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Now in fashion: art museums

As public fascination with fashion deepens, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts displays Paris's latest haute couture.

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Stepping into the Gund Gallery at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, a visitor faces the work of Yohji Yamamoto. Mannequins, draped in slouchy menswear-inspired suits, stand in a line. All but the first are turned forward, their sides to the viewer. It's a runway processional that seems meant to lead you further into this display of high-end fashion. Nearby is a looping video of the runway show from which these clothes were plucked.

The idea behind "Fashion Show: Paris Collections 2006," an exhibition running through March 18, 2007, is to offer a runway-side glimpse of cutting-edge fashion, fresh off the Paris catwalks.

By unveiling its fashion show, the MFA is capitalizing on a moment when "the democratization of fashion" – and public interest – could hardly be more rampant. "The exhibit is a reflection of people's current fascination with fashion," says Tina Sutton, fashion writer for the Boston Globe Magazine. "People are much more obsessed ... and constantly wanting to know what's new, what's next."

Today, discount stores such as Target and H&M instantly distill trends, bringing into the average shopper's closet affordable pieces by Isaac Mizrahi and Stella McCartney – whose designs retail in department stores for thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, the hit TV show "Project Runway" has made a household name of designer judge Michael Kors. And complete collections can be instantly viewed on the Internet at Style.com.

Still, few outside the fashion industry ever will land a seat at a Paris show. And so the architecture of the runway experience has been replicated here – if not its energy or chic frenzy.

"The runway shows have changed a lot over the last 10 or 20 years. They're evolving so that they're theatrical events. This is one way of bringing that runway to the public," says Pamela Parmal, curator of the museum's textiles and fashion department.

The 10 designer tableaux are modeled after their real Parisian counterparts: sultry red mood lights and reflective surfaces at Dior, disco balls and scattered carnations at Lacroix. The "looks" on each "runway" were worn by models during Paris fashion week earlier this year.

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