“Museo de la Moda” The museum of fashion in Santiago, Chile

During a recent trip to Santiago, Chile I took the opportunity to visit the different museums that the city has to offer. I visited the “Historic Museum of Santiago”, “Museum of Pre-Columbian Art”, “Palacio de la Moneda Exhibition Center”, the “Museum of the City of Santiago” and the “Museum of Fashion”.  The “Museum of Fashion” was the only one I had not visited before and, after my museum tour, I concluded that it was by far on of the best museum in the city (at least among the ones I have seen).

Now, the claim that the “Museo de la Moda” is the best museum in the city of Santiago is an idea that will seem wrong to most Santiaginos. I would certainly have thought that if someone had told me such a thing before I actually went to the museum. So I think I have to be clear, I am not clamming that fashion is the most important thing that Santiago has to show in a museum. Certainly, the collection of the “Museum of pre-Columbian Art” is impressive. And the narrative in “The Historic Museum of Santiago” reflects more of what Chileans are and wish to be that the “Museum of Fashion”. What I mean when I say is the best museum in the city is that the exhibition was splendid, the staff was very helpful and had much knowledge of the exhibition, the space was use impeclably, the exposition was coherent, it was easy to understand what the curator tried to showed, etc. I found nothing of this in other museums I visited in the city ***.

Inside the museum: “back to the 80s.

The first thing that surprised me in the “Museum of fashion” was that as soon as we entered the museum we were offered a guided tour totally free. I was pleasantly surprise because in all the other museums I had visited the guide had to be reserved in advance or nonexistent. Our guide worked in the curatorial department of the museum and was very nice and helpful. Thanks to her we could enter the conservation room and the library (I will come back to this later).

The exhibit that was being presented during my visit was called “volver a los 80´ ”, this is, “back to the 80s”.  The museum seemed particularly concerned with young people in Chile who lived the 80s during Pinochet´s dictatorship.  The trespassing style of the 80s was a way of showing dissent with the conservative values of the dictatorship, but at the same time was a product of it because American clothes arrived to Chile only because of Pinochet´s opening of the markets and the imposition of a liberal economy.

The exhibit was amazing. The museum used not only costumes but also accessories, magazines, music, movies and documentaries to transport the visitor back to the 80s. One of the most iconic symbols of the 80s, Madonna´s plastic cone-bra, designed by Jean Paul Gaultier, was the most impressive object in the exhibit. It was presented next to a T.V (a very 80s looking T.V) that showed a video of Madonna preforming with the famous bra. Other famous costumes were in display too; the dress in which Cecilia Bolloco won the crown of Miss Universe for Chile, more than one of Diana Ross´s dresses used in the famous 80s T.V show “Dynasty”, a collection of Michael Jackson´s jackets, among others. My favorite costume was a pink dress that belonged to Diana of Wales; it stand out among the others because it did not look very 80s to me. For each one of these dresses, some audio or visual help was presented as well; pictures and videos of the events that made the garment famous. Also, the walls of the museum were decorated with magazines and pictures of the 80s. One hall was covered with VHS cassettes from floor to ceiling, creating a very beautiful 80s look. In conclusion, the whole museum was “dress for the occasion”.

The last room of the exhibition was the most interesting for me. It tried to resemble a 80s fancy Chilean discotheque; music was playing all the time and there was a crystal ball hanging from the ceiling with lights all the time. The dresses presented in this room belonged to different Chilean people who went to these parties, mostly from the wealthy elite. Once in this room, you could dream that you were in one of these parties (and even dance along). I think this was a very creative and fun resource to finish the exhibition.

About the museum

The “Museum of Fashion” opened in May, 2007 in Santiago, Chile.  Jorge Yarur, a 49-year old scion of a wealthy family decided to open a world-class fashion museum in his family’s 1962 Modernist glass mansion that he elaborately reconditioned for this purpose[1]. Jorge Yarur is not only the millionaire behind the museum, but also his curator. “Some of the most glamorous pieces that have come on the market recently have been driven up by Jorge Yarur to prices that seemed unreasonable,” said Harold Koda -chief curator of the Costume Institute at the Met- to the NY times in an article about the market of Costume. “Our Chilean friend has had a real impact on the market,” Ms. Parmal from the Boston Museum added. “He has a very good eye, and he only goes for the best. And he does what he has to do to acquire it.” Yarur family made its fortune in the textile business during the beginning of the twenty century in Chile. Jorge´s mother, Raquel Bascuñán was an important socialite; her 500 dresses from the 50s and 60s started the collection. The Museum of Fashion is kind of like a tribute to the Yarur family, their family business and specially Doña Raquel, from his only heir (whose passion happens to be fashion as well).  Whit his effort the museum holds today more than 8000-pieces in its collection with the aim to “to collect, preserve and promote the most important parts of each historical period, with the intention of creating a historiography fashion.[2]

As part of this aim, they have presented different expositions; “Tennis”, about the different clothes and accessories that have been used to play this sport, “War and seduction”, about the changes in fashion during World War I and II, and “Diana” where different dresses used by Lady D were in exhibition before they were auctioned in London (another probe of the importance of Jorge Yarur capital, and social capita, to shape this museum).

The objects collected by a museum of this kind (one of the few in the world) require a complex system of conservation and restoration of fabrics. This task is done in the museum itself in its own conservation department. Also, the museum has a library with thousands of books and photos that help the curatorial work.

For all this reasons I find the Museum of Fashion to be the best museum in Santiago. I was not able to see or guess any of these organizational efforts in any of the other museums I visited. And they certainly did not showed very good results either.  I was really impressed by the museum of fashion in every regard.

The only criticism that I think fits this museum is the fact that it deals with a very elitist topic: fashion. I have never seen anyone wearing a Gucci jacket or similar in a party in Chile. Probably, all the clothing presented in the “party room” could have belonged to 20 or 30 families in the country. Also, Madonna never went to Chile in the 80s, Michel Jackson never made it at all.  Still, I think that all of this can be justify when we remember that this is not a museum of clothing but a museum of fashion. Fashion is a particular form of historic narrative even when not everyone, or not even most of people, has access to it. Also, I believed that in this particular exhibit, the museum did made an effort to show fashion “on the street”; they made it thought the fashion magazines in the walls that presented the collections of “Falabella” and “Paris” (common Chilean Macy-style stores). Also, they try to present clothes that belong to people that dictated fashion in that decade, people that were imitated “on the streets”.

*** I have recently visited the “Museo de la Memoria” in Santiago and I have to say that this museum  is splendid as well. 

[1] The elegant building was designed to let the light in from almost every corner. Yet, once transformed in the “Museum of Fashion” the reformers had to invent clever ways to stop the light coming in and destroy the dresses partially ruining this “glass mansion” style.

[2] This is the mission statement as it is written in English by the museum. In Spanish is slightly different, it stands as a mission “to collect, preserve and promote fashion as cultural patrimony of a decade”. I thought that this a-priori identification of fashion with “a decade” was odd. Later, I noticed that the English version avoid this reference to a decade and instead says “historical period” which I think is better.

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