The Art of Fashion

The Bal Harbour Shops’ “Fashion Project” exhibition examines the cultural value of couture.

Miami is synonymous with vibrant culture, cosmopolitan glamour, and forwardthinking fashion. So it makes sense that the city’s luxury Bal Harbour Shops is the site of a new experimental space exclusively devoted to the culture and consumption of fashion. Conceived and developed by Cathy Leff, the former director of the Wolfsonian Museum, and curated by renowned exhibition-maker Judith Clark, the Fashion Project explores the ways we understand high fashion.

Launched in April, the six-part exhibition responds to the community’s desire for a higher cultural profile. Bal Harbour Shops’ CEO , Matthew Whitman Lazenby, took note. “He knew he wanted to do something at a high level, and asked us to come up with a concept,” says Leff. After some careful consideration, Leff realized that there wasn’t a space in Miami dedicated to fashion at a museum-quality level.

But, she reasoned, the shops aren’t a museum and shouldn’t be treated as such. Leff sought out a curator who could strike the right balance, and Clark’s name kept popping up. “When I met her, I knew she was perfect intellectually and personality-wise,” she says.

The shops themselves played an important role in plotting out the direction the duo set forward in the Fashion Project. “Obviously Bal Harbour Shops sells exquisite fashion,” says Clark. “So the customers didn’t need to be told what a beautiful gown looks like.” Instead, the six separate exhibitions were divided into pairs that look at the evolution of fashion according to personal and historical narratives. The first two shows, “The Exhibition” and “Morphing,” address process, an idea that Clark believes has never been addressed in a curatorial manner. “I wanted to embody the question of what if,” she explains. “‘What if I’d made a different selection?’ ‘What if I decided to style it this way?’ ‘What if I decided to decorate it?’”

“The Exhibition,” which ran from April 10 through May 21, featured such items as a 1912 Ballets Russes costume and a 1999 futuristic remote-control dress by Hussein Chalayan. On May 28, Clark launched “Morphing” (through August 10), in which she manipulated these designs to illustrate her concept: “I wanted to show that kind of indecision and restlessness around the curatorial process.” Of the exhibitions to come, the next two will take a chronological look at the postwar history of fashion through 2015, while the third and final pair will present a projective vision of fashion’s future.

Clark and Leff have both seen dramatic reactions from the public. “From people becoming tearful because they’d never seen a Schiaparelli close up to people just asking genuine questions about everything from cultivation to dress history,” says Clark, “it’s been really wonderful because it’s done what I wanted it to do. It’s raised a series of questions. I hope very much that they linger in the room.”

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