The Arts Décoratifs fashion collection now comprises more than 150,000 works, ranging from ancient textiles to haute couture creations and emblematic silhouettes of ready-to-wear fashion, but also including accessories, major collections of drawings and photographs, and the archives of iconic creators such as Elsa Schiaparelli, Madeleine Vionnet and Cristobal Balenciaga. Now France’s foremost national collection, it is the result of the amalgamation of two admirable collections, that of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs since its creation in 1864, and that of the Union Française des Arts du Costume (UFAC), founded in 1948 and currently presided by Pierre Bergé, of which the Musée des Arts Décoratifs is the proud custodian.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Musée des Arts de la Mode, founded in 1986 on the initiative of Pierre Bergé and the French textile industry with the support of Jack Lang, then culture minister, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs is paying tribute to this collective adventure and great ‟fashion moment”. The ‟Fashion Forward, Three Centuries of Fashion” exhibition, casts a new spotlight on one of the richest collections in the world, freed from its display cases in the Fashion galleries to be shown for the first time in the museum’s Nave.
The three hundred pieces, selected from a collection constantly enriched by donations and acquisitions, take us on a journey through time, highlighting the key moments in fashion history from the very late 17th century to the most contemporary creation. Freeing itself from the dictates of the conservation of works and the stringent conditions of their display, the exhibition is conceived as an ideal museum of fashion, featuring the finest examples of three centuries of creation habitually illustrated in reference books. It also provides a fascinating new insight into fashion’s evolution via its designers, clients and periods, because now more than ever at Les Arts Décoratifs, fashion is treated as an artistic field that has wide-ranging echoes in the museum’s other collections. Fashion is a history of evolving techniques, materials and designs but also a history of changing times and attitudes, a reflection of the art of living. Fashion is even more fascinating when it is not self-generating but dialogues with the arts of its time, as did great figures of Couture such as Charles-Frederick Worth, Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret, Jeanne Lanvin, Madeleine Vionnet, Gabrielle Chanel, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent.
In a completely novel manner, the exhibition recreates each of these ‟fashion moments” in its human, artistic and social context, not didactically but via ellipses illustrating fashion’s constant elective affinities with the decorative arts. Eighteenth-century wood paneling, scenic wallpapers by Zuber, Paul Iribe’s drawings for the ‟Robes de Paul Poiret”, and the straw marquetry doors created by Jean-Michel Frank for the writer François Mauriac, provide perfect settings for fashion’s stylistic expressions and the metamorphoses of the body and style from the 18th century. The exhibition culminates in the effervescence and singular eclecticism of the global contemporary fashion scene, in which the names of the most original creators are now associated with the most ancient fashion houses.
Because the entire history of fashion is also a history of the body and style, the exhibition’s artistic direction was entrusted to the British dancer and choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, formerly one of the stars of the New York City Ballet and winner of a Tony award for his stage adaptation of An American in Paris in 2014, based on the film by Vicente Minelli. In collaboration with the scenographer Jérôme Kaplan and assisted by Isabelle Vartan, Christopher Wheeldon has succeeded in giving the collection a sensual, poetic dimension, breathing new life into these illustrious creations by transforming every stage of the exhibition into a world in itself. Each of these moments is enhanced by a unique collaboration with the dancers of the Opéra de Paris, in which a choreography gracefully casts new light on a silhouette, posture or attitude characteristic of this social and artistic evolution of the body.