26.2.17

Fashion and the Museum - Galeria Melissa Covent Garden

You may be familiar with the Melissa shoe brand for their plastic, brightly coloured shoes that have a very sweet scent to them. They are a Brazilian footwear label, founded in 1971, who have since collaborated with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Gareth Pugh, Jeremy Scott and I think most memorably Vivienne Westwood.

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A few years ago, Melissa opened a flagship store in Covent Garden which combined a gallery and exhibtion space with a commercial retail store titled Galeria Melissa. Oh, and there is a ball-pit for adults in the basement too. Since it has been open, the gallery space has seen collaborations with Jeremy Scott, Gareth Pugh and Vivienne Westwood, which is currently on display. The space consists of a room as you enter that is tv scenes with a brightly coloured picture of video playing. To the left and circling the rest of the interior are shoes and accessories on white plinths, or when I last went, on an installation that moves a wall of shoes to different heights. It is very reminiscent of a museum space. From memory, I don't believe the prices are noticeably on display, another feature that makes it feel like a museum or gallery space. Before visitors make a full circle around the space there are stairs leading downstairs to the aforementioned ball-pit that is set up to look like a swimming pool, complete with small slide to enter the plastic balls / water. Just before you leave, there is a fairly empty room with a chair, coffee table fashion books and a wall of photographs that examples of collaborations Melissa have had.

Whilst this space is beautiful, I do often wonder how well it works for business. I, myself, have visited about five times, and taken both my boyfriend and my Mum on separate occasions - mainly to the ball-pit admittedly. This begs the question: How commercially viable is the Galeria Melissa? Whilst it is a great spot for tourists and fashion interested Londoners, has creating a gallery space encouraged visitors to buy any of the products on display?

As I read more and more on the subject of fashion and museums, arguments about the commercialization of museums is a topic that is much repeated and debated among both fashion historians and curators, and fashion designers, both presenting different views on the subject.
While fashion designers believe that their work is art, something I do agree with, some fashion historians would argue that fashion is a commercial business and bringing that into a museum space is not progressive. Galeria Melissa is a perfect case study for this. While it is marketed as a flagship store AND a gallery can it really be classed as doing either very well?

Yes, it is a destination spot that presents collaborations between the footwear brand and fashion designers in a multimedia set up. It is also a shopping environment, with products, presumably a stock room and sales assistants. However, it would be interesting to see the footfall and business side of this shop / gallery hybrid.

I believe fashion is art, and I think contemporary haute couture does earn it's place in a museum because of it's craftsmanship, creativity and beauty. I believe the work of designers should be celebrated, displayed and appreciated as art. However, I do believe that the commercial side of fashion should be confined to the gift shop of a museum. The combination of art and commerce in a museum changes the dynamic. Arguably, museums, galleries, landmarks etc, are spaces to forget daily issues, they are forms of escapism and inspiration. Having a price tag, or a reminder of consumerism can shatter this illusion and might ruin the voyeuristic experience.

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