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Now in fashion: art museums

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Anyone who has attended an actual runway show would quickly point out how far the MFA's simulacrum is from the real thing, how very much it has the feel of a museum interpretation. Nonetheless, "Fashion Show" makes it possible for the uninitiated to come breathtakingly close to exquisitely crafted and incomprehensibly expensive clothing. (The show combines one-of-a-kind, handmade haute couture with slightly less costly ready-to-wear pieces, shown in Paris between January and March.)

Viewers stand at eye level with a Yamamoto corset top, horizontal black boning revealing slivers of mannequin flesh. There are the playful, if confusing, deconstructed creations (some with multiple armholes) in voluminous proportions that the avant-garde designer has become known for.

In truth, the reason the mannequins are turned sideways is not to better convey the sense of a march down the runway, but because the designer loves the back of clothes, says Carla Wachtveitl, a Yamamoto representative on hand for the press preview. He likes to reveal the back first, then the front. So "you don't give it all away right away."

It's a detail most museumgoers will never hear. There's little by way of explanation or history at "Fashion Show" – setting it apart from other exhibitions held in fine art settings.

Meant to capture and convey a brief moment in contemporary fashion, the MFA show elevates clothes over context. "It's a snapshot of what's going on today," says Ms. Parmal, the show's curator.

Viktor & Rolf – the latest designers to create a line for H&M – are known for over-the-top displays that verge on performance art, the brief curator's note tells us. Their exhibit here is nothing of the sort. Though '50s-inspired full-skirted dresses plated in real silver are beautiful, with the mannequins' faces covered by netting, just as models' faces were during the show at the Jardin des Tuileries.

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