Fashion Week takes over New York City, London, Paris, and Milan twice a year, but you can observe sartorial splendour year-round in the world’s greatest fashion-focused museums. These temples of couture showcase one-of-a kind pieces made by the most influential artists ever. With a stunning choice of women’s shoes in Milan and the world’s biggest collection of bags in Amsterdam, these museums demonstrate that fashion isn’t only a means of life–it is also an art.
Costume Institute at the Met
WHERE: New York City
The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art homes over 35,000 costumes and accessories, spanning from the 15th century to the present. In the forefront of the fashion world since the 1970s, when Diana Vreeland curated the custom displays, it continues to push boundaries with shows such as the 2011 Alexander McQueen retrospective–the most-visited Costume Institute exhibit ever. Following a two-year renovation–and a rebirth as the Anna Wintour Costume Center–it reopened to the public in May. Its yearly gala unites designers and celebrities for the celebration of the year.
Museo Salvatore Ferragamo
For shoe fans, the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo is a must-see. Housed in the 13th-century Palazzo Spini Feroni, that has been the home of this Ferragamo workshop as 1938, the museum draws on the storied style house’s archives. Here you can ogle the women’s heels and ballet flats Ferragamo made for Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Greta Garbo, among countless others.
Museo de la Moda
WHERE: Santiago, Chile
Founded In 1999, the Museo de la Moda originally concentrated on clothes from the 1950s and ’60s. Through time, however, acquisitions have improved the collection, which now spans several centuries and continents, with a specific emphasis on sportswear. The museum itself is a sight to behold–it is situated in the former residence of the Yarur Bascuñán family, built in the Modernist style between 1960 and 1962. Do not miss Marilyn Monroe’s red dress and John Lennon’s military coat.
PALAIS GALLIERA, MUSEE DE LA MODE
In 1879, The Duchesse de Galliera commissioned the building of the Beaux-Arts palace–with Ionic columns and steel by Gustave Eiffel–at the chic 16th arrondissement. Originally envisioned as a place to showcase her art collection, the museum was created with display showcases enclosing an interior courtyard. The lavish structure is eclipsed only by the group of 100,000 costumes housed within–initially part of the Musée Carnavalet’s collection. Make certain to check the Palais Galliera’s calendar, as it is only open for special displays.
It’s fitting that one of the world’s most important design capitals would have a style museum as lavish as the Palazzo Morando. The Renaissance palace was home to Milanese noble households until 1945, when Countess Lydia Caprara Morando Bolognini donated it to the city. In 2010, the Castello Sforzesco’s costume collection was transferred to Palazzo Morando and united with the former Museum of Milan’s collection, making one very chic memorial.
Victoria & Albert Museum
London’s Victoria & Albert Museum–famous simply as the V&A–contains an exhaustive collection of costumes and applied arts from all around the world. Make certain to observe the samurai armour at the Asian galleries and respect medieval love rings and pendants which Queen Elizabeth I gave to her courtiers. You can follow the evolution of style from the Fashion Galleries, which juxtapose 17th-century gowns with modern ones. If the huge size of the museum is too overwhelming, have a one-hour tour to get acquainted.
ModeMuseum’s impressive collection boasts 25,000 pieces, with 7,000 new developments from some of the most influential designers working today. The museum stands as a testament to the creations of Belgian designers such as Raf Simons, Haider Ackermann, and Ann Demeulemeester. The present exhibition MoMu Now showcases some of Simons’ silhouettes for Dior, also recently added couture pieces by other contemporary designers.
Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising
WHERE: Los Angeles
In 1969, Tonian Hoberg founded the Fashion Institute of Design & Manufacturing in Downtown L.A. Faculty and staff raided their own closets to make the collection, and founding donor Betsy Bloomingdale made a generous contribution of French haute couture and women’s shoes. FIDM eventually enlarged to four campuses (in L.A., San Francisco, Orange County, and San Diego). Special exhibits are free to the general public, and showcase everything from folk dress to Hollywood costumes.
Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum
Part of the Bunka Fashion College, which has produced some of Japan’s most influential performers (Kenzo Takada and Yohji Yamamoto, to name two), the Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum is one of Japan’s best fashion museums. Here you can see plenty of gorgeous kimonos, Western-style Japanese clothing, European dress and women’s sandals, and cultural clothes from Southeast Asia and beyond. Four exhibits annually aim to educate the general public about Japanese culture through the art of dress.
The Tassenmuseum (Museum of Bags and Purses) began as the set of one girl, Hendrikje Ivo, and Grew to the world’s foremost bag set. Located in a 17th-century canal Home, the purses on screen actually predate the construction. Check out the 16th-century man handbag with 18 secret pockets, as well as the 18th-century silk Bridal handbag from Limoges. The contemporary set includes bags by all of the big Titles–Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Burberry, Prada, Gucci, Fendi, Bottega Veneta, and much more.