Rear view: Paris exhibition celebrates fashion from behind

‘Dos à la Mode' presents the sensual, witty and message-bearing potential of clothes' rear angles, amongst backwards-turned stone sculptures

mannequin with dresses
S/S 1997 ‘Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body’ dresses, by Comme des Garçons, archives Adrian Appiolaza. ©AurélieDupuis/ Comme des Garçons/ Azentis
(Image credit: TBC)

For S/S 2019, Paris' 79 official fashion shows presented 3,524 silhouettes – and their accompanying catwalk images showed not a single view of the back of a garment. ‘And that's just Paris,' says Alexandre Samson, director of haute couture and contemporary fashion at the Palais Galliera, and the curator of ‘Dos à la Mode', an exhibition dedicated to the rear angle of clothing. The show is held at Musée Bourdelle in Paris' Montparnasse district while the Palais Galliera undergoes an extensive renovation. ‘Imagine adding London, New York and Milan to that,' Samson adds. ‘Our vision of fashion has become so instantaneous we no longer take the time for a closer look. It's counterproductive. We're doing a major disservice to fashion, we're consuming it badly.’

With this off-site exhibition, Samson explores sensual, witty and message-bearing potential of clothes when viewed from behind, and the back's potential for seduction and expression. These are displayed foremost against the breathtaking backdrop of Bourdelle's monumental stone sculptures, many of which have been turned backwards for the show.

Silhouettes are dramatically explored – the romantic back, illustrated by Balenciaga and Gaultier evening gowns with sinuous silk trains flowing like liquid; the ethereal back, with winged creations by Thierry Mugler; the bondage back, with corsets laced behind by Gaultier or ruched by Schiaparelli; the sculpted back, with Yohji Yamamoto's delicate origami folds and Rei Kawakubo's seminal ‘Body Meet Dress, Dress Meet Body' gingham bustles for Comme des Garçons.

Our vision of fashion has become so instantaneous we no longer take the time for a closer look. It's counterproductive.

The erotic back is well-represented, with Yves Saint Laurent's LBD with its plunging back décolleté veiled in black lace, Helmut Lang's cleft-revealing keyhole, and the sensational full-length black Guy Laroche gown, which revealed the top curve of Mireille Darc's buttocks in ‘Le Grand Blond avec une Chaussure Noire' (1972).

The exhibition also features black and white photographs from Jeanloup Sieff's ‘Back is Beautiful' photographic series, and images of the aforemention S/S 2019 Paris Fashion Week runways. It concludes with the back as a message-conveyer and visual billboard, featuring Melania Trump's controversial ‘I really don't care do u?' green Zara parka.

But for Samson, the pièce de résistance is John Galliano's black and white ‘Sheath Closed by 51 Buttons'. ‘In 2019, we're claiming equality exists between the sexes. This dress – beautiful though it is – shows the aberration of this claim,' he says. ‘It reminds us that the woman's role is as object, completely dependant, even on being dressed. Imagine a man's tuxedo being fastened like this. Historically, the only item of male clothing that fastens from behind is the straitjacket.' 

large Statue with a mannequin in front of it

S/S 2018 evening dress by the Row, private collection. ©Aurélie Dupuis/ The Row/ Azentis

(Image credit: TBC)

Mannequin in front of a statue

A/W 1996 dress and skirt, by Yohji Yamamoto. © Aurélie Dupuis/ Yohki Yamamoto/ Azentis

(Image credit: TBC)

Mannequin in front of a statue

2018 contemporary reconstruction of A/W 1997 dress by Martine Sitbon. © Aurélie Dupuis/ Archives Martine Sitbon/ Azentis

(Image credit: TBC)


Dos à la Mode, 5 July - 17 November 2019


18, rue Antoine Bourdelle
75015 Paris