According to the French curator Olivier Saillard the history of contemporary fashion began in the 18th century, an idea that rings true in the context of his latest curatorial triumph at the Musée Galliera in Paris.
The new exhibition 'Anatomy of a Collection' takes over the hallowed halls of the 19th century palace, and proposes close to one hundred historical and contemporary garments from the museum’s own archives each chosen for it’s intrinsic human connection. Sound abstract? In fact, the concept is grounded in the resolute fact that these clothes were inextricably linked with a living person (famous or otherwise), with both garment and wearer affecting each other and contributing to a wider cultural dialogue of dress.
From ornate imperial court dress to mid-century haute couture and recent runway pieces, the exhibition delves deep into both the provenance and mythology of clothes – considering them as relics linked with public and personal memories, celebrating their place on the stage, within ceremony, and for everyday life.
Wandering through the rouge-tinted salons amongst the black-framed vitrines, one may chance upon the blue velvet frock coat of a four-year old Napoleon or the spectacular peacock feathered muff of his niece Princess Mathilde, before discovering the rough, colourful linen uniforms of peasants from the 1900s.
Around the corner, an anteroom is resplendent with Paul Poiret designs from the wardrobes of Sarah Bernhardt and creations for the French cabaret star Mistinguett (her knit cat-suits had toes), and yet another room displays the prized pieces of modern fashion muses like Carla Sozzani (to her friend Azzedine Alaia) and Michèle Lamy (to her husband Rick Owens).
'The point of this exhibition is to reveal the intimate relationship between a garment and the person who wore it,' Saillard explains. 'Whether it is illustrious, notorious, celebrated or anonymous, the body modifies each chosen garment – it adds soul and sensitivity to a composition of textiles. It is this autobiographical reading that we wanted to touch upon in this exhibition. From Marie Antoinette to Sarah Bernhardt, the Duchess of Windsor and Tilda Swinton, the clothes in this show illustrate a portrait of those who have worn them.'