In terms of a palette, Impressionism is . . . impressive. As the Musée d’Orsay‘s “Impressionism and Fashion” shows, the art movement enjoyed serious links to la mode. Painting the women around them, the Impressionists turned into Paris style bloggers. After all, they lived during a fashion boom, a time when the newly rich spent and spent—and spent. This highly original exposition is one you shouldn’t miss.
For devotees of Paris style, it provides the backstory to several French obsessions. As with a lot of landmarks born around the time of Impressionism (such as Haussmann’s boulevards, haute couture and the Bon Marché), many of the era’s fashion elements still matter here. Take the tendency to dress all in white. This can mean summer jeans and a simple T-shirt or winter all-whites like those at Sandra Serraf: scarf, top and skirt.
Another color choice that has stayed in favor is that deep forest green known as vert foncé. Not only is this used on the city’s urban furniture, from park benches to public fountains and kiosks. From prêt-à-porter to the high street, it’s also a winter classic; just take a peek in Paule Ka, Avril Gau, Claudie Pierlot, Comptoir des Cotonniers, Sandro or Princesse Tam-Tam. There is also the oft-remarked French obsession with stripes. As the paintings show, this became a craze just before the Belle Époque. Each new wave of les rayures—like those of casual wear label Léon le Breton—simply increases the fervor.
“Impressionism and Fashion” also offers a class in color, one that will help you better understand the appearance of Paris. From blancs cassés to “dead salmon,” it’s full of shades still visible on everything from doors to macaron boxes. So, along with classic paintings, the show explains how more than fashion evolved.
If you need other reasons to go, consider the following:
1. You’ll see the actual colors and textures that inspired the Impressionists, fabrics such as ribbed faille and colors like Parma gray. Today neither the colors nor the fabrics remain the same; these are genuine rarities.
2. This was the age of the great Paris courtesans and the show provides an item-by-item guide to their lingerie.
3. Paintings about shopping combine with vintage chapeaux so the visitor can enjoy some cost-free retail therapy.
4. The salon portraits are shown in real salons, lipstick-red and furnished with gilded chairs. Art made outdoors is shown over fake grass, to recorded birdsong. This scene design (from opera designer Robert Carsen) may not be academic, but it’s a lot of fun.
5. Still miss Carrie Bradshaw? You can drool over shoes in satin and leather, while you marvel at their tiny size.
The two main things to remember are: book online and go early. This is one of the most popular exhibitions in Paris.
“Impressionism and Fashion”
Léon le Breton
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