is it like water-oil?

Muyo Park
6 min readJul 26, 2022


*The exhibition referred to in this article is limited to the case where products that the purpose is to sell are brought to the show, not the collection of works using clothes as a visual medium.

Fashion design has not stayed on penetrated the White Cube. From undergraduate graduation exhibitions to unique galleries and retrospective exhibitions at world-class museums dealing with masters in this industry, the concept of the exhibition is no longer an unfamiliar landscape to fashion. It is natural for a fashion designer as well as an artist.

But how are these fashion exhibitions different from our experience of viewing products in a store or fashion show? Is the exhibition more than a marketing method for a brand or individual designer’s name? We live in an era in which the distinction between exhibitions is ambiguous as brands have changed their presentation methods in the form of exhibitions to escape from the “old-fashioned” fashion show. Large-scale fashion exhibitions are becoming common as a means of advertisement for luxury brands.

Louis Vuitton Exhibition in Seoul, 2017

In a world where the boundaries between each other are disappearing, this phenomenon is not a problem. However, the problem is that I feel a strange sense of incongruity when I look at reality in the field, unlike when I hear “fashion exhibition” in words. Where does this discomfort come from? First, the root cause lies in the purpose of the clothes. In other terms, we do not make clothes to look. It is a natural sequence for anything to lose its value if it is misused or placed in the wrong place.

Moreover, clothes without the human body are in a flat state. But that doesn’t mean you can’t just hang it on the wall like a painting. Because if an object that should function three-dimensionally stays on a flat surface, the aesthetic element to be appreciated as a viewer is halved. In the end, as a work in the white cube, clothes do not function (means not with people) and only become subjects.

As everyone is aware of this gap, mannequins are indispensable in fashion exhibitions. But, of course, a mannequin is not a human being. This “form” is only an object for hanging clothes, not a subject who wears dresses. Looking at the clothes’ hanging’ on a mannequin, we cannot perceive the clothes’ activity and the materials’ harmony. Instead, a video of a person wearing clothes and acting in real life might be better than looking at fixed clothes. Clothing always has a unique function and works with various surrounding factors, such as a suitable place and time. In a blocked space, clothes cannot work even if placed in a “dummy”.

Therefore, no matter how much we watch the real thing, the characteristics of an exhibition that cannot be worn and has a limited experience are only a limitation. In the end, it maximised the fantasy and distance that fashion provides to the public. In other words, fashion may have acquired the aura of art through the platform of exhibitions, but it has become more difficult for the public to access. Additionally, in the case of fashion, we cannot accept works in the exhibition hall. The fashion exhibition site is, in fact, nothing more than a show-window store with a solemn atmosphere that does not provide an opportunity to “appreciate” fashion designs and clothes.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion — Exhibition at South Kensington · V&A

Another problem with fashion exhibitions arises from the reality that a single designer rarely completes the whole work process of fashion design. In other words, fashion design is not the work of an individual fashion designer. Of course, if the case of a graduation exhibition or a designer creates a “sample” of the product in the studio, it can be considered that the designer carries out the process. However, to be honest, since the fashion design process includes weaving fabrics, producing products, and final delivery of products to consumers, an individual designer cannot take charge of the entire process alone. As usual, this industry also has been operating in collaboration.

For example, in the case of the Metropolitan’s Rei Kawakubo exhibition, is it adequate for “her archives” to be recorded as the achievements of an individual designer or an in-house design team? This monumental exhibition omitted or abbreviated the in-house patterner and Haruki Murakami essay’s secret garment factory that is in charge of the Comme des Garcons. Each is a member of this group. Therefore, the exhibition confirmed Rei Kawakubo’s aura and clearly allowed us to understand her unique ingenuity. However, suppose such a situation is repeated. In that case, we will only look at the aura that covers fashion through the exhibition, and the opportunity to face fashion does not come to us.

Furthermore, the clothes that make up the majority of fashion exhibitions, except for the brand’s promotional presentations, are ‘radical’. These clothes are different from everyday life. In other words, only clothes for a small number of people interested in fashion lead to the exhibition. These esoteric clothes become difficult again through the White Cube. And as you can read from the public’s reaction to contemporary art, the sense of distance from the public leads to their ridicule and makes it difficult to close the gap. The gap eventually becomes proof of the formula that fashion = esoteric clothes, creating a vicious cycle that blocks public interest again.

Of course, I don’t think a fashion show is a place to prove just how bizarre it can be within the clothing category. Instead, it will be closer to visually explaining how the conceptual approach of clothes affects the clothes we wear now. In reality, however, such positions are limited to one-time commercial events such as fashion shows and trade fairs. The exhibition, which should provide an opportunity to take a more critical approach, is a place to look at the bizarre clothes of designers and see just how far apart those garments are from their own. The exhibition, which should attempt a multi-dimensional interpretation of fashion, is aimed at ‘entering the White Cube’, ignoring most of the participants in the fashion scene. In the White Cube, where the primary audience has been ignored, the fashion designer is neither a producer nor an artist, standing in an ambiguous position.

In the current situation, fashion design colluding with White Cube will eventually dismiss the gap with the public as “illiteracy of the majority” without breaking away from the elitism. It is difficult to avoid criticism that they are in a league of their own. No matter how much the real thing is displayed, it loses its meaning the moment it leaves the cube. In the end, clothes that have been ‘degenerate’ into works of art that we can only view in the limited space of the white cube are merely design fiction. It would be best if you did not forget that under the production system outside the exhibition hall, fashion designers only “offer” the design, not the final decision maker. The consumer and the public always decide on clothes. In such a structure, even if the clothes are brought into the white cube, the situation does not change. In conclusion, the core of the fashion exhibition is to induce the wearer to discuss the gap between the clothes they wear and the clothes they appreciate.