Ten great fashion exhibitions to visit right now: a world overview

As museums reopen and travel restrictions begin to ease in many countries, we present the very best fashion and fashion photography exhibitions across the world this year. From Margiela to Mugler, Newton to Meisel, there's plenty to enjoy.

Rejoice! The museum is back. These days, a visit may need careful planning, with many operating online booking systems. But it’s a period of sheer creative relief for museum teams and curators the world over as they see the beginnings of a return to normality. And fashion displays and exhibitions, guaranteed crowd pleasers even in normal times, are leading the efforts to bring visitors back.

From retrospectives of Martin Margiela and Thierry Mugler to photography exhibitions curated by Claudia Schiffer, the choice is outstanding. Here is our selection of ten top shows round the world.

Martin Margiela / Paris

A comeback exhibition for Martin Margiela? The Belgian fashion legend retired from Maison Margiela in 2009, but has announced his personal comeback as an artist this year. He is to exhibit at the Lafayette Anticipations gallery in Paris from October 20. Martin Margiela is known for challenging design, powerful vision and aesthetic turbulence. The exhibition is expected to feature never-before-seen pieces including sculptures, paintings, photographs and installations. Twelve years after he removed himself from the public eye, Margiela is resoundingly back.

Lafayette Anticipations, Paris, from October 20 to January 2 2022

Bags: Inside Out / London

Three hundred bags, ranging from the 16th century to the present day, are on show at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London until early next year. They include Birkin bags and military backpacks, Louis Vuitton luggage and Mulberry purses, including pieces from the private collections of Alexa Chung and Kate Moss. A brilliantly conceived insight into handbags, their design and their craft. Our personal highlight: a purse from the 17th century in the shape of a frog.

V&A, London, until January 16 2022

Thierry Mugler: Couturissime / Paris

A retrospective of French designer Thierry Mugler opens at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris this autumn, a second iteration of an exhibition that made its debut at the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Montréal. It runs from September 30 to April 2022, featuring a total of 150 fashion pieces and costume from 1977 and 2014. The ultimate showman, Mugler came up with a flamboyant futuristic take on fashion in the 1980s that still reverberates today.

Le Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, from September 30 to April 24 2022

Sneakers Unboxed: Studio to Street / London

London’s elegant Design Museum off High Street Kensington is currently hosting an exhibition about the sneaker phenomenon, showing different shapes and styles of sneakers and taking the visitor through the design process. The show is inevitably dominated by the biggest brands such as Nike, Converse, Puma and Adidas, but most of the important brands and collaborations that have shaped the sneaker scene are represented or reflected. It’s a true celebration of trainer design.

Design Museum London, until October 24 2021

Reinvention and Restlessness: 1990s Fashion / New York

When we think of invention in fashion design in the 1990s, we think of names like Alexander McQueen, Rei Kawakubo, Marc Jacobs, John Galliano, Helmut Lang, Hussein Chalayan and Martin Margiela. This exhibition at The Museum at FIT in New York presents insights into their design work and aesthetic, with more than 75 looks. The accompanying book includes photos by the likes of Steven Meisel, Corinne Day or Mark Borthwick. Learn all about deconstructivism, the rise and rise of the runway as spectacle, and the hi-energy impact of the top brands of the period. The show opens this autumn (date to be confirmed) – essential viewing in New York.

Fashion Institute of Technology, New York, US, from Fall 2021

Ruth E Carter: Afrofuturism in Costume Design / Atlanta

Ruth E. Carter was the first Black costume designer to win an Oscar for best costume design. The Scad Fash Museum of Fashion + Film in Atlanta is now hosting a retrospective of her work. The exhibition shows sixty costumes and sketches from the past four decades and explores the visions of the woman who worked on sets from Do The Right Thing (1989) to Black Panther (2018). She is also known for being an excellent storyteller and discussing culture, race, and politics through visual communication.

The Scad Fash Museum of Fashion + Film, Atlanta, US, until September 21

Alaïa and Balenciaga: Sculptors of Shape / Getaria, Spain

The Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum in Getaria, Spain, currently houses a real treat in the form of an exhibition of 100 pieces by Cristobal Balenciaga and Azzedine Alaïa. The late Alaïa collected Balenciaga’s work for four decades and his personal archive presents the viewer with a sensational variety of different shapes, textures and designs. The exhibition shows us how truly unique the two designers were in their time – and how important their heritage is still today.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum, Getaria, Spain, until November 1.

Fashion Photography from the 1990s — curated By Claudia Schiffer / Duesseldorf

Claudia Schiffer, one of the best known of the supermodels of the 1990s, has curated an exhibition about fashion photography during that glamourous era. It includes photos from leading fashion photographers such as Ellen von Unwerth and Juergen Teller as well as Karl Lagerfeld, who influenced and enriched her career. There’s plenty of photography and memorabilia from her own personal archive, allowing us to explore the 90s supermodel era through the lens of a supermodel herself.

Kunstpalast, Duesseldorf, Germany, from September 15 to January 9, 2022

Helmut Newton / Berlin

Provocative Berlin-born fashion photographer Helmut Newton, who died in 2004, would have turned 100 in 2020. The Helmut Newton Foundation celebrates his achievements with an exhibition in Berlin opening on June 3, which will tour to Milan in 2022. Newton delivered an erotic charge to the fashion shoot, his black-and-white images touching on fetishism and bringing a sexual energy to mainstream fashion magazines. He enjoyed challenging conventional notions of good taste. As he once put it, “Everything that is beautiful is a fake. The most beautiful lawn is plastic.”

Helmut Newton Foundation, Berlin, Germany, from June 3 to January 23, 2022

Pierre Cardin Museum / Paris

This is not a recommendation for an exhibition but for a permanent display. The renowned Parisian designer died last year, but the Pierre Cardin Museum is where best to remember him – through more than 250 haute couture designs from 1950 to 2000. While later period Cardin was a licensing-driven business mostly shunned by the fashion press, it’s worth remembering the shock of the new when he first appeared on the scene with his futuristic shapes – and he was a genuine pioneer of high fashion menswear. Discover his world in Paris.

Pierre Cardin Museum, Paris, permanent exhibition

Insider tip: If you missed the spectacular Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition in Paris and London, a flavour of it can now be enjoyed online. The house of Dior has created a film available on YouTube via the Christian Dior YouTube channel.

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