Hold up, everybody–the fashion industry invented curating.

April 25, 2013

Old-ish Content Warning!

You are viewing a post that’s more than three years old. There’s a good chance that a lot of the following is seriously out-of-date (or at least not reflective of my current thinking on this topic). Proceed with caution.

If you think about it, fashion may actually be THE industry that started the curation trend – we just didn’t know it at the time. How could we? “Curation” is a relatively new term, but it’s finding its way into other realms; you hear about content curation, music curation – all meaning that in some way, these industries are personalizing their offer according to your individual wants, needs and likes.

–Carrie Whitehead, Zappos Labs: The Frontier of Online Retail Is Curation  

Um…huh. So I guess that “curation” is a trend now? That the fashion industry started? Interesting. I can think of a few people I know who might have an issue with one or more of those statements.

This article (written by the Product and UX Manager at Zappos) was actually a pretty interesting read, particularly coming on the heels of seeing Suse Cairns and Danny Birchall’s  “Curating the Digital World ” session at MW2013. In that session (and the subsequent Salon session on the same topic), we appeared to be looking to expand the definition of “curator” and “curating” to include all sorts of possible definitions and use cases, but in this article, the definition is narrowed waaaay down.

It would appear that in the retail sector, curating is really starting to just mean, “helping people find things that are relevant to them.” (A further refinement might be, “things that are relevant 

that they’re likely to purchase.”)

Which is cool. But…I dunno. This is where I start to feel like a term is being stolen from its rightful owners. And I inherently feel that trying to hold on to a previous century’s definition of an activity, a job, what have you, is inherently wrong, but this is a rare case where I feel that curators in the museum world maybe should have some ownership over this term. I’m tempted to just say that there’s no harm in it, and that we shouldn’t worry that there are people out there now who call themselves curators but who don’t fit our traditional definition of that term.


At a moment where museums are just starting to expose their practices and make transparent their processes, the association of retail-based curating like that described in this article and traditional museum-based curating is an unfortunate one. It’s hard enough getting the public to understand the value of museums, but now we’ll have to also get over the public’s preconception that curating is no more than picking out stuff people will like.

Guh. I’m obviously all over the place here, but something about this article triggered something for me that really has me worried. I dunno. Maybe I’m over-reacting (it wouldn’t be the first time).

Oh, and also—get off my lawn.