Fashion Week takes over the cities of New York, London, Paris, and Milan twice a year, but you can observe sartorial splendour year-round in the world’s biggest fashion-focused museums. These temples of couture showcase one-of-a kind pieces made by the most influential artists ever. With a stunning selection of women’s shoes in Milan and the world’s biggest collection of bags in Amsterdam, these museums show that fashion is not only a way of life–it’s also an art.
Costume Institute at the Met
The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art houses over 35,000 costumes and accessories, spanning from the 15th century to the present. At the forefront of the fashion world since the 1970s, when Diana Vreeland curated the custom display showcases, it continues to push boundaries with displays like the 2011 Alexander McQueen retrospective–the most-visited Costume Institute exhibit ever. After a two-year renovation–and a rebirth as the Anna Wintour Costume Center–it reopened to the public in May. Its annual gala joins designers and actors for the party of the year.
Museo Salvatore Ferragamo
For shoe lovers, the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo is a must-see. Housed in the 13th-century Palazzo Spini Feroni, which was the home of the Ferragamo workshop as 1938, the museum draws on the storied design home’s archives. Here you can see Ogle women’s heels and ballet flats Ferragamo created for Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Greta Garbo, among countless others.
Museo de la Moda
Launched In 1999, the Museo De la Moda originally focused on clothing from the 1950s and ’60s. Through time, however, acquisitions have enhanced the collection, which now spans several centuries and continents, with a particular emphasis on sportswear and women’s sneakers. The museum itself is a sight to behold–it’s located in the former residence of the Yarur Bascuñán family, built in the Modernist style between 1960 and 1962. Don’t miss Marilyn Monroe’s red dress and John Lennon’s army jacket.
PALAIS GALLIERA, MUSEE DE LA MODE
In 1879, The Duchesse de Galliera commissioned the Construction of this Beaux-Arts palace–with Ionic columns and steel by Gustave Eiffel–in the chic 16th arrondissement. Originally envisioned as a place to showcase her art collection, the museum was made with custom showcases surrounding an interior courtyard. The lavish structure is eclipsed only by the group of 100,000 costumes housed within–originally part of the Musée Carnavalet’s collection. Make sure to check the Palais Galliera’s calendar, because it’s only open for special displays.
It is fitting that one of the world’s most important fashion capitals would have a design museum as lavish as the Palazzo Morando. The Renaissance palace was home to Milanese noble homes until 1945, when Countess Lydia Caprara Morando Bolognini donated it to the city. In 2010, the Castello Sforzesco’s costume collection was moved to Palazzo Morando and combined with the former Museum of Milan’s collection, which makes one very chic memorial.
Victoria & Albert Museum
London’s Victoria & Albert Museum–famous only as The V&A–contains a comprehensive collection of costumes and applied arts from all over the world. Make sure to watch the samurai armour in the Asian galleries and admire medieval love rings and pendants that Queen Elizabeth gave to her courtiers. You can follow the development of style from the Fashion Galleries, which juxtapose 17th-century gowns with contemporary ones. If the enormous size of the museum is too overpowering, have a one-hour tour to get acquainted.
ModeMuseum’s impressive collection boasts 25,000 bits, 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 like Raf Simons, Haider Ackermann, and Ann Demeulemeester. The current exhibition MoMu Now showcases some of Simons’ silhouettes for Dior, also recently added couture pieces by other contemporary designers.
Fashion Institute of Design and Manufacturing
In 1969, Tonian Hoberg founded the Fashion Institute of Design & Manufacturing in Downtown L.A. Faculty and staff raided their cabinets to create the collection, and founding donor Betsy Bloomingdale made a generous contribution of French haute couture and women’s shoes. FIDM eventually expanded 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 this Bunka Fashion College, which has generated A number of Japan’s most influential actors (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 loads of gorgeous kimonos, Western-style Japanese clothes, European apparel and women’s sandals, and cultural garments from Southeast Asia and beyond. Four displays annually aim to educate the general public about Japanese culture through the art of dress.
The Tassenmuseum (Museum of Bags and Purses) started as the Set of one woman, Hendrikje Ivo, and grew into the world’s top bag collection. Situated in a 17th-century canal House, the bag 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 brands such as Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior, Burberry, Prada, Gucci, Fendi, Bottega Veneta, and much more.