The Globalist Takeaway: Curating Fashion from London

by Anisha Suterwala:

In her talk on curating fashion, Judith Clark—celebrated curator of dress, author, and “reluctant academic”—pointed out early that gallery exhibitions themselves “are just as interesting as the gowns being shown.” The Australian native, who jokingly remarked that she has been living in London by “some sort of extended visa,” trained initially as an architect.  She founded the Judith Clark Costume Gallery in London, which she curated from 1997 to 2008.  She has also curated major exhibits at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and co-directs the MA in Fashion Curation at the London College of Fashion. In addition, she has published an anthology of fashion, The Concise Dictionary of Dress, and her next book, Perspectives on Curating Fashion, is set to release this year.

Curating fashion, Clark said, is about the connections between fashion, history, and art history and capturing those connections through organization of the exhibition. Spatial elements and props play almost as big a role in creating an exhibition, which Clark regards as a “slightly less defined idea or narrative.  Everything has equivalent value in an exhibition—the cabinets, the lighting, the mannequins—everything has equal value with the garments themselves.”

Clark’s most recent exhibition, The Judgment of Paris, was held at the Fashion Space Gallery at the London College of Fashion through February 16. The exhibition is about the Roman myth of the Judgement of Paris, with the mannequins representing the three goddesses involved, Juno, Minerva, and Venus. “It’s about the selection between competing qualities of strength, beauty, and riches, and how they’ve been endlessly represented within history and art history,” Clark said. “It’s also about garments as props and how they related to the mannequins—which are at the center of exhibiting dress, the loved and hated mannequin.”

Judith Clark, Sketches for three heads: Juno, Venus, and Minerva. From the exhibition The Judgment of Paris. (

Clark’s The Concise Dictionary of Dress is, according to Clark, very concise. “There were only fifteen words,” she said.  “The question was, is it possible to define dress, to create anything representative of anything.” The book was in collaboration with writer and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. Clark said the two chose words they considered somehow simultaneous sartorial, psychological, and spatial. “It was about making odd, free-associative links between dress and artworks and British kitsch, if you will,” Clark said.

When she first imagines an exhibit, Clark sketches it out.  Her ideas, she said, “are not the sort of things I go home and write down. They’re things that I sketch. I’m first and foremost an exhibition designer.  It’s more likely that my ideas are recorded in the sketchbook than longhand.” After the initial designs, Clark then begins to build the exhibition. Fashion curating, she said, is not just about the dresses. “It’s about bringing through the dresses to the foreground select elements of history and how they might be staged.”

Anisha Suterwala ’14 is a freshman in Timothy Dwight College. Contact her at