European Fashion Heritage Association

Journal EFHA World

Meeting Fashion Heritage: The Fashion and Costume Collection of the Centraal Museum in Utrecht

Dutch fashionfashion exhibitionfashion historyfashion museum

Our column is back, and this issue takes us to the Centraal Museum in Utrecht: a museum with an astounding fashion collection from all over the world, and above all the home to fascinating Dutch costumes and fashion.

The Centraal Museum is the oldest municipal museum in the Netherlands. It began life as the Municipal Museum of Antiquities, opening its doors on 5 September 1838. Items of clothing were among the very first exhibits, including artefacts such as a sixteenth-century glove and a seventeenth-century hat. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until 1917 that the museum began to make serious efforts to build its fashion collection, with the appointment of the fashion curator Carla de Jonge, the first woman in the Netherlands to be appointed to such a role. Today, the museum boasts a world-class collection of more than 10,000 objects and is one of the largest public costume collections in the Netherlands.   

The collection encompasses everything from period costumes to contemporary fashion and high-end couture to ready-to-wear, with new acquisitions made on a regular basis and the growing collection displayed in a constant schedule of exhibitions that consistently attract both national and international acclaim. All of this activity is guided by an interest in experimentation, craftmanship, the design process and the interdisciplinary relationship of fashion and other art forms, which in turn are reflected in the household names that make up the more contemporary part of the collection, such as Maison Martin Margiela, Vivienne Westwood, Xuly Bët, Issey Miyake, Iris van Herpen and Viktor&Rolf.  


The presentation was kindly provided by the Centraal Museum team.

The museum also pays special attention to Dutch fashion, with frequent exhibitions mounted to explore local themes or highlight notable designers. Recent high-profile exhibitions include Jan Taminiau: Reflections(2018), a retrospective of the work of the internationally renowned Dutch couturier and go-to designer of Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, and Duran Lantink: Old Stock (2019), featuring new works by a rising star who came to fame the year before following the release of American performing artist, actor and activist Janelle Monáe’s music video for the song “Pynk”, which featured the singer in a pair of “vagina pants” of Lantink’s design.

These and other fashion exhibitions are designed to reflect both the diversity of the museum’s costume collection as well as current social and political developments as manifested in the world of fashion. Both of these are present in our upcoming exhibition, Voices of Fashion: Black Couture, Beauty and Styles, which opens in February 2021. This exhibition will be the first ever staged by an art museum in the Netherlands to query the white gaze as the default vantage point from which to present, wear and collect fashion. Co-curated by fashion activist Janice Deul, the show explores the role and position of Black designers in the Netherlands, Europe, America and Africa through history and into the present day.   

Exhibitions such as these play a key role in our aim to inspire curiosity and stimulate discussion within society, support creativity and promote greater public participation in the museum’s activities. To this end, we task ourselves with maintaining a leading position in collecting and exhibiting key works by international fashion designers operating at the intersection of fashion and other art forms