The Ethics of the International Display of Fashion in the Museum

By Caponigri, Felicia | Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Spring 2017 | Go to article overview

The Ethics of the International Display of Fashion in the Museum


Caponigri, Felicia, Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law


Contents  I.   INTRODUCTION II.  FASHION AS CULTURAL HERITAGE III. THE INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF MUSEUMS AND ITS CODE OF ETHICS        A. The International Council of Museums' Code of Ethics provides           general principles of international law        B. The standard that when there is a conflict of interest between           the museum and an individual, the interests of the museum           should prevail seems likely to become a rule of customary           international law IV.  CHINA: THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS AT THE METROPOLITAN      MUSEUM OF ART        A. Anna Wintour and Conde Nast: A broad museum interest for           trustees and a semi-broad museum interest for sponsors        B. Andrew Bolton: A narrow museum interest for museum           professionals V.   THE GUCCI MUSEO        A. The Gucci Museo as a museum        B. Guccio Gucci, S.p.A. and Frida Giannini: The ultimate           conflict of interest VI. CONCLUSION 

I. INTRODUCTION

Fashion's presence in the museum environment has become increasingly evident and pervasive. (1) While the Anna Wintour Costume Center of the Metropolitan Museum of Art may garner the most attention with its blockbuster exhibits such as Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, and China Through the Looking Glass, other museums across the globe also include fashion alongside traditional art works in their collections. Collections can be found in institutions in Italy (the Galleria del Costume in the Palazzo Pitti, the Gucci Museo, the Museo Salvatore Ferragamo in Florence, the Museo Boncompagni Ludovisi, and the Galleria Borghese's celebrated exhibit Couture/Sculpture: Azzedine Alaia in the History of Fashion in Rome), France (the Musee des Arts Decoratifs' Fashion Forward: 3 Siecles du Mode), and England (the Victoria and Albert Museum not only holds an expansive Fashion collection but regularly holds Fashion exhibits, including the recent The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014). (2) Fashion's common presence in museums transcends geographic boundaries and legal jurisdictions: it exerts an international presence.

The presence of fashion in the museum is not, however, exempt from the challenges, and proposed solutions, that accompany the presence of art in the museum. If anything fashion is more susceptible to them: fashion magazines regularly sponsor fashion exhibits, (3) fashion brands manage their own "museums," (4) and members of the fashion community serve as trustees to museums that put on fashion exhibits. (5) In organizing fashion exhibits, museum professionals must interact with fashion designers whose work they are exhibiting, (6) fashion magazine editors who may or may not act as trustees, (7) and with representatives of the corporate archives of fashion brands. (8) Conflicts of interest also pose a primary challenge accompanying the presentation of fashion in a treasured museum space. (9)

The International Council of Museums' Code of Ethics (ICOM Code) provides guidance for museum professionals, trustees, and sponsors as they seek to work together to present fashion in the museum. (10) Accordingly, this article examines crucial issues concerning the display of fashion in museums and its compliance with international law. First, the article engages with the crucial question of how fashion is cultural heritage, or, at least, how fashion can be considered a part of the ICOM Code's definition of heritage, and therefore within the scope of the minimum ethical standards it sets forth for its members and potentially for museums at large. (11) Second, the article presents the ICOM Code, contextualizing it within the ICOM's framework as a nongovernmental international public interest organization, and examines how the ICOM Code is a source of general principles of international law. (12) As part of this section, the article also highlights how one of the ICOM Code's ethical standards-that the museum's interest should prevail in the face of a conflict of interest between the museum and an individual-is seemingly becoming a rule of customary international law. …

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