Fashion history at National Museum of Scotland

Items by Zandra Rhodes, Alexander McQueen Vivienne Westwood will be among highlights from the National Museum's fashion collection. Picture: NMS
Items by Zandra Rhodes, Alexander McQueen Vivienne Westwood will be among highlights from the National Museum's fashion collection. Picture: NMS
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STRIKING designs by Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Zandra Rhodes are to go on permanent display at one of Scotland’s leading visitor attractions in a move to celebrate 500 years of fashion and style.

The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has revealed plans for its first-ever display of highlights from its rarely seen fashion collection, which is believed to be one of the most extensive in the world.

Rarely seen work by influential British designers such as Jean Muir and Bernat Klein will also have pride of place in the new gallery. It will also explore the style and influence of modern-day designers and issues dominating the industry.

Around 70 mannequins and up to 150 exhibits will be featured in the new gallery – one of ten due to open next year – which it is hoped will attract a new audience of style followers and design enthusiasts to the museum.

More than 3,500 objects are being brought out of storage to be showcased in the new galleries, dedicated to art and design.

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The £14.1 million project is the third phase of an £80 million project to overhaul the Victorian museum on Chambers Street, where 16 new natural world and global culture displays were unveiled in 2011.

A new department has been created at the museum to oversee the contents of the art and design galleries, by far the largest of which – on the ground floor – will be devoted to fashion and style.

It will be drawn from the National Museums Scotland archive, a storage centre on the Edinburgh waterfront which holds Britain’s largest fashion collection outwith the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

James Robinson, keeper of art and design at the museum, said: “The new developments are more or less doubling the amount of space that we previously had available for decorate arts, design and fashion. We’ve acquired things in the past that have been of interest to us, but they were unfortunately in storage. People can expect to see a lot of new things.

“Fashion is definitely going to be our big reveal. Many of our visitors would be forgiven for not knowing that we’ve got one of the world’s outstanding fashion collections.

We’ve got in excess of 50,000 items in that collection, going right back to the 16th century up to the present day. It was collected over the years as a sort of document for design history rather than a fashion collection, but we were doing that at a time when other museums simply weren’t doing it.

“The fashion gallery won’t be static – part of its nature will be that it’s refreshed regularly. We’ll always be looking at new developments and have the flexibility to insert new acquisitions.”

Highlights are expected to include a pair of Alexander McQueen-designed leather and mink boots, a green wool Harris Tweed men’s suit designed by Vivienne Westwood and a yellow felt woman’s coat, with screen-printed designs and bead-decorated streamers, by Zandra Rhodes.

There will be separate sections devoted to Bernat Klein, a Serbian-born textile designer who made a name for himself operating from the Scottish Borders supplying fabrics to the likes of Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin.

The gallery will also have a new celebration of Jean Muir, who was born in London to Scottish parents, and left her archive to the museum.

The earliest pieces in the collection include 16th-century short doublets for men, 17th-century English embroidery, early Italian silks, an 18th-century mantua and a mauveine gown, which features the world’s first synthetic dye.

The museum is dedicating space in the new gallery to showcase contemporary designers, with many new items being acquired in time for its unveiling next year. Ethical issues such as size zero and the way people purchase clothes will also be examined.

Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of the museum, said: “The creation of a fashion and style gallery as one of the ten new galleries we are opening in 2016 is a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase this amazing and little-seen collection to visitors from Scotland and internationally.”