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Vincent Peters
From the E/MOTION exhibitionPhotography Vincent Peters

Five reasons to visit MoMu, Antwerp’s revamped fashion museum

From rare Margiela to THAT J.Lo Versace dress – here’s why you need to book your trip

After 18 months of lockdowns and closures, digital shows and postponed exhibitions, fashion fans have found themselves desperate for IRL inspiration. After all, there’s only so much you can get from looking at clothes on a screen. Finally, then, some good news: after a three-year renovation, MoMu, Antwerp’s cult fashion museum, has opened its doors once more, and it’s full to the brim with work by fashion’s most creative and visionary designers. 

“I think we all felt it important to not only explore fashion, but also fashion culture – to talk about how fashion impacts our lives, and impacts society,” explains Kaat Debo, the museum’s director, of the philosophy behind its reopening. “We want to tell different stories linked to these objects. And we hope that people find them interesting, relevant, triggering, inspiring.”

The museum opens with two new exhibitions: E/MOTION, which looks at the way fashion has responded to the last three decades, and Fashion from the MoMu Collection, a display of items from the permanent collection that focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on Belgian fashion. Another new exhibition: P.LACE.S, is set to open at the end of the month. An exploration of lace and lacemaking in the city of Antwerp, the show will feature historic items alongside show-stopping work by the likes of Iris Van Herpen and Miuccia Prada.

Here’s why you need to plan your visit.

THE SPACE HAS HAD A TOTAL MAKEOVER 

Even if you’ve been to MoMu before, there’s much more to see after its makeover. The lobby has been reimagined (with a giant David Sims image on the staircase); there’s a new auditorium that fits 45; and an extra 800sqm of space has been added (including an entirely new gallery for the display of some of the museum’s 35,000 piece permanent collection, with items being rotated every few months). Not to mention the new café in collaboration with Antwerp’s cult restaurant Graanmarkt 13, a shop, and a revamped library, where as well as more fashion books than you could ever hope to read – and the odd copy of Dazed, obvs – there’s a study archive of garments and other pieces that the public can register for access to. 

THE OPENING EXHIBITION IS A MUST-SEE

Called E/MOTION: Fashion in Transition, the opening show – curated by Elisa de Wyngaert – deals with “transformations that have impacted fashion during the past three decades,” according to director Debo. “We thought it would be relevant to open with a show that reflects on the state of fashion today,” she says. From 9/11 to the migrant crisis, the rise of the internet to the pandemic, this provoking show explores the ways different designers have responded to the world’s shifts – and its crises. Whether looking at the female body as a canvas for desires and anxieties (Kim Kardashian’s SKIMS shapewear sits alongside a self portrait by Cindy Sherman, creating an uncanny contrast) or the impact of the EU referendum (via one of those ballooning, blue velvet Balenciaga ballgowns), the brilliant exhibition is proof of fashion’s power to spark conversation, create controversy, and shape culture. 

LONDON’S BRIGHTEST DESIGNERS ARE WELL REPRESENTED

A little moment of pride for some of our home city’s best: as well as heavyweights like Vivienne Westwood, looks by designers including Simone Rocha, Molly Goddard, Supriya Lele, and Grace Wales Bonner all feature in E/MOTION, with many of their clothes exploring ideas of heritage and cultural identity. “For me, it's not about how long (a designer has) been working in the industry,” says Debo of what makes a look exhibit-worthy. “It can be that you're working for 30 years and that you make very nice clothes but they are maybe not relevant to present in a museum. And sometimes you have designers that you know from the very first season will make collections that offer a relevant perspective on our society or on fashion.” Like our Brits, of course. 

AND SO ARE THE BELGIANS, OBVS

Belgium is renowned for its own brand of avant garde designers, many of whom came from Antwerp’s prestigious fashion school. So, unsurprisingly, the MoMu collection hosts a whole load of pieces by Belgium’s most important and celebrated names: from Raf Simons to Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten and Walter Van Beirendonck, and of course, Martin Margiela. Particular highlights on display? A Raf Riot Riot Riot look from AW01 featuring the iconic camo MA-1, a feather halter top from Ann Demeulemeester SS92, and Margiela’s infamous wig dress, which is juxtaposed with a picture of Paris Hilton. Not forgetting some of the nation’s newer talent: a look by Botter, featuring a hoodie that asks: ‘Do You See Us Now?’ represents a new, progressive wave of Belgian design talent. ”We are acquiring all the time,” says Debo of the museum’s permanent collection. 

WHERE ELSE ARE YOU GOING TO SEE ANY OF THIS?

A Juicy Couture x Vetements velour hoodie dress (displayed next to an 18th century cape)… a CD Rom copy of Helmut Lang’s first digital fashion show (and a Jenny Holzer artwork that was displayed in one of his stores)… J.Lo’s green Versace Jungle dress (you know, the one that invented Google images)… a dress from the iconic 2D Comme des Garçons collection… a Gaultier ‘Mad Max’ dress… a standout look from Virgil’s Vuitton… trust us: there is simply so much great stuff to see. PLUS, artwork and photography from Barbara Kruger, Juergen Teller, David Sims, Nick Knight, and many, many more. “I just hope (the museum) will have an impact on them,” Debo says of what she hopes visitors will take away. “And that, even if they don't understand some garments, that they discuss them, or ask questions, or that they just spark conversation.” You’ll just have to go and see it all for yourself.