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How top museums around the world are charting fashion history in 2020

Over the past decade, the world of high fashion has opened up to the mainstream. Designer brands now reside in our collective consciousness; we brandish their logos proudly on our clothes and handbags, or sing along as they are name-dropped in hit rap songs. But while most of us can name the brand of a sneaker, how many of us can spell out its history?

Fashion doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but its ties to history, culture and society are often overlooked. Lest they be forgotten altogether, some of the world’s top museums have taken it upon themselves to tell those stories, often with gorgeous installations to boot.

Below, we take a look at some of the most exciting fashion exhibitions of 2020 to go to if you’re looking to brush up on your fashion knowledge.

"Mary Quant" exhibition at the V&A London museum
Mary Quant at the Quant Afoot footwear collection launch in 1967 (Photo credit: PA Prints 2008, courtesy of Victoria & Albert Museum, London)
Mary Quant

Following its Dior retrospective, London’s V&A has turned its attention to another fashion designer from the past: Mary Quant. Over 200 garments and accessories by the “mother of the miniskirt” are on view at her eponymous exhibition, offering guests a rich look at 1960s British fashion and its cultural impact. Besides iconic designs that were modelled by Twiggy, the exhibition also includes unseen and lesser-known pieces from Quant’s personal archives.

Mary Quant runs through February 16 at London’s V&A.

"Christian Louboutin: l'Exposition" exhibition at Palais de la Porte Dorée
Maquereau shoe created by Christian Louboutin in 1987 (Photo credit: Christian Louboutin)
Christian Louboutin: l’Exposition

Palais de la Porte Dorée is kicking off the year with an exhibition especially for those who love red bottoms as much as Cardi B. “Christian Louboutin: l’Exposition” illustrates the eponymous designer’s inspirations and creative process, alongside a selection of his iconic heels from the last 30 years. The exhibition was also unveil designs from Louboutin’s personal collection, as well as a series of new collaborations between the French designer and artists like David Lynch and Lisa Reihana.

Christian Louboutin: l’Exposition runs from February 26 through July 28 at Palais de la Porte Paris.

"Tim Walker: Wonderful Things" exhibition at V&A London museum
“Tim Walker: Wonderful Things” exhibition at the V&A (Photo credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
Tim Walker: Wonderful Things

“If we have so many terrible things, we need wonderful things, too.” So explained Tim Walker as the raison d’etre of his fashion photography, which is the focus of the ongoing V&A exhibition, “Tim Walker: Wonderful Things”. It boasts the largest ever collection of the British photographer’s work, encompassing his highly stylized editorials and portraiture of fashion icons like Tilda Swinton and Alexander McQueen. Walker has also shot new photographs inspired by the V&A’s archives, which are exclusively on display at the Wonderland-inspired exhibition.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things runs through March 8 at London’s V&A.

"Thierry Mugler: Couturissime" exhibition at Kunsthal Rotterdam
Thierry Mugler “La Chimère” collection, haute couture Fall/Winter 1997 (Photo credit: Alan Strutt, courtesy of Kunsthal Rotterdam)
Thierry Mugler: Couturissme

It’s a wonder that Thierry Mugler has never been the subject of a retrospective before, despite his vast influence on fashion over the last four decades. Netherlands’ Kunsthal Rotterdam has fixed that with “Thierry Mugler: Couturissme”, which recreates the French couturier’s fantasy world with over 150 outfits from his oeuvre, as well as unseen accessories, stage costumes and sketches. The exhibition is a treat for fans of fashion photography, too: works by legendary fashion photographers (Guy Bourdin, David LaChapelle and Helmut Newton, to name a few) featuring Mugler’s extravagant corseted designs will also be showcased.

Thierry Mugler: Couturissme runs through March 8 at Kunsthal Rotterdam.

"Bags: Inside Out" exhibition at V&A London museum
Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel Lait de Coco evening bag, Fall/Winter 2014 (Photo credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London)
Bags: Inside Out

This April, the V&A is hosting a massive exhibition dedicated to the ultimate fashion accessory: bags. Over 300 of them will be displayed at “Bags: Inside Out”, including designer handbags, vanity cases and military rucksacks. Some of these boast famous owners like Vivian Leigh and Margaret Thatcher. Others are famous themselves. Think It-bags that ruled the 2000s, such as the Fendi Baguette and Hermès Kelly handbags.

Bags: Inside Out opens from April 25 at London’s V&A.

"About Time: Fashion and Duration" exhibition at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York
Surreal by David Bailey, 1980 (Photo credit: David Bailey, courtesy of The Metropolitan
Museum of Art)
About Time: Fashion and Duration

On its 150th anniversary, the Met’s Costume Institute is taking a contemplative look at time — through a sartorial lens, of course. Through over a hundred couture garments, “About Time: Fashion and Duration” will present a chronology of fashion from 1870 to today. They will be accompanied by notes from “ghost narrator” Virginia Woolf, whose novel Orlando served as inspiration for the exhibition. As is fashion tradition, “About Time” will kick off shortly after the highly anticipated Met Gala in May.

About Time: Fashion and Duration runs from May 7 to September 7 at the Costume Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

"Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street" exhibition at London Design Museum
“Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street” exhibition (Photo credit: Michaela Efford, courtesy of London Design Museum)
Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street

No other fashion item has had a more meteoric rise over the last decade than the sneaker. London Design Museum’s “Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street” will trace how the sporty trainer went from being a symbol of practicality to the most prized possession of fashion collectors. Cult classics by Nike, Adidas, Puma and Comme des Garçons will be on view. Sneakerheads can also look forward to a glimpse of rarer kicks, such as the infamous “Jesus shoes”.

Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street opens from May 6 at London Design Museum.

"Prada: Front and Back" exhibition at London Design Museum
Prada Spring/Summer 2020 (Photo credit: Prada)
Prada: Front and Back

Undoubtedly one of the most exciting fashion exhibitions of 2020, “Prada: Front and Back” offers just that: an unprecedented look at how the Italian brand transformed from a leather goods company into a global fashion powerhouse in the hands of Miuccia Prada. Held at the London Design Museum, the exhibition will also shine a spotlight on how the visionary designer has redefined luxury, design and style over the last 40 years. This one’s a must-see for Pradaphiles and anyone else who cares about fashion beyond its façade.

Prada: Front and Back runs from September 1 to December 31 at London Design Museum.

How top museums around the world are charting fashion history in 2020

Pameyla Cambe

Senior Writer

Pameyla Cambe is a fashion and jewellery writer who believes that style and substance shouldn't be mutually exclusive. She makes sense of the world through Gothic novels, horror films and music. Lots of music.

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