This chapter discusses the ways in which the MoMu Antwerp Fashion Museum curates contemporary fashion and how digital changes and opportunities have thoroughly influenced this practice in the past fifteen years. The meteoric rise of digital communication and the growing importance of digital imagery in fashion since the end of the 1990s have created new challenges and opportunities for museums. In recent years, the MoMu has looked for relevant solutions, both in its collection and in its exhibition policy, to the many challenges posed by the rapid upsurge of digital production in the world of fashion. In coming years, the digital sphere will remain an important priority in the MoMu’s projects. The museum wants to grant itself the liberty to experiment with new technologies. This means that the MoMu will also have to realign its budgets and team, with new roles, linked to the new technologies and increased audience participation, which will require staff members in all strata of the museum’s organization to change attitudes and perspectives.
The MoMu Antwerp Fashion Museum opened its doors in September of 2002. It was the brainchild of Linda Loppa, who was installed as director by the Antwerp Provincial Government at the end of the 1990s and was asked to guide the museum into the twenty-first century. Loppa oversaw its relocation from Oelegem, a village on the outskirts of Antwerp, to the historic city center and initiated a new outlook, with a stronger emphasis on contemporary (Belgian) fashion. In the early 2000s, the museum took up residence in a nineteenth-century building renovated by the Ghent architect Marie-Josée Van Hee. The location was christened the “ModeNatie” and now houses the fashion museum as well as the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, and the Flanders Fashion Institute, with the aim of bringing together a range of agents from the world of fashion in one building in order to facilitate and encourage collaborations and cross-pollination. The ModeNatie’s architecture reflects this vision. An atrium with an impressive stairwell (see Figure 4.1), providing access to all the separate spaces, was installed in the middle of the building. Ingeniously devised views ensure that the image of the atrium is always present in the building as a whole (Borret 2002: 169), stimulating optimal interaction between the diverse users of the building. The staircase slowly tapers as one gets closer to the top floor, which houses the fashion department, thereby cleverly expressing the boundaries between public and closed areas. The MoMu, with its publicly accessible exhibition spaces and the education studio, is located on the ground floor and the second floor, where the stairs are at their widest. On the fourth floor, we find semi-public spaces housing the museum’s offices and library, and the offices of the Flanders Fashion Institute. The classrooms and studios of the fashion department, which are not open to the general public, are located on the top floor. In symbolic terms one could state that the fashion department, as the site of nurturing of young, design talent, is the top of a pyramid. This beating heart of the ModeNatie is firmly set on broad foundations, made up of the museum, which safeguards art-historical reflection and analysis, and the FFI, which acts as economic representative of fashion as a creative industry. In other words, the structure carries and expresses all aspects of fashion as an applied art, and with its creative, art-historical and economic branches, the ModeNatie is unique in the world.
When Linda Loppa was installed as director, this vision served as the guiding principle of the museum’s collection and exhibition policies. The collection policy doesn’t focus exclusively on garment, but pays broad attention to and also collects the ephemera produced by contemporary designers, such as look books/catalogues, invitations to runway shows, press releases, runway video recordings, etc. But the museum also acquires highly creative or particularly well-designed promotional materials, such as T-shirts and perfume bottles. Such objects have an important part to play in the marketing and commercial strategies effected by fashion houses, but they are, at the same time, a carrier of the designer’s artistic DNA and form an integral component of their creative universe. In his doctoral dissertation on this specific sub-collection at the MoMu, Marco Pecorari describes this category of objects as artifacts that often outlive the fashion practice but are rarely central to the conservation of fashion; nor do they feature prominently on the collection conservator’s agenda: “The outcome of durative collaborations between famous fashion designers, graphic designers, photographers and other actors, these objects are nevertheless frequently discarded by the industry and generally undervalued by both fashion museums and academia” (Pecorari 2015: 16). Although the acquisition of such ephemera has become a common practice in some museums and archives, only a handful of fashion museums have collected them consistently. Using the MoMu’s ephemera collection, Pecorari investigates “the ways in which fashion ephemera represent garments, and [he explores] in depth what type of knowledge about garments these ephemera enable, and what their epistemic potentials suggest about the ontology of dress” (Pecorari 2015: 185). In its exhibition policy as well, the MoMu has always regarded the garment as one of the many products that are engendered by the creative process of designers and fashion houses. An exhibition’s mise-en-scène is therefore almost never merely décor, but is often used to generate a visual context for the garments and objects on display. In 2004 the museum presented “Goddess. The Classical Mode,” an exhibition on loan from the Met’s Costume Institute. “Goddess” focused on the longstanding influence of Greek Antiquity on contemporary fashion. However, through the centuries fashion has added elements that were not present in the original Hellenic attire. Many elements of what today are known as classical styles, are historically incorrect (e.g. the idea that classical dress is white is historically incorrect and probably derived from the faded Greek statuary, which was originally polychrome in nature). Exactly this idea is stressed by the exhibition design, which was created especially for the exhibition at MoMu. The basis for the design was the notion of the “ruin,” though in a contemporary context. The garments were presented amidst, on and in front of a “ruin” of old furniture that formed a natural barrier between the items on display and the visitor (see Figure 4.2). The furniture—a ragbag of neo-classical styles—was painted white, blurring any reference to a specific historical period. Additionally the five thematic sections of the exhibition were separated from each other by large canvases on which (fashion) were images printed.
That same year the MoMu invited curator Judith Clark to create the exhibition “Malign Muses. When Fashion Turns Back,” which later travelled to the V&A Museum in London with a new title “Spectres. When Fashion Turns Back.” The collaboration with Clark resulted in an exhibition with an exceptionally open structure. As a curator she provided different “suggestions,” possible ways to exhibit dress, thereby assisted by an architect (Yuri Avvakumov), an academic (Caroline Evans), a jeweller (Naomi Filmer) and a fashion illustrator (Ruben Toledo). The exhibition design, for which Clark collaborated with Russian constructivist architect Yuri Avvakumov, resulted in a scaffold-like structure that was the physical expression of Clark’s narratives (see Figure 4.3). “[. . .] Clark could see the exciting potential of designing an exhibition space that suggested the aesthetic imperatives of Constructivist theory, freeing up room for objects to communicate with each other and utilizing flat planes of decoration in a theatrical idiom” (Breward 2004: 13).
In her essay “Yesterday’s Emblems and Tomorrow’s Commodities,” Caroline Evans writes: “Current fashion participates in an economic system that is developing very differently from its nineteenth-century origins, which pioneered the techniques of retail and advertising to promote the garment. Now the fashioned garment circulates in a contemporary economy as part of a network of signs, of which the actual garment is but one. From its very existence primarily as an object, the fashion commodity has evolved into a mutant form with the capacity to insert itself into a wider network of signs, operating simultaneously in many registers” (Evans 2000: 85). Looking for relevant and visually interesting ways to open up the complex “network of signs” of which the fashion object is an aspect, is perhaps one of the most complicated challenges contemporary fashion curators are facing. But, in their collection policies, museums must also address the question of whether and how such networks can be displayed and opened up. From 2002 until 2007, MoMu and four other European organizations comprised the Contemporary Fashion Archive (CFA), a European project that was funded through the European Commission’s cultural program, Culture 2000. This aimed to create “a unique information network, which detected and presented current positions and developments in fashion design. This information network took the form of an Internet platform with a digital archive and local documentation centers located at the different institutions of the partners in question [. . .] The focus lies on the impulses, aesthetic concepts and network strategies of a new generation of designers that shaped 90s fashion, e.g. Helmut Lang, Martin Margiela and Walter van Beirendonck, later followed by Raf Simons, Viktor & Rolf, Bless and Balenciaga.” One of the goals of the CFA was to reveal the networks within contemporary fashion and to highlight the links with neighboring creative fields. The idea was to link fashion designers to the make-up artists, stylists, fashion photographers, graphic designers, architects or musicians with whom they collaborate in order to develop their collections, fashion shows, photo shoots, or shop interiors. The archive included catwalk images, fashion photographs, as well as ephemera such as invitations for fashion shows. At that time the CFA platform was not used in exhibitions, nor was there a direct link to curation. The CFA was an ambitious project that made one of the first serious digital attempts at mapping the creative networks surrounding designers and fashion houses. Simultaneously, however, the project ran into technological constraints and the limits of copyright legislation, and the CFA came to a standstill when the public funds dried up in 2007. Even though the website is still online, a lack of maintenance and updates meant that it quickly became outdated, which clearly underlines the vulnerability of such wide-reaching and labor-intensive projects.
In 2010–2011, the museum’s library team initiated the “Open Fashion” online database. “Open Fashion” was a collaboration between the MoMu and the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp, which assembled the library’s collection, the collection database, the exhibition records and the fashion department’s graduation projects into a single database. Over 50,000 records were opened up to the general public via an online database on the MoMu website, using a uniform interface. The project was realized with very limited funds, meaning that the interface is still very basic and only available in Dutch. However, the data model developed for “Open Fashion” has enabled the museum to reflect on the complexity and interconnectedness of fashion and to take a next step towards unlocking fashion’s networks. In other words, it brings diverse digital archives together in an attempt to allow the visitor to establish links and connections.
March 2012 saw the launch of the Europeana Fashion project, a three-year CIP ICT PSP project (Best Practice Network) and a network of twenty-two partners from twelve European countries, representing the leading European institutions and collections in the fashion domain. Europeana Fashion is part of Europeana, which is the EU digital platform for cultural heritage. Europeana is a portal site that brings together the digitized collections of a large selection of European cultural and scientific institutions. Europeana went online in 2008 and at that time hosted around two million objects. Currently more than thirty million objects from Europe’s biggest cultural institutions, including the Rijksmuseum and the British Library, can be accessed online. The MoMu was one of the founding partners of Europeana Fashion and acted as a content provider, in this way bringing a big part of its digital archive online. Furthermore, MoMu staff also worked on ways to curate the content of the Europeana Fashion platform in more dynamic ways through the development of a tumblr page. Europeana Fashion’s objective was to provide single-portal access (www.europeanafashion.eu) to 700,000 digital fashion-related objects, ranging from historical dress to accessories, photographs, posters, drawings, sketches, videos, and fashion catalogues, stemming from the collections of over twenty-five European museums, libraries and (private) archives. The Europeana Fashion project has been key to fostering awareness in the MoMu team of the need to develop a strategy on how to position the museum within an ever-faster evolving digital fashion world. Another, subsequent result was the realization that collecting digital information in a database without providing some kind of curation did not adequately meet the demands of contemporary (digital) audiences, and that the museum would need to develop new modes of digital curation.
In a period of fifteen years, the museum, prompted by the library team, took part in three different projects for the conservation and disclosing of digital data. This same period saw an enormous boom in the production of digital content in the fashion world—via photographs, videos and fashion films—and the dissemination of content through websites, digital platforms, social media (such as Instagram and Facebook), and digital publishing such as fashion blogs and online magazines. Caroline Evans sees this development as the rise of a visual economy that is founded on instability and constant change, two of the most central concepts of fashion. She describes how the status of the image was transformed. The image has become just as much of a “product” as the object itself:
Thus, in the technological and information revolution of the late twentieth century, the role of the image in fashion shifted. No longer mere representation, the image frequently became the commodity itself, in the form of exclusive fashion shows, internet websites, television programmes and a new kind of fashion magazine, such as Tank, Purple and Visionaire. New media and increased fashion coverage made previously elite fashion accessible to a mass audience, but only as image, never as object.
|EVANS 2000: 86|
The evolutions described above inspired the MoMu to also consider digital possibilities in the museum’s exhibition policy. Where the digital aspect was first limited to integrating materials such as videos from runway shows into exhibitions, there was a gradually-growing realization that digital products could also provide solutions to the many restrictions one encounters when displaying fashion. Using mannequins or busts usually results in static configurations, making it extremely difficult to showcase the visual dynamics that are so integral to contemporary fashion. The standard mannequin body furthermore puts restrictions on the diversity of body types that can be exhibited. Mannequins can be customized to create new body images, but this is a highly labor-intensive operation that doesn’t always yield the results one hopes for. In 2011, the museum organized a retrospective exhibition on Belgian fashion designer Walter Van Beirendonck (see Plate 10). Crucial to an understanding of Van Beirendonck’s oeuvre is how he questions the ways we think about beauty, sexuality and sexual stereotypes and how he seeks out alternative images of the male body. He works with a wide range of different body types in different sexual subcultures, from muscular body builders and robust “bear” types to delicate young boys, frail Japanese girls and completely imaginary characters. The museum saw itself confronted with the restrictions of the traditional ways of displaying clothing. Working with standard mannequins made it virtually impossible to include all these different types of bodies and characters or even caricatures. And even though, as mentioned above, there are ways to adapt a mannequin to fake a more muscular body, bigger volumes don’t necessarily communicate the body type you’re dealing with. Van Beirendonck often works with the so-called bear type from male gay culture: large men with hairy chests and beards. The museum decided to approach SHOWstudio in order to create a fashion film. Nick Knight, in collaboration with stylist Simon Foxton, produced the fashion film “Walter’s Wild Knights.” They used a selection of garments from different seasons, which Foxton selected from Van Beirendonck’s archives. The result was a fashion film that communicates the dynamics, the energy and humor essential to Van Beirendonck’s work and the different body types that feature in his oeuvre. During the exhibition, the project was presented as a photo series and as a film (see Plate 11). The making of the fashion film at the SHOWstudio in London, some months before the opening of the exhibition in Antwerp, was live-streamed by SHOWstudio. When the exhibition opened, the photoshoot was an exclusive feature in the September issue of GQ magazine, which also assisted in financing the film. During this project we not only discovered the possibilities of the medium of fashion film, but also learned how to set up an interesting interaction between the museum’s communication and exhibitions.
In 2012, MoMu acquired a large historical collection from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from a Dutch private collector, Jacoba de Jonge. This collection was presented for the first time in the exhibition “Living Fashion. Women’s Daily Wear 1750–1950.” Starting from questions such as “What’s underneath a pregnancy dress from the late nineteenth century?” and “Can you imagine what women wore when riding a horse at the beginning of the twentieth century?”, MoMu commissioned Dutch video artist Bart Hess to create a fashion film (see Figure 4.4). For reasons of conservation, these dresses couldn’t be worn by models. Hess therefore created digitally-manipulated images of the dresses, resulting in the poetic production “Dresses Undressed.” The film was screened through large projections in the exhibition space, creating an interesting visual contrast with the objects on display, and also extensively featured in MoMu’s communication.
In 2014, MoMu hosted “A Shaded View of Fashion Film” (ASVOFF), a fashion film festival curated by Diane Pernet. On the occasion of this festival, MoMu commissioned two Antwerp-based artists, Frederik Heyman and Wout Bosschaert, to create three fashion films, using objects from the museum’s collection from the eighteenth century up to the present, and according to three themes: embroidery, prints, and skirts. Heymans and Bosschaert translated the objects into digitally manipulated décors that are very much part of Heymans own creative DNA (see Figure 4.5). The objects were photographed in the museum’s studio and were later digitally manipulated by the artists. The London-based Golden Hum sound collective designed a soundscape for these films. This resulted in digital environments where sound and light determine the rhythm of the films and underline the beauty and craftsmanship of the objects. The chiaroscuro effects created by the different neon lights are an important structuring element in the films. Both artists translated references to the historical periods in an abstract way into the soundscape and the décor. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the defining transition from craftsmanship to industrial production are translated into a soundscape that’s threatening and mechanical. For objects from the twentieth century, the artists refer to the atmosphere and style of the 1920s. The soundscape plays with transparency and with glass effects, echoing the glass embroidery on one of the dresses. Contemporary objects are placed in a décor where materials and bright colors refer to postmodern styles, accompanied by a more electronic soundscape.
In the spring of 2016, the museum presented the exhibition “Game Changers. Reinventing the 20th century silhouette,” curated by Karen Van Godtsenhoven and Miren Arzalluz (see Plate 12). The exhibition focused on designers who radically transformed the female silhouette in the twentieth century and proposed alternatives to the hour-glass silhouette that had dominated women’s fashion for centuries. “Game Changers” presented pioneers from the early twentieth century such as Chanel, Vionet and Poiret, innovators from the mid-twentieth century such as Balenciaga, as well as the avant-garde stars of the 1980s and 1990s with Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons and Maison Martin Margiela. The exhibition didn’t try to present these form (r)evolutions as a linear process, but more as a cyclical movement. In order to visualize this concept, the MoMu commissioned photographer Daniel Sannwald to create a holographic film that placed the body at center stage. A choreography by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (Eastman) called “Human Sanctuary” (see Figure 4.6) features a selection of Balenciaga archive pieces combined with objects by designers such as Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons, Martin Margiela, Ann Demeulemeester and Vetements. The choreography united the garments with the bodies of Belgian model Hannelore Knuts, her son and a dancer. The moving, naked bodies and sculptural shapes were brought to life by Cherkaoui. In an evocation of the pre-linguistic phase of human life (until a child reaches the age of thirteen months), in which there is no “I” and no distinction between the child’s own body, the mother’s body and the external world, the abstract garments and living bodies merged into new constellations. An exclusive mystical soundtrack was developed for this endeavour, consisting of a remix of an Iranian song about the origin of heaven and earth by musician James Kelly. The film aimed at introducing dynamics within the very static nature of the exhibition. It is the only installation in the exhibition where one can see the garments on a body. As the body is so crucial in the theme of this exhibition, it was thought important to have at least one installation in which the body is present.
Besides commissioning fashion films tailor-made for the museum, the MoMu has continued the digital project of opening up its collection. In February 2015, the museum launched a digital image wall (see Figure 4.7), the first phase of an ambitious project that will be rolled out in the next five years under the working title “MoMuMedia.” The image wall is a large, interactive multi-touchscreen placed at the museum’s entrance. It consists of eight 55-inch screens that allow fifteen visitors to interact with the wall simultaneously. Visitors can touch the screen to open images and videos. Each file is labelled with several tags, allowing visitors to explore the collection, events and exhibitions in a vast number of different ways. Besides information on the MoMu, the image wall offers information on the other ModeNatie partners as well, being the fashion department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and the Flanders Fashion Institute. When entering the images into the database, each image receives a priority rating, from very low to very high, which determines the frequency with which an image will appear on the wall. This allows the museum to actively promote certain content, activities and events. The wall furthermore offers educational opportunities, which have already included a workshop experiment in which children learned to program their own digital prints, which were projected on the wall in real-time. Visitors can moreover “like” images, providing the museum with an interesting insight into the preferences of its audience, which can be used in the MoMu’s communication strategies. Coming phases of the “MoMuMedia” project will see the development of new applications for the image wall, which will allow for a greater integration of interactivity for specific target audiences. For instance, it is currently being investigated how the wall can be linked to the museum’s website and social media presence, and how visitors could easily upload images using their own smartphone or tablet. Other potential initiatives include inviting guest curators to curate the content of the digital wall or linking the wall to the museum’s display of its permanent collection. The presentation of the permanent collection, the final piece of the MoMuMedia project, will be further developed in 2019–2020 in two new exhibition spaces on the ModeNatie’s ground floor.
In the past five years, the MoMu has investigated, in the digital productions created for the exhibitions, how the relatively novel medium of the fashion film can be used in a museum context. Such productions, always launched in collaboration with a network of fashion field agents, ranging from photographers and directors to stylists, musicians and creative directors, have helped the museum discover new vistas to communicate the dynamics of contemporary fashion and the context of objects, be they contemporary or historical, to audiences in visually interesting ways. Moreover, several projects were instituted to digitally open up the museum’s collection. These projects were always guided by the drive to map the (creative) networks surrounding an object. Interactive engagements with the audience were more recent additions. One of the greatest challenges that the museum faces today is bringing new digital developments together, in exhibitions, collections and communication, to make sure that these facets do not operate as isolated islands within the museum’s organization but enable the museum team to discover relevant (digital) cross-pollinations between the museum’s departments.
 The term “ModeNatie” (“Fashion Nation”) refers to the old Antwerp “nations,” a type of cooperative guild that operated in the harbour. These guilds handled the loading, unloading and transport of goods between the quays and the warehouses, and were organized around a single domain or product (e.g. the Cotton Nation or the Tobacco Nation).
 The Flanders Fashion Institute (FFI) is funded by the Flemish Government. The FFI disseminates information about Belgian fashion, advises fashion designers and labels on business topics, promotes Belgian fashion abroad, and coaches a selection of young, high-potential designers.
 When the building opened in 2002, Linda Loppa was director of all three institutes.
 The fashion department’s sewing studio is housed in a glass structure on the ModeNatie’s roof. It is the building’s most transparent space, bathing in daylight and offering an extraordinary view on the historic city center.
 The five CFA fashion institutes were: the Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design (London), the Dutch Fashion Foundation (Amsterdam), the Flanders Fashion Institute (in collaboration with MoMu) (Antwerp), the Hochschule für Gestaltung Technik und Wirtschaft (Pforzheim) and Unit F Association for Contemporary Fashion (Vienna).
 One of the CFA’s projects was to show an overview of the collections of a number of designers, but there was a limit of twelve images that could be uploaded per collection, meaning that overviews could never be exhaustive. Uploading videos was also not part of the technological possibilities and images overall were of poor quality. Commercial websites, such as Condé Nast’s Style.com, which has been active since 2000, do have such a comprehensive approach. Besides full look images, Style.com publishes a number of detailed views for every look, offers visitors the possibility to zoom in, and since a few years also shows some short clips of the model in motion.
 The ICT Policy Support Programme (ICT PSP) is one of the three specific programs of the Competitiveness and Innovation framework Programme (CIP) and runs for the years 2007–2013. The ICT PSP aims at stimulating smart sustainable and inclusive growth by accelerating the wider uptake and best use of innovative digital technologies and content by citizens, governments and businesses. It provides EU funding to support the realization of the Digital agenda for Europe (http://ec.europa.eu/information_society/activities/ict_psp/about/index_en.htm).
 In 2000, photographer Nick Knight launched his SHOWstudio website, a digital platform that Knight primarily used for developing the young genre of the fashion film. “From SHOWstudio’s inception, Nick Knight and his first editor Penny Martin understood the creative potential of moving image for fashion. [. . .] Rather than simply reporting, however, the website set up its own projects with emerging designers, photographers and models. Its projects were frequently interactive, and it encouraged its audience to respond and contribute creatively to its projects, documenting, communicating and evaluating the results” (Evans 2000: 79).
 The selected designers represented the Japanese and Belgian avant-garde schools of the 1980s and 1990s. The design collective Vetements was selected because its chief designer Demna Gvasalia was recently appointed creative director at the house of Balenciaga. As he previously worked as an assistant for Martin Margiela, and clearly referring with Vêtements to the heritage of Maison Martin Margiela, this served as a beautiful link.
 Press file “Game Changers. Reinventing the 20th century silhouette,” March 2016.
Find in Library 2002) “MoMuArch,” in (K. Debo (ed.), The Fashion Museum Backstage, Ghent: Ludion.
Find in Library 2004) “Spectres: When Fashion Turns Back,” in (J. Clark (ed.), Spectres: When Fashion Turns Back, London: V&A Publications.
Find in Library 2000) “Yesterday’s Emblems and Tomorrow’s Commodities,” in (S. Bruzzi and P. Gibson (eds), Fashion Culture, Oxford: Routledge.
Find in Library (2015) “Fashion Remains. The Epistemic Potential of Fashion Ephemera,” Dissertation, Stockholm: Stockholm University.