There’s so little good news in the newspapers these days. So when the announcement came this week that Mumbai’s Bhau Daji Lad Museum would be opening an expansive new building, the Mumbai modern wing, as an extension, one could barely contain delight.
The pistachio-coloured museum is among my absolute favourite spaces in a city starved for beauty. It is Mumbai’s oldest museum, set up by the Queen Victoria and her consort Albert, to showcase the designs and decorative arts of various British colonies. It still has a tie-in with London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, the world’s finest museum of art and design.
I drive past the Bhau Daji every sun-scorched afternoon where its Laduree-brightness beckons, and in the evening, when its lit walls evoke a romance that only Mumbai’s colonial edifices can. I sometimes like to spend time alone in its gardens, especially the dense and lush swathe of the zoo’s botanical gardens (the museum is within the Mumbai zoo compound). If it housed a half-decent eatery, I assure you I’d be having a lot of my meetings here.
My only gripe with the Museum is that it does nothing for our fashion and style scene. Costume and clothing is the forefront of studying history and culture. And Indian designers could do with a little leg-up.
Tasneem Mehta, the museum’s director and a noted Mumbai savante, has often said it was the lack of sponsors. Since the museum is owned by the BMC, the government doesn’t allow the service of alcohol. I’ve found this unimaginative and lamented at the disservice a space of this beauty and purpose has done for fashion — both today’s and past.
The new extension promises to be a modern architectural landmark. Its size — 120,000 square feet — will provide for newer galleries, a library, an auditorium and a cafe and a restaurant. All of this is exciting and awaited.
But how lovely would it be to have a gallery or a floor for fashion exhibitions only? Aside from the privately-run Calico museum in Hyderabad, India scarcely has a space that chronicles its costumes or textile history. Moreover, the finest museums in the world have to connect themselves to fashion and design to stay relevant to the modern spectator. Even the Louvre gives its rooms out for Paris Fashion Week. The Petit Palais has the best fashion exhibits and retrospectives ever.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art hosts an annual ball that out-runs the Academy Awards in its red-carpet appeal. When Alexander McQueen died in 2010, the Met served up ‘Savage Beauty’, a goosebump-inducing-good showcase of McQueen’s short but superbly influential career.
I’ve visited Jean Paul Gaultier’s ‘From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk’ exhibit at San Francisco’s de Young museum and thought it was the most tech-advanced showcase I’d ever seen. Mannequins with talking heads, 3D audio-visuals everywhere, a conveyor belt as a runway — the show was a multimedia gala.
Florence, which arguably has more museums than residents, is replete with self-funded and disarming little blocks promoting its fashions. The Gucci Museo at Piazza della Signoria is a small but hip space that takes you through the history of the label along with its iconic items such as bamboo bags and red-carpet frocks. A skip away, on Via Tournabuoni, Florence’s swishiest shopping street, is the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo. Opened by Salvatore the shoemaker’s grandson, who also shares his first name with his grandfather, this shoe museum documents and celebrates the genius’s oeuvre. This museum is located in the building of the company’s headquarters, a historical palace called the Palazzo Spini Feroni, where I was also the guest at an ultra glamorous party the family hosted this summer.
I’m aching to see the Louis Vuitton Foundation, a modern silver structure that looms over Paris’ Jardin d’Acclimatation, Designed by the venerated Frank Gehry, this cultural space has been commissioned by LVMH head Bernard Arnault, also France’s richest man, to showcase his art collection.
Hats must also be tipped at Wendell Rodricks for turning one of his two homes — an ancient ochre-dipped Portuguese villa in the heart of a small village called Colvale— into a privately-funded museum.
Fashion exhibits and museums are of all sorts — self-funded, rolling shows, sponsored by luxury labels or anything that a new market will dictate them to be. But they must exist. For the sake of history and also of pleasure.
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The story appeared in print with the headline A Room Of One’s Own