Ephemeral Matters. Into the Fashion Archive

An exhibition that takes an unusual and surprising route through the history of fashion.

  • 27 September 2024–23 March 2025
  • The National Museum – Prints and Drawings Gallery

What can handwritten invoices from Queen Marie Antoinette, or fanzines collected by the LGBTQ+ community, tell us about fashion past and present? For many people, the term ‘fashion archive’ probably suggests a store of clothes. But in fact, conventional fashion archives contain masses of paper documents and metadata.

Invitations, letters, receipts and photographs are all crucial in the creation of a new garment or fashion collection. But once the party is over, they are often thrown away or forgotten. The exhibition turns a spotlight on overlooked and discarded documents and artefacts from the modern fashion industry. Here they are treated as a vital resource to our understanding of the creative processes of fashion history – and as objects with their own aesthetic qualities.

Invitations Archives from 1920s to 1940s. Collection: Diktats. Owner: Antoine Bucher and Nicolas Montagne.

In the late 19th century, collections of photos, documents and other seemingly unimportant material were often referred to as ephemera. The term derives from the Latin word for mayflies, a group of insects with notoriously short lifespans – anything from a few hours to a few weeks at most.

Today, the term ephemera is used to describe objects, often printed matter, produced to be used and thrown away. But some people routinely collect such items because of their personal or professional associations.

20th anniversary Maison Martin Margiela Box with A Tabi Candle. Collection: RareBooksParis. Owner: Gregory Brooks

In the exhibition, six different public and private collectors share their ephemera, including unique catalogues, invitations, ads and illustrations dating from the 16th century to the present. There is also a selection of objects and documents from the National Museum’s internal documentation archive. Much of this material has never been shown before.

Here you can open drawers and immerse yourself in more than 800 documents and objects from fashion houses such as Chanel, Balenciaga and Hérmes, and designers such as Patrick Kelly and Jean Charles de Castelbajac, or Paul Poiret.

Selection of Zines from the Queer Archive Zine Project. Collection: Queer Zine Archive Project. Owner: Milo Miller

About the exhibition

The exhibition has been created in close collaboration with the collectors and the guest curator Marco Pecorari. The exhibition concept builds on Pecorari’s research into fashion archives and in particular his book Fashion Remains. Rethinking Ephemera in the Archive (Bloomsbury 2021).


• The exhibition is being organized with the exceptional loan of the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of Paris, Paris Musées. The museum has a collection of more than 200,000 items, including garments, photos, drawings and archival material. 

• Diktats is a bookshop founded by the collectors and historians Antoine Bucher and Nicolas Montagne. They specialise in rare printed matter from the 18th to mid-20th century.

• RareBooksParis, founded by Gregory Brooks, is an online bookstore that collects and sells rare books and printed matter.

• Queer Zine Archive Project, is a non-profit organisation created in 2003 by the LGBTQ+ activist, graphic designer and archivist Milo Miller, in collaboration with historian Christopher Wilde.

• International Library of Fashion Research, founded by editor Elise By Olsen in 2022, accommodated in the National Museum.

• The National Museum’s research library and documentation archive, which manages a collection of ephemera relating to the history of the Norwegian fashion sector.

Project manager: Cécile Hjelm
Curator: Hanne Eide
Guest curator: Marco Pecorari
Curator Education: Stine Olstad
Communications Adviser: Mari Grinde Arntzen