Finally Paris fashion has a museum all its own! Under renovation for the last four years, Palais Galliera has now reopened with Alaïa. It’s the first French tribute ever for Azzedine Alaïa, who has been making fashion news for 50 years. On show are 74 of the designer’s stunning robes. But the Galliera building alone makes it worth a visit.
Known around Paris as “the Sleeping Beauty,” Palais Galliera is the Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Its graceful architecture is the legacy of a duchess, who commissioned it as a showcase for her art. That unfortunate woman died before construction was finished. Opened in 1895, her neoclassical folly boasts a charming garden with a view of the Eiffel Tower. It became the city’s fashion museum in 1977.
Palais Galliera has 100,000 pieces of Paris fashion, from haute couture to clothes worn by Marie Antoinette. Most are so delicate they can be shown for only short periods. Yet, as demonstrated in expos such as Madame Grès, Cristóbal Balenciaga and Paris Haute Couture, the collection is peerless.
Those exhibits were all guest appearances – shows held in other venues while the Galliera was dark. Now, however, Alaïa makes up for the wait. Ensconced in refurbished rooms of rich Pompeian red, it’s a poetic portrait of this singular talent.
Alaïa is the rare designer who can do everything: sketch, design, cut, drape, tailor and finish. His creations also have deep roots in couture’s history. The show’s sleek, inventively worked jerseys recall Grès and Chanel. Yet, as a room of jackets and coats makes clear, Alaïa is equally adept at traditional tailoring.
At every turn, the designer’s virtuosity is visible—but so are his wit and imagination. Many constructions are marvels, with zips curling around the body and fabrics that cling or magically drape. Their maker is still identified with the 1980s, with stars such as Grace Jones and Tina Turner. Yet Alaïa also dressed greats like Arletty and Greta Garbo, in addition to socialites and royals. His most important lessons, he says, come from the women he works to please.
One of the best things about this show is its staging. The dresses are just inches away and there is no glass between you and them. All are mounted on special figures molded by designer Martin Szekely. On these forms, any support that might “show” has been cut away. Because of this, the clothes exude a sense of real life and movement.
Altogether, it’s more than half a century of work. However, it appears seamless—as if made for a single catwalk. If that’s not enough, there’s a special treat across the road. There, in the Musée d’Art Moderne’s Salle Matisse, fabulous ball gowns pose under the huge walls with their epic art. It’s a very special finale—and one you have to see.
Alaïa runs at Palais Galliera (10, avenue Pierre-1er-de-Serbie, in the 16th Arrondissement) until January 26, 2014; the visit to the Musée d’Art Moderne’s Salle Matisse is included in tickets for the show.
Don’t miss the Palais Galliera macarons Ladurée made to celebrate or the new Azzedine Alaïa flagship store at 5, rue de Marignan, in the 8th Arrondissement.