If Antwerp’s Mode Museum (MoMu) is desperately seeking a second storage space for its growing permanent collection, at least part of the blame falls on Bernard Willhelm. He may donate his designs each season alongside the likes of Dries van Noten, Martin Margiela, and his onetime mentor Walter van Beirendonck, but inside the museum’s existing archive rooms — which Sight Unseen had the exclusive privilege of touring earlier this year — it’s Willhelm who clearly holds the record for overflowing racks. In fact, MoMu’s curation team rarely turns down a donation from a legitimate source, whether for the historical collection it originally inherited from an old provincial textile museum or for its cache of contemporary fashions by talents born or educated in Antwerp, but Willhelm’s contributions are so generous that the day we visited, there were clothes waiting to be graciously returned to his showroom. It’s not difficult to understand the designer’s enthusiasm, though, or that of his peers: The MoMu’s prestige in Europe far exceeds its diminutive size, and since it opened a decade ago, it’s become the largest repository in the world for contemporary Belgian fashion.
Of course, of the 25,000 items in its possession — which multiply at a rate of about 500 new acquisitions per season, hence the need for additional storage—only a tiny fraction are on view at any given time. That’s the case for most museums, but MoMu only puts on two temporary exhibitions per year in its corner of Antwerp’s ModeNatie building, in addition to the few hundred items it keeps on permanent display. That’s why it was so appealing to us to approach the museum for a peek into the archives; museum curator and art historian Wim Mertens spent several hours leading us through the stacks and dragging out boxes full of Margiela accessories and antique lace samples, and yet we walked away feeling like we’d left behind a box of buried treasure. Luckily the museum has managed to document just over half of its collection in an online lookbook — check out the slideshow documenting our visit at right, then click here to dig into MoMu’s rich digital repository.
For centuries, Swiss design was synonymous with watches, army knives, sewing machines, and other precision utilitarian objects. Then came the rise of Swiss graphics and typography in the 20th century, when the grids and sans serifs of talents like Josef Müller-Brockmann and Jan Tschichold created a legacy that dominates the tiny country's design reputation even today. But inside the 10,000-square-foot universe of the Museum Für Gestaltung Zurich’s collection archives — behind whose doors normally only curators and students are allowed — every chair, teapot, and cigarette lighter is either a product of or an influence on Switzerland’s industrial design history, which the museum strives to promote through the five to seven temporary exhibitions it produces each year.
If you travel all the way from New York to Arnhem just to attend the fashion biennial in this relatively obscure Dutch city, half the size of Pittsburgh, you can expect people to notice. Your waiter will witness your accent — and the fact that you’re not drinking a huge glass of milk with lunch like everyone else — and ask if you came just for the show, and well, did you like it? Your jolly white-haired cab driver will crack a few embarrassing jokes about the Big Apple before waxing poetic about how lovely it is when the festival’s on. And despite Vogue calling the $2.5-million production the “Greatest Fashion Event You’ve Never Heard Of,” it will seem, when you’re there, like Arnhem's gravitational pull has shifted in some small but significant way.
In search of inspiration, the Chicago-born designer Stephen Burks has often traveled to places like Peru, South Africa, Haiti, India, Australia, and Kenya. But the idea for his latest project began a bit closer to home: “Three or four years ago, I met this basket salesman at a street fair in New York,” remembers Burks. “His name was Serigne Diouck, and I told him I was interested in his technique.” The two became friends instantly, and Burks soon learned that the baskets were constructed from spiraled sweet grass, stitched together with colorful strands of recycled plastic and made in Diouck’s birthplace of Thies, a tiny village outside of Dakar. Their collaboration, though, was longer in coming. “Since 2006, I’ve been shooting this documentary of my work in the developing world,” says Burks. “Finally in 2009, the Sundance Channel came forward and wanted to produce a pilot. We did a four-day shoot in Senegal with Serigne where I did a bunch of experiments around these traditional baskets.” One of the products to come out of the shoot was the Starburst lamp, a cluster of Diouck’s baskets turned into readymades and strung together with bulbs until they resembled some sort of third-world Castiglioni lamp. On a studio visit last fall, Thelma Golden and Naomi Beckwith — the curators of New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem — spied the Starburst and commissioned Burks on the spot to create the museum’s first-ever industrial design exhibit around the theme of those hybrid experiments. The resulting show, called Stephen Burks: Man Made, opened this spring at the museum.