ModeMuseum MoMu – Fashion Museum Antwerp 2021


Before it closes – due to coronavirus countermeasures or due to extra renovation works – I visited the ModeMuseum MoMu – Fashion Museum Antwerp, using my MuseumPASSmusées.

MoMu reopened in September 2021 after being closed for years for a major revamp. There are now three major exhibition spaces.

1: Main collection

I started on the ground floor with ‘Collection presentation – Fashion from the MoMu Collection‘.

The new Collection presentation on the ground floor sheds light on avant-garde Belgian and international fashion, with an alternating presentation of silhouettes and archive material from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 35,000 items.

The collection presentation will rotate every year to display as much of the MoMu collection as possible, from contemporary fashion to historical clothing, textiles and accessories.

With the new collection presentation, MoMu is offering a permanent place for every visitor that is dynamic, surprising and inspiring. Due to a lack of exhibition space in the past, the museum’s extensive collection had limited exposure. Today, the renovated museum can give the history of Belgian and international fashion a permanent place. The MoMu collection is continuously enriched as the gaps within the historical collection are filled and creations by young designers are added. Both keep the collection presentation a dynamic and surprising space.

In the first collection presentation, visitors will discover the story and the origins of avant-garde Belgian and international fashion. The exhibition presents clothing and accessories, show invites, and archival footage. 

An introductory documentary takes a deeper look at the origins of the quality label ‘Belgian fashion’ from the rise of the Antwerp Six in the 1980s. The history of fashion in Belgium cannot be told without the work of the alumni from the Fashion Department of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. The collection presentation starts from a critical questioning of the contemporary meaning of the label ‘Antwerp’ or ‘Belgian’ fashion.

The world is in transition. As a consequence and extension of this, the MoMu collection is a reflection of a society in flux. 

“The collection presentation therefore does not tell a chronological story, but focuses on the themes and work of designers that are aesthetically and intrinsically connected to the central themes that are interwoven throughout: surrealism, craft, deconstructivism and a predilection for art, history and innovation. MoMu also collects work from Belgian and international designers who studied at other fashion schools or had no training at all. Thanks to the numerous exhibitions held in recent years, many avant-garde creations by international designers – with no direct link to Belgium or Antwerp – have also been included in the collection. This is what makes the MoMu collection the unique, evolving one that it is – and will become”, MoMu says

A selection of the designers presented in the first collection presentation: Dries Van Noten, Martin Margiela, Raf Simons, Walter Van Beirendonck, Ann Demeulemeester, Dirk Van Saene, Helmut Lang, Yohji Yamamoto, Rushemy Botter, A.F. Vandevorst, Jurgi Persoons, Bernhard Willhelm, Olivier Theyskens, Stephen Jones, Ann Salens, Minju Kim, Yuima Nakazato, Noir Kei Ninomiya, Haider Ackermann, Veronique Branquinho and Patrick Van Ommeslaeghe

The work of students from the Fashion Department can also be admired.

Rather than a chronology, MoMu opted to chose some topics. The museum highlights the white shirt for instance, or talks about what is Belgian fashion and who are the Antwerp Six. And there’s also a corner for black capes and their modern rendering: black hoodies. Black American Trayvon Martin, 17 in 2012, was shot dead by a police officer in Florida for wearing a black hoodie. 

2: Lace me up, Scottie

Also on the ground floor, there’s the exhibition ‘P.LACE.S – Looking through Antwerp Lace‘.

The exhibition ‘P.LACE.S – Looking through Antwerp Lace‘ highlights the important role the city played in the production and trade of lace. MoMu tells this story through an exhibition trail that connects five locations in the city.

With ‘P.LACE.S’, MoMu is starting a unique conversation between historical textile craft and contemporary fashion to look at our history from a different perspective. This creates a visual play between past and present, presenting objects from international collections that have never been shown in Belgium before.

From the mid-16th to the mid-18th centuries, Antwerp played a leading role in the creation and distribution of lace, without linking the city’s name to a single type of lace. 

“With an inspired commercial spirit, lace of varying quality was produced and traded for a diverse and international clientele. This ensured that Antwerp adapted to the specific needs of the export countries. The lack of branding – in contrast to Brussels, Bruges or Mechelen, for example – is one of the reasons why studies on lace usually make only passing mention of Antwerp”, MoMu says.

With ‘P.LACE.S’, MoMu highlights the socio-economic and artistic importance of the lace that was long created and traded in Antwerp. 

By bringing together historical lace, paintings and archival documents from Europe and the United States, Flemish lace features prominently in collections from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the exhibition reveals how, for centuries, Flemish lace was a prominent presence in fashion, interior design and religion. The role of girls and women in both the production and trade of lace is also given due attention.

The historical ‘places‘ where the exhibition in Antwerp is taking place have an – often less known – historical link with lace. In the Plantin-Moretus Museum, with one of the oldest archives in the world on the lace trade, and in the Snijders & Rockox House, the exhibition shows exceptional lace and contemporary fashion in historic interiors.

In addition, SHOWstudio, the acclaimed digital platform of fashion photographer Nick Knight, created an artistic intervention at two exhibition locations at MoMu’s request. SHOWstudio made a poetic film for the St. Charles Borromeo Church, which boasts the most important collection of lace from the 17th and 18th centuries in Antwerp. 

At the Maagdenhuis, where orphaned girls used to learn sewing and lace-making, both substantive and visual parallels were sought between historical and contemporary production techniques. 

At MoMu the exhibition illustrates the fashionable aspects of lace. Through an overview of different types of clothing and accessories, from shirts to hats, the visitor can explore exactly how lace was worn. 

Visitors will also discover how today’s innovative designers are experimenting with transparency through high-tech 3D printing and laser cutting. This will give them a new perspective on designers and fashion houses such as Iris van Herpen, Azzedine Alaïa, Chanel, Prada and Louis Vuitton, which are using new techniques to explore the conceptual boundaries of lace.

3: Don’t go wasting your emotions

One floor up, there’s the exhibition ‘E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition‘.

E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition’ explores the way in which fashion is an expression of emotion, fear and desire in society: fashion is both ’emotion’ and ‘in motion’.

With this exhibition, MoMu looks back on events from the past three decades and asks questions about how fashion can reinvent itself as an industry, as well as the role that fashion designers can play in the future.

“Through themes such as the female body, 9/11, identity and surveillance the exhibition looks at how fashion can expose and even anticipate the different emotions running through society”, MoMu describes the exhibition.

“Fashion sits at the very centre of contemporary life, and artists and designers play leading roles in constructing images and meaning in times of fundamental and systemic change. Fashion was in constant dialogue with, and even predicted, different crises and transitions. Like no other medium, fashion can magnify the raw emotions within society. Understanding fashion is a way to understand, and even articulate, both the hopeful and uncomfortable truths of the world. ‘E/MOTION’ looks at the way fashion has been a visual signifier of contemporary instabilities, concerns and emotions.

“The exhibition is divided into chapters that function as portals through which social, political and psychological change is explored. All objects – an assemblage of fashion silhouettes, artworks, photography, video and documentation – are presented as symbols, icons or metaphors of their time. Sometimes they offer insights into critically dark truths about the world, whilst others provide humorous portrayals on what it is like to live in the world today.”

The exhibition wants to inspire and ask questions about the reinvention of fashion as an industry and the future role of designers and artists. Above all else, ‘E/MOTION. Fashion in Transition’, is a story about our dire need for emotion. Fashion is emotion and in motion.”

The exhibition includes work by, amongst others Helmut Lang, Walter Van Beirendonck, Alexander McQueen, Martin Margiela, Hussein Chalayan, John Galliano, Raf Simons, Versace, Phoebe Philo, Demna Gvasalia, Molly Goddard, Simone Rocha, BOTTER, Pyer Moss, Minju Kim, Kenneth Ize, Ester Manas, Supriya Lele, Marine Serre, Jenny Holzer, Wolfgang Tillmans, Nick Knight, Cindy Sherman, Sho Shibuya, Steven Meisel, Jackie Nickerson, David Sims, Juergen Teller, Barbara Kruger,…

Emotions such as vanitas, ego and fear are being decorticated. One segment delves deeper into viruses and the now omnipresent coronavirus COVID-19. On display is a video of a speech by U.S. president Barack Obama (D), talking about the necessity of prevention and being prepared for a pandemic. 


I do like MoMu makes conscious choices and does not try to ‘show it all’. Fashion is less my field of interest, but the museum is certainly worth a visit. 

Art and museums in Antwerp

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