You Choose – local people select fashion display

L to R Fashion Museum Manager Rosemary Harden, Chooser Christelle, Fashion Museum Curator Fleur Johnson

This week-end sees the opening of the Fashion Museum’s final exhibition in its current location at the Bath Assembly Rooms.

You Choose, is a unique exhibition too as it has been co-curated by local people.

The Fashion Museum has invited individuals and groups from across Bath and North East Somerset to help create a community-led exhibition that the Choosers feel reflects them and their take on fashion and dress history.

Each Chooser was asked: “What does fashion mean to you and what would you like to see on display at the Fashion Museum?” They then worked closely with Museum staff to select objects from the world-class collection to feature in the exhibition.

The Choosers are groups and individuals who experience fashion from different points of view, including seven local residents, a group of Fashion Design students from Bath Spa University, and children from Oldfield Park Junior School.

From Louise – looking for objects with a story to tell, to Todd – exploring the history of dressing up and Cosplay, our Choosers have delved into the Fashion Museum collection to create 10 brand new displays that reflect what they feel fashion means to them today.

Featuring pieces by designer names Kenzo, Ossie Clark, Junya Watanabe and Gareth Pugh, as well as historic treasures including a 1750s man’s worsted wool banyan and an 1881 beetle wing embroidered day dress, You Choose gives local people a voice and a visibility in the Fashion Museum galleries and considers issues such as sustainability, creativity, gender fluidity and cultural identity that surround fashion and society in 2022. It allows us to look beyond how the ensembles look and start to understand the complex and fluid meaning that clothes can have to different people.

Rosemary Harden, Fashion Museum Manager, said: “You Choose has been a fantastic opportunity to open up the Fashion Museum collection and hand over the choice of what goes on display to local people. Our nine Choosers have done an amazing job co-curating this exciting new exhibition and it has been thrilling to see the objects they have chosen in a completely different light.”

Councillor Dine Romero, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, Communities and Culture at Bath & North East Somerset Council, said: “Everyone sees fashion from a different angle, so it’s great that we’ve been able to invite people from the local community to choose their own highlights from the Fashion Museum collection for this very special exhibition. If you’re a local resident, you can enjoy free admission to the Fashion Museum with a Discovery Card or ID.” *

Among the Choosers is Will (They/Them), a 20-year-old queer, non-binary youth activist who works for local charity Boys in Mind.

Will said: “To me, fashion allows a window into exploring gender – both traditional roles and fluidity. As a genderqueer individual myself, I really try to blend what is viewed as traditionally masculine or feminine in my own style, and actually step away from the idea that certain items of clothing are meant for certain individuals or genders.”

Will has chosen a black pinstripe wool suit with kilt-style skirt by Junior Gaultier by Jean Paul Gaultier from 1993-94, which was worn by textile designer Howard Preston to club nights at The Ministry of Sound in the early 1990s.

The children from Oldfield Park Junior School considered the different materials used in fashion throughout history and selected an eco-wedding dress made from recycled newspaper, net and crystals by Sanyukta Shrestha, as well as a 1940s women’s cape made from the fur of the Colobus monkey.

“The newspaper wedding dress is really one of a kind,” the children said. “We liked how eco-friendly it is but would be extremely worried about wearing it in case it rained!”

Another Chooser, Christelle, is the founder of Razana Afrika, an organisation that aims to empower people of African descents to learn about their culture and history by providing educational resources and positive role models from history. She is also a presenter at Imperial Voice Radio, based at Fairfield House in Bath, hosting the Fashion Rendezvous show.

Christelle says: “For me fashion is a way to express my identity. It is also a way to differentiate me from others and celebrate my individuality but at other times can also be used to celebrate belonging to a certain group or culture.”

Christelle has chosen three Ethiopian garments from the Fashion Museum collection, which she will interpret along with the community at Fairfield House.

A specially commissioned video by Bristol-based Street Films will play in the gallery space as a backdrop to the new displays. Documenting the journey of all of the Choosers as they visit the Museum collection and choose their objects, the film will illustrate the exhibition’s co-curation process and give context to each of our Choosers and the objects they have selected for the display.

You Choose will run alongside the current A History of Fashion in 100 Objects display.

You Choose will be the final exhibition at the Fashion Museum in its current location. Following a wonderful 60 years at the Assembly Rooms, the Fashion Museum collection will leave the Assembly Rooms in autumn 2022 and move into temporary accommodation, ahead of relocating to a new home.