Won in competition, Studio MUTT’s ‘Bags: Inside Out’ exhibition occupies the Fashion Gallery at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Curated by Dr Lucia Savi, the exhibition explores the function, status and craftsmanship of bags through 300 objects varying in scale from tiny purses to large travel trunks. The design is intended to respond to the duality of bags – at once symbolic and intimately private – by creating two different very experiences across both levels of the gallery. The lower level, which is entered through a supersized zip with suspended charm-like brass signage, reflects the rich interiors of bags with colourful rooms, pockets and alcoves, while the upper level creates a miniature cityscape from existing cabinets disguised as a fashion atelier and bag factory.
The lower exhibition level utilises the museum’s poche plan to create a series of semi-transparent rooms that form curatorial sections. Colourful fabric walls – stretched around timber frames – line and divide spaces, while screen printed patterns on the fabric add a layer of ornamentation. The first section of the exhibition examines bags as practical objects designed to hold belongings. Rare exhibits include a large embroidered burse used to protect the silver matrix of Elizabeth I’s Great Seal of England, and Winston Churchill’s red despatch box. Screen-printed blockwork and lintel patterns on the fabric walls create a surreal functionality in the space, and decoration within the cases is intended to exaggerate the curatorial narrative.
Ground floor and mezzanine plans
The second ground-floor section looks at the role of the bag in celebrity culture and its notoriety among the political and societal elite. Featuring a Hermès ‘Kelly’ named in honour of Grace Kelly and a ‘Lady Dior’ handbag named after Princess Diana, the section explores the powerful and influential world of celebrity endorsement. A series of arched openings in the green fabric walls frame views of the objects, which are elevated on new classical-inspired plinths, sampling those found throughout the museum.
Upstairs, the third section looks at the design and making process, from sketching and sampling, to sewing and selling. Four large glass cabinets have been clad as an imagined Parisian fashion house and an anonymous industrial building, reflecting the different ways in which bags are conceived and made. The ‘buildings’ are split and pulled apart to create alleys and are arranged as a miniature cityscape. Bags are displayed in curtain-lined windows, focusing the view on small and delicate objects in large cabinets.
Finally, a supersized, theatrical workshop table presents an opportunity to get up close to the techniques and materials used in making bags. Recycled from a previous exhibition, the ten-metre-long table has been refurbished with a new linoleum top, an overhead railing for hanging material samples, and a central spool-like drum for displaying talking head interviews. The tabletop contains sketches, samples, tools and prototypes from international fashion houses and emerging designers.