FP: From your collaborative approach and collection policies it is clear that MoMu has a strong connection with the city of Antwerp and the Belgian fashion scene. How do you see the relationship between fashion museums and the industry? How has it evolved?

KD: When it comes to collaboration and sponsorship, it’s something that we negotiate differently for every exhibition. The first thing we always do is discuss our curatorial approach with the designer, the management team, or the fashion house. We try to have an open conversation about how we can collaborate together. We are very clear that, at the end of the day, it is MoMu that has the last say. So we curate the show, but often involve designers as co-curators. What we don’t do is include objects for commercial purposes. In our case it’s easier than for larger institutions in London or New York, because Belgian brands are too small to sponsor a show, so it’s never happened that a designer could afford to pay for his or her exhibition. If a fashion house is paying for an exhibition, there’s a different power relationship. Then again, just because designers don’t pay for it, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have these kinds of conversations anyway. It is still about achieving a balance between what you want and what they want.

I personally don’t mind if a designer translates our research into a three-dimensional display, as long as the core of your research isn’t touched. If you want to know if it’s okay for me that fashion houses pay for their exhibitions, the answer is that I don’t mind as long as you have that kind of conversation and a contract that states these conditions very clearly. Just to give you an example, we did an exhibition with the Belgian leather goods company Delvaux to celebrate their 180th anniversary. I didn’t mind doing an exhibition to celebrate their anniversary. Of course, I knew they would use the exhibition for their own marketing strategy, but it doesn’t mean that we have to adapt what’s on display for that reason.

FP: As the curator and director of a fashion museum, what do you think of the proliferation of fashion exhibitions across non-fashion museums and spaces?

KD: A lot of non-fashion institutions underestimate the work that goes into fashion curation. Fashion curation entails interpreting the body into a three-dimensional, static display. I’ve seen a lot of museums and galleries that have done fashion exhibitions because it’s quite cheap. You don’t pay the same insurance you pay for art pieces. They also attract lots of visitors, so it’s quite good for marketing purposes. However, often they settle for the cheap mannequins and end up with mannequins that have completely wrong body shapes, with big breasts or short trunks. A good mannequin, which unfortunately is quite expensive, has correct measurements and proportions.

Last year, the Musée des Beaux Arts in Brussels did its first fashion exhibition, which I consulted for. The first thing I told them was that they needed to make sure they had good mannequins. We loaned them some of ours, but they had many looks so they ended up buying 40 or 50 new mannequins. They went for the cheap ones. Imagine a look by Ann Demeulemeester, which is designed for an androgynous figure, on a mannequin with big breasts. The clothes didn’t fit and those mannequins were too short, so the clothing looked horrible. The designers were furious.

The cheap mannequins also had faces that weren’t particularly nice, but they only discovered that after unpacking them, which they did only two weeks before the show. You need more time. It’s not like hanging a painting on the wall. Sometimes we work on fitting a single dress on a mannequin for days. Anyway, they ended up covering the mannequins’ faces with plastic bags. It looked quite strange.

Many designers have a body type and for Belgians it is usually an androgynous body for both menswear and womenswear. You have to think about that. You can put a garment on a body in 1,000 different ways and all these different modes of display communicate different things to an audience. That requires experience, which a lot of these institutions just don’t have.

I think it’s disrespectful to designers to show their garments in ways that do not communicate their vision correctly. That doesn’t mean that I’m not open to different ways of curating. I’m aware that we curate in a different way than the Metropolitan, the Galliera, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, or the V&A. I think it’s enriching to see how different institutions curate in different ways.

FP: I generally find the proliferation of curation, or perhaps of “the curatorial,” quite interesting, especially when it happens outside of museums. For example, with a platform like Pinterest it seems like everyone can become a curator, in a way.

KD: The whole concept of co-curating with the audience is a very fashionable one. It’s something that we are thinking about: are we going to embrace it and how far are we going to go with this? I can imagine asking visitors to share images of a piece on display that they happen to own, to understand how they wear it and combine it with other garments. But again, the challenge is to understand if it’s relevant or if it’s just going to be another stream of images that doesn’t add anything to the conversation.