NEW YORK — A virtual trip to the museum is just the start of the new We Wear Culture project by Google Arts & Culture.
Initially started in 2011, Google Arts & Culture has delved into fashion for the first time and has done so with depth, linking more than 180 cultural institutions and museums from 42 countries. Extensively more than an online directory of objects, users can explore Street View experiences, 30,000-plus artifacts, more than 450 exhibitions, four virtual reality experiences, 360-degree behind-the-scenes films of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Conservation Lab and six Google expeditions. Academics and fashion historians will no doubt be elated by the prospect of such a dizzying amount of information, but We Wear Culture is equally geared for those who know little or nothing about fashion, according to Amit Sood, director of the Google Cultural Institute.
During a preview Tuesday, he said, “Most of this has been taught to us. Google is not a company that is known for fashion. My engineers would strongly agree with that. We wear hoodies and sit in front of our computers. But what we realized was we didn’t want to focus on the object itself but the craftsmanship — the past, present and future, which I think is a very important topic right now.”
Japanese folding, Indian textiles, the art of creating color and myriad other subjects have detailed explanations and imagery. Start-to-finish, the project was two years in the making. Wheeling through the content, he touched upon how local materials can have global impact — Irish linen and Madagascar cotton among others. In addition, various materials such as lace can be sorted online by color or by time to show the evolution.
“The challenge is how do you create some kind of logical experience through this broad subject called fashion where you have diverse content coming from everybody. I don’t think we’ve got it 100 percent right. We’re still learning. But we try to navigate through ‘The Icons,’ ‘The Movements,’ ‘The Makings Of’ and ‘The Arts,'” Sood said.
The Google Arts & Culture app is free and available on the web, on iOS and Android.
Andrew Bolton, head curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, and Loic Tallon, chief digital officer at The Met, were also on hand to discuss the project. The Met was the first museum to commit to Google Arts & Culture six years ago. MOMU, the Kyoto Costume Institute, the Victoria and Albert Museum, Musée des Arts Décoratifs and Museo Salvatore Ferragamo are other key partners in the fashion initiative.
The impetus for using technology is to provide a different experience for the viewer or the audience, Bolton said. “Take Chanel. You can see what we have but also what other museums have and get a more complete picture of that couture house and that body of work. Going down the rabbit hole, what I’ve always found appealing about the Internet is that it takes you in new directions you never imagined,” he said.