© Eric Poitevin / ADAGP 2016
Who wears what? This is the title of Paris’ Musee Galliera’s latest exhibition and it is as much of a feast for the eyes as it is for the brain. Curator, Olivier Saillard is not one to shy away from a challenge and with this exhibition he showcases jewels of the Galliera’s collection spanning 300 years but what could so easily have been a dry run through history, has been presented to make us think about how and why we wear clothes (apart from the obvious).
So, yes, you can see Marie Antoinette’s tiny-waisted Boucher-blue silk corset; a marvellous selection of Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy Couture; Daisy Fellowes’s iridescent sequinned column by Balenciaga (see above); and a beautiful selection of couture hats by Givenchy and Christian Dior (who knew the French had so many specific terms for different types of toppers: trotteur, toque, casque, capeline, cache-chignon?). But that’s not the point, at least for M Saillard. He wants to make you think as well as marvel at the beauty on show.
Each room presents a different perspective on the way that our clothes define us. So Marie Antoinette’s corset (below) can be seen as a relic – a physical manifestation of memory and all the more interesting and poignant for its imperfections showing signs of use. Another room lines up couture gems alongside aprons, overalls, patched denim and workshop clothing. There is the juxtaposition of client and artisan, as well as the question of what workwear actually means for different people. For lucky Audrey Hepburn, workwear was haute couture Givenchy.
© Eric Poitevin / ADAGP 2016
M Saillard delves deeper into the role of the muse in two other rooms. One is dedicated to the role of artists in promoting and displaying exceptional craftsmanship in clothing. The other examines the role of the muse in modern day fashion, from Tilda Swinton’s connection with Haider Ackermann to Francoise Lacroix’s display of her husband’s genius on the red carpet (a truly stunning pink and lime green taffeta evening gown, short in front, long behind).
Finally there are the prototypes: the pieces that are really too eccentric for wearing anywhere but the catwalk itself. Here we find a tangerine velvet ruched dress by Jean Paul Gaultier with some rather extreme conical breasts (AW 1984); a Maison Martin Margiela hair coat – literally a mullet haircut made into a coat (SS 2009); and a white flower-strewn dress by Comme des Garcons that completely encases its wearer in flowers (SS 2012).
M Saillard’s genius curation always delivers a fresh perspective on fashion and on the clothes we put on our back every day. However serious my intentions though, I can’t quite resist the impulse to choose something I’d like to walk away with, given the chance. I’m still dreaming about a stunning Jean Patou black velvet evening coat – a marvel of 1930s couture with a sleekly wrapped body invisibly fastened offset beautifully with a wide shawl collar and bell-like kimono sleeves with the largest cuffs I’ve ever seen. There is a reason that French haute couture leads the world – this show tells you why. See it before 23 October.