The best fashion museums in Europe

Those on European river cruises interested in fashion and all things related will be able to gain a fascinating insight into the likes of icons such as Yves Saint Laurent, as well as discover the history behind the production of certain garments and fabrics. Here are our top picks of the best fashion museums in Europe.

The Museum of Bags and Purses

As the largest of its kind in the world, visitors to Amsterdam won’t want to miss out on The Museum of Bags and Purses. Boasting a collection of over 5,000 accessories, the museum tells the story of handbags over the years, while exploring fashion, art and customs along the way.

This is the only place on the globe where you will find so many beautiful, valuable, unique and exciting handbags in one single collection, with historical highlights from the 15th century to the timeless classics of modern design from renowned designers. The collection also includes bridal purses, hip packs, alms purses, handbags, school bags, evening and designer bags, and purses from famous fashion houses such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Hermès.

“The Museum of Bags and Purses is housed in one of the jewels of the Amsterdam canals: a lovely, authentic 17th century canal house with a long and colourful history. Over the years, the building has essentially been kept in its original state; both the interior and exterior have an impressive story to tell.

“The museum also houses a Museum Shop with a wide variety of exclusive bags, purses and accessories by Dutch and international designers to choose from. Dutch Newspaper ‘Het Parool’ awarded our museum the title of ‘The Best Museum Shop in Amsterdam 2014’; The very best place for a shopping round after a museum visit is in the Museum of Bags and Purses.’The Museum of Bags and Purses



The Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent

Following the closure of Yves Saint Laurent’s fashion house in 2002, which was originally opened in 1962, The Fondation Pierre Bergé has put together a collection of models, drawings and sketches. Currently the museum in Paris possesses more than 5,000 garments and 15,000 accessories and miscellaneous objects, which are all stored in a protective environment with humidifiers and the use of anti-acid paper.

A relatively new exhibition at the museum explores the designer’s controversial ‘Forties’ collection. Due to it taking inspiration from fashion in the years of the war, the collection itself was met with a number of criticisms from the press, although it soon became a success when it saw the retro trend returning to the streets.

“On January 29, 1971, eighty designs nonchalantly worn by six models caused a stir on the Rue

Spontini. Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé had inaugurated their couture house there in 1961.

This was also where all the fashion shows were held. Some 180 international customers, buyers, and journalists wavered in the seats that had been reserved for them. Part of the public did not conceal their aversion and expressed their horror before the spectacle of a collection they deemed hideous. They were primarily disturbed by the couturier’s claims that he was inspired by the elegance of the war years and the occupation.” - Olivier Saillard, Exhibition Curator

You can read more about this exhibition, which runs until 19th July, here.





Textiel Museum

Slightly different to those above, the Textiel Museum in the Netherlands takes a look at the history of fabric making, with visitors able to look at machines used for wool production in the past, as well as modern-day damask creating technology. There are also a variety of temporary and permanent art exhibitions, which present anything from screen printing to sculptures made of fabric and human hair.

One exhibition in particular takes a look at Art Nouveau damask from the first quarter of the 20th century, which is when the art and craft movement influenced many artists. The exhibit explores how there were two trends that emerged in the Netherlands, one which was inspired by French and Belgian art and strove for graceful and elegant designs, and the other which took stimulus from Germany and Austria.

“The exhibition can be seen in the DamaskWeavery, which houses authentic 19th-century jacquard looms on which damask was once woven. A film from 1935 shows how this was done at Van Dissel & Sons Linen Factories in Eindhoven. Even Chris Lebeau (1878-1945) can be seen, working on ‘Cyclamen’, one of his last designs.” – Textiel Museum





The Palais Galliera

Gracing a number of different locations and changing its name many times over the years, The Société de l’Histoire du Costume collection now has a permanent home in the Palais Galliera. The remarkable collection was donated to the city of Paris in 1920, but due to its fragility is only on display for temporary periods of time.

Currently on display until 23rd August 2015 is an exhibition dedicated to Jeanne Lanvin, which is one of the oldest French fashion houses still in business. Featuring more than 100 models from both the Palais Galliera and Lanvin Heritage collection, visitors can view the perfect French style classicism of 18th century dresses, alongside garments channelling Art Deco.

“We are honoured to partner with the Palais Galliera in supporting the first retrospective dedicated to Jeanne Lanvin, one of the greatest figures of Parisian haute couture. Swarovski was founded in 1895, just six years after Mme Lanvin established her house, and she used crystals to adorn the luxuriously embellished evening gowns which became her trademark. This inspiring exhibition pays tribute to the skill, inventiveness and creativity of a great artist who captured and expressed the spirit of her time, and celebrates over 125 years of extraordinary fashion heritage which continues to thrive under Alber Elbaz.” - Nadja Swarovski, Member of the Swarovski Executive Board





The Swiss National Museum

Located in the heart of Zurich, this wonderful museum hosts a collection of cultural history, with a variety of exhibitions displaying topical themes. The building itself is an example of extraordinary 19th century architecture, making it as beautiful on the outside as it is fascinating on the inside.

“‘Textiles & Fashion’ at the Swiss National Museum is the most comprehensive collection of textiles in Switzerland, and several parts of the collection serve as important references. A special focus in the clothing section is on ladies suits. It features designs by Swiss labels and international couturiers such as Cristobal Balenciaga which were made from silk manufactured in Switzerland. The ‘Gallery Collection’ presents selected exhibits illustrating the development of fashion from the 17th century through to the present day. The collection also includes a wide range of accessories. A large showcase exhibit depicts the cultural history of the shoe.” – Swiss National Museum

Image Credit: The Museum of Bags and Purses

This content was written by Angela Sloan. Please feel free to visit my Google+ Profile to read more stories.