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Fashion is naturally drawn to look forward, but the links with the past, its own as much as ‘History’ in a wider perspective, generates a tension in the relationship fashion itself has with time. This month’s theme looks at how fashion negotiates its position between past and future, gravitating around the idea of time as it appears from the items contained in museum collections and archives.

'Witching Hour', hat by Stephen Jones, 1999, Courtesy ModeMuseum Provincie Antwerpen, All Rights Reserved

As constraint and challenge, but also as catalyst of design practices and the reflections they originate, Time affects fashion ‘from the micro to the macro’ so to speak. In general – and abstract – terms, fashion has been deemed as the expression of its time, its fluctuations articulating the succession of epochs, sentiments and values. The personal relationship people have with fashion takes time into account: life is signalled by occasions requiring a reflection on how we appear; and even one single day can itself be divided into moments asking for different vestamentary choices.

“The collections: A journey through space and time”, permanent collection, Courtesy Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation, All Rights Reserved

If fashion can be defined ephemeral, establishing an interesting relationship with time, dresses and other fashion items populating archives and collections deal with another kind of temporality: longer, for sure, and in some cases aiming at eternity. Historian and critic Elizabeth Wilson opens her book Adorned in dreams, a cornerstone for the study of fashion, talking about the feelings of alienation that assails the visitor in a museum displaying fashion, where the clothes, first belonged and ‘lived’ by a body, are instead ‘mounted’ on a mannequin, while still retaining signs of its previous life. The stories of fashion inscribed in objects are made of the material traces that can be detected on their surface and appearance. the ‘look’ of these objects tells the tale of the past, of experiences lived through the objects, testifying the transient nature not only of styles, but of life itself.

The interesting movement between eternity and change can be detected directly on the items contained in the collection, and in the ways in which they have been reconsidered and used in exhibitions, revitalising them and reactivating their potential to speak.

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