I have heard that there is a fantastic exhibition of Haute Couture at the Hôtel de Ville right now, and I can hardly wait to go, but first I wanted to see Fashioning Fashion at the Union des Art Decoratifs in the Louvre. Why first? Logistics. Sunday was the last day the show would be in Paris and the first day I had time to see it. Turns out this was particularly lucky as the show displays European fashion trends from 1750 until just after the era Mr Worth sailed to Paris from London and because the first Haute Couturier, ending in 1915.
Fashioning Fashion was in town directly from California, where the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has an extraordinary collection thanks to the generosity of two very astute, influential collectors, Martin Kamer and Wolfgang Ruf. Seeing the sumptuous fabrics, exquisite needle work and intricate beading made it easy to see why these men had been so passionate about the dress-wear. The details are captivating.
And so were the explanations. In totally un-Syvia like fashion I read every single one! They’d explain the subversive revolutionary messages in a vest, or nostalgically describe how the gold embroidery and moiré silk would reflect the candlelight at dinner party. You could almost see the effect.
And they discuss, or rather allude to the constraints of dress for women at the time. When you see those large Marie Antoinette gowns, you can imagine the cage that created that shape. What I’d never realized was that the cage was full of undercoats helping hold everything up, making walking something of a slog. I also learned why the ladies need so much help getting dressed. In period films you often see a lady being tied into her corset, but you never see the following scenes when she is actually sewn in to her bodice! A century later the frames that held out the hoop skirts took advantage of new technology so that Madame could move, at last. But not for long, because along came the bustle which seriously shortened one’s footsteps, make the tennis outfits and riding costumes of the time something of an oxymoron.