Draped in Decades: Time Travelling Inside the Fashion Museum in Riga

When I first heard about the fashion museum in Riga, I have to admit my expectations were on the lower side. Modes Muzejs opened its doors in 2016 and presents garments, costumes, and accessories from the private collection of Alexander Vasilyev, a fashion historian and collector.

I feel like outside of the main fashion capitals, private fashion collections can sometimes be hit-and-miss. I was worried it would be a bunch of clothes randomly thrown together, with the only thing in common being a famous designer’s name on the label, rather than a collection that tells a story. But as I soon found out, it’s actually one of the three largest fashion collections in the world!

With a small permanent display and a number of changing temporary exhibitions, the fashion museum in Riga gives you a glimpse into decades past from different perspectives. Again, I’m in two minds when it comes to themed exhibitions. I think they’re great for returning visitors, as you get a completely fresh experience every couple of months. But if you come across an interesting exhibition online only to find out it has already closed, it can be disappointing to say the least.

Dresses on display at the Fashion Museum in Riga

So, how did our visit to Riga’s fashion museum fare against these expectations? Keep reading to find out…

Planning a visit to Modes Muzejs in Riga

Riga’s fashion museum is located at 24 Grēcinieku Street, just a short walk away from the House of the Blackheads and the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia, which I mentioned in my complete Riga guide. It’s open every day from 11 am to 6 pm, but it’s worth double-checking their website for any changes.

The building of Modes Muzejs in Riga, Latvia

The current admission fee for adults is €7. If you’re interested in a guided tour, it costs an additional €20 and is available in three languages (Latvian, English, and Russian), while audioguides in these languages are included in the ticket price. You can either pay on-site or pre-book tickets by phone or online.

And, your fashion interest is not the only thing you can feed there, as they have a cute little café upstairs. The only reason we didn’t stop for a caffeine fix was that we were still full from an earlier coffee break. But don’t worry – they also have an online shop where you can buy anything from fashion books in various languages to their own coffee and tea blends, and even funny socks. We love buying coffee beans during our travels to enjoy back home, so this would make an amazing souvenir or a gift!

The Masterpieces of Fashion exhibition

The temporary exhibition we saw was called ‘Masterpieces of Fashion’. It had actually opened just the day before our visit, so we must’ve been among the first to go!

A fascinator hat and a pair of Alexander McQueen shoes on display at the Riga Fashion Museum

The exhibition takes you on a journey from the 18th century to the present day, with the main focus on 20th-century European and American fashion designers. You can admire the creations of such household names as Chanel, Schiaparelli, Halston, Alexander McQueen, Jean-Paul Gaultier, or Cristóbal Balenciaga.

Fans on display at the Fashion Museum in Riga
A denim set, a blazer dress, and two evening gowns on display at the Fashion Museum in Riga

Seeing the exquisite craftsmanship of Cristóbal Balenciaga truly saddened me when I thought about how his beloved brand has gone downhill in recent years. As modern-day trends have ushered in waves of tacky, ridiculous-looking clothing, it feels hard to believe that Balenciaga was once at the forefront of tailoring and haute couture. Cristóbal himself was praised by Coco Chanel as “the only true couturier” and hailed by Christian Dior as “the master of us all”, a far cry from what the brand represents today.

Interactivity at the exhibition

But, I digress… Getting back to the exhibition, as you enter, there’s a smaller area where you can roll the dice to get a dedicated quote by a famous person. It’s such a simple concept, but I enjoyed it so much that I may or may not have taken multiple turns. On my first try, I got a quote from my beloved Audrey Hepburn. Even though I explained in my Paris guide why it’s sadly not true, it still brought a smile to my face!

Rolled up pieces of paper with quotes on them on display at the Fashion Museum in Riga

There are also several other interactive exhibits on display, with the highlight being a station where you could try on the dreamiest dress with a hoop skirt. You can find a series of photos on the wall to guide you through the process with step-by-step instructions. It allowed me to live out my princess dreams and felt so me that I genuinely didn’t want to take it off! After I posted an Instagram video of me wearing it, several people said the same, which truly warmed my heart. Now, where can I get myself one of these…

A glass panel showing the elements of a Victorian lady's outfit

And, besides looking like a Victorian lady, you could also learn how to flirt like one! There was a section explaining the secret language of fans, which I found really fascinating (Enola Holmes could probably use a lesson or two 😉 ). Naturally, I decided to put my skills to the test. There were some interpretation problems, but we got there in the end!

Travel through time inside the museum’s permanent exhibition

Now, moving on to the cherry on top of our museum experience… The interactive room! It showcases the evolution of fashion over the decades by letting the stunning gowns “speak” for themselves. With the help of lights, music, and other elements, it transports you to the most significant periods in fashion history. I found it so mesmerising that I think I stayed in the room to watch 2 full cycles!

Hippie era clothing on display at the Riga Fashion Museum
19th-century ballgowns on display at Modes Muzejs in Riga, Latvia

When I first entered the basement of Riga’s fashion museum, I did not expect them to pack so much value into such a small space. As Mac rightly pointed out, there was hardly any men’s fashion on display. Perhaps they should consider this for future exhibitions, but I agree it’s probably not as exciting as women’s fashion, and the number of male visitors is likely quite small too. Still, for a privately-owned place of this size, I think they curated 2 really high-quality exhibitions. I was especially pleasantly surprised by the number of interactive elements they managed to include in their displays. It truly made you want to explore every corner to discover more. Next time we’re in Riga, I’d love to pop in and see what they come up with next!

Examples of 1940s and 1950s male fashion on display at the Fashion Museum in Riga

Would you like to visit the fashion museum in Riga?

Also, I know I might be opening a can of worms, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on Balenciaga. Are their designs moving with the times or is it time for them to stop with this nonsense? 😉

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