In a new exhibition entitled Catwalk, six galleries of the Philips Wing in Amsterdam’s historic Rijksmuseum have been dedicated to Dutch fashion from 1625 to 1960. This is the first time the museum has made public a large selection of its fashion collection. Building on the bond between photography and fashion, they enlisted the help of Dutch artist and member of Unseen's board of recommendation, Erwin Olaf, to curate and design the exhibition.
Starting with garments from the Golden Age, Catwalk exhibits an assortment of the Rijksmuseum's treasures: from lavish French silk gowns and gentlemen’s suits of the 18th century to classically-inspired Empire dresses of the fin-de-siècle, ending with French haute couture of the 20th century by Dior and Saint Laurent. The museum's collection, which comprises more than 10,000 items of historical significance, also includes the oldest costume collection in the country and contains clothes fabricated abroad as well as in the Netherlands.
The clothes on show chart the lives of the people that wore them, spanning over three centuries of history. From the rigid social mores of the past to the liberation of the 60s, each trend tells a story. Curator of Costumes at the Rijksmuseum Bianca du Mortier explains: “The garments presented in this exhibition reflect the stories of the people who wore them. In fashion, the choices of the wearer count – they make him or her a trendsetter or a follower.” Shaped by a diverse range of conditions such as finance, age, social status, climate and taste, the motivations behind our fashion choices have not changed in 330 years.
Celebrated for his visionary approach to fashion photography, Erwin Olaf seems like a perfect fit for the exhibition, taking the role of curator and designer as a much-welcomed challenge to his practice, which has recently been developing in different directions. He comments: “For several years now I’ve been exploring alternative ways to present my photographic work and to integrate it in installations, sound, video and films as means to immerse viewers in a world that fires and challenges their personal imaginations and, ultimately, sparks a stimulating dialogue between the viewer and the work on view.” With an immersive approach to exhibition design, Olaf is interested in drawing viewers into the world behind the clothes, bringing alive the voices of the past rather than merely focusing on the technical details of the garments. Catwalk is on view until the 16th of May.
Wedding dress (1759) © Erwin Olaf