Just in case you can’t afford the latest haute couture (the shows run through Thursday, July 8, 2010), Paris has the perfect quick fix for any fashion fanatic. Even if you have already drooled over the YSL retrospective, you’ll find yet more vintage style at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. There, until October 10, you can view the best of European fashion from the 1970s through ’80s. “The Ideal History of Contemporary Fashion” boasts such names as Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix, Jean Paul Gaultier, Sonia Rykiel, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Kenzo, Thierry Mugler and Yohji Yamamoto.
This show is the first installment of an ambitious “complete history” that has been curated by the expert Olivier Saillard. (Part two, covering the years 1990–2010, will open on November 25.) Saillard, head of fashion exhibitions at the Arts Décoratifs since 2002, was recently appointed director of the formidable Musée Galliera, the fashion museum of Paris. Although closed for restoration until 2011, the Musée Galliera has made cameos in films like Sex and the City and The Devil Wears Prada.
This exhibition gives us a taste of what the talented Saillard will do there. In it, to outline the progress of modern style, he mobilizes “key pieces from twenty years of creation,” augmented by 200 documents, films and video.
All of it is framed by two events in couture. The first is the 1971 premiere of Yves Saint Laurent’s “Scandal” show, an event that launched platform shoes, padded shoulders and 1940s retro. The other is “Rap-Pieuses,” or “Religious Rappers,” a collection shown by Jean Paul Gaultier in 1990. Both merged a new look with a social moment, but each pointed fashion in a different way. Saillard deliberately arranged his show with these two “bad boys” to illustrate how modern couture became so involved with celebrity.
The show also includes triumphs by less well-remembered names like Madame Grès, Azzedine Alaïa, Dorothée Bis and Claude Montana. Special treats include early Issey Miyake, as well as archive pieces by Comme de Garçons and Ter et Bantine (a label run by Chantal Thomass between 1967 and 1975).
Above all, the exhibition puts current couture in context. Today, for instance, “Kaiser Karl” Lagerfeld seems to be everywhere. (Recently he “re-designed” an issue of the French newspaper Libération, drawing even the ads.) This show helps you see how he emerged and changed, from his early designs at Chloé to his first work at Chanel. The same is true of Christian Lacroix. He’s shown both as the designer behind the Jean Patou label, then, under his own name, as the king of late-’80s luxury.
In 2009, before he mounted this show, Saillard published his research as a luscious book that is still available. You may not want to lug home Histoire idéale de la mode contemporaine, but this, the perfect souvenir, is easily ordered online from Amazon.ca, Amazon.fr or FNAC.
“The Ideal History of Contemporary Fashion” is at the Arts Décoratifs through October 10. There are a wide range of activities and guided visits related to the exhibition, and the museum has even created electronic postcards for you to send.
Editor’s note: Try the Girls’ Guide’s handpicked fabulous French fashion tours.