at the Museum at FIT.

The British designer who helped propel punk style to new heights gets her due at this soon-to-open exhibit, organized and curated by FIT grad students. The designs on display demonstrate Westwood’s evolution from her Pirate (1981) and Buffalo (1982) collections, to the iconic “Rocking Horse” boots she unleashed in 1987. Editorial photos and runway footage will help to complete the picture of Westwood’s impact during the ‘80s and beyond. March 8 – April 2, 2011. For more info, click here.

- By Tory Hoen

Header image:  Alexander McQueen fall/winter 2010 dresses.  Photography by Sølve Sundsbø, courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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