Since October 2021, our permanent exhibition has a new discourse After we closed our exhibition halls for a well-needed building renovation, we started to re-think our permanent exhibition to provide visitors with a new experience.
Given the delicacy of the materials, and to ensure that they are preserved in the long term, garments are always displayed in showcases, where environmental factors - relative humidity, temperature, pollutants and lighting - are controlled as much as possible. However, the pieces cannot remain on display for too long, so the display cases are changed regularly. These conservation conditions affect not only textiles, but also paper, which requires an extra effort in museums like ours to ensure that our material legacy remains undamaged and available for the enjoyment of future generations.
The new discourse is a reflection of the evolution of the Museum itself. The collection housed here began to take shape about a century ago, motivated by the interest that existed at that time in the study and preservation of traditional Spain’s diverse forms of cultural expression, which teetered on the brink of extinction as the modern world advanced. The institution changed direction in 2004, when it was re-founded as the Museo del Traje (the Costume Museum) A Centre for Ethnological Heritage Research, this 360-degree turn shifted the Museum’s focus from seeing clothing as tradition to seeing it as fashion. The influx of donations since then, as well as the addition of important collections acquired by the State, have made it possible for the permanent exhibition to show a history of clothing and its transformations over the last three centuries. This ever-growing closet has also facilitated the work of external researchers and design professionals, and of course has obliged the Museum itself to reflect on its goals and its vision for the future.
One question still stands out in the day-to-day running of the Museum: what is fashion? Fashionable clothes have been the most visible example of internationalising customs since the French luxury manufacturing powerhouse was set in motion in the 18th century. Clothing is the primary representation of each culture's way of living and thinking, a paradigmatic expression of local particularities while at the same time an element that defines us as humans before the animal world.
The new permanent exhibition's narrative aims to bring together the many perspectives from which the field of clothing can be approached. At the same time, it also addresses the introduction of new practices and forms of consumption associated with changes driven by the mechanisms of fashion. These changes, beyond affecting clothing style, appear in all kinds of productions that are more or less directly linked to the transformation of customs and incorporate the aesthetics in vogue in each context. The exhibition's goal is therefore to explore the correspondence between the forms and concepts expressed in costume and the values emanating from other types of objects. The resulting story has something to offer to a broad range of interests. The museum design has been made to incorporate more specific and local references, linking the development of fashion with the events that have had the greatest impact on the history of Spain. The chronological arc covered by the exhibition covers a cycle of technical, scientific, industrial, commercial and urban development; in Spain, the beginning of this coincided with the dynastic change of the 18th century. One of the new exhibition's goals is not only to make visible the intense effects of fashion on women, but also to analyse men’s fashions in order to take another look at the real role of fashion in social change.
This new approach is still in its drafting phase with the aim of further developing this vision in future rotations of the exhibition. The extensive collections attached to the Centre for Ethnological Heritage Research will hence be able to recover their prominence, no longer understood as the remnants of traditions in danger of extinction, but as manifestations of cultural change at specific historical moments.
The public will find a greater number of thematic showcases, cross-cutting readings and high fashion/popular and urban/rural dialogues. Efforts have also been made to increase the number of outfits displayed in context, accompanied by their accessories and other everyday items.
An aesthetic change can be seen in this new offering, marked by a visual theme that also improves the accessibility and enjoyability of the pieces on display in the room, thanks to the increase in information provided by the numerous posters added to the panels already in place around the museum’s different areas and showcases.
To boost the new exhibition project’s educational value, the exhibition has been equipped with an innovative virtual tour with which to explore each area. This tour lets visitors discover not only specific information about each piece, but also a whole universe of specific content organised by areas, featuring a glossary, textile library, musical playlists and videos (among other tools) to complete the educational offering provided by the permanent exhibition.