Paris Fashioin Exhibits: Summer 2013


Early this summer, visitors to Paris will find two exhibitions relating to costume history with free admission. The larger exhibit, Paris Haute Couture, is currently showing at the Hôtel de Ville and it takes up a full large exposition room. This exhibition begins with a visual story about the history of the couture system, mounted along a narrow hallway. This breaks out into a large hall where the gowns are displayed in glass boxes, one or two dresses per box. These boxes allow for viewing from all sides, and they are arranged in two staggered rows. The garments shown are not displayed in chronological order, or by designer. Rather, items shown together are supposed to have a style relationship. There are mannikins down the both sides of this hall, with fuller ball gowns along one side aisle, and mostly suits and dresses in black and white down the other aisle.

Having a free costume exhibit in a city where tourists are seeking opportunities to ‘do something’ has its negative effects in this case. Perhaps half of the viewers when I went were not fully interested in the subject or even understood what they were seeing. While it is a great idea to make fashion available to everyone, it's frustrating to those of us who are truly interested to have exhibition swamped with viewers who have nothing better to do with their afternoon.

I am not a fan of glass box displays. With dark lighting bouncing off of the glass it is difficult to see most items clearly. Description titles and labels for this exhibit are mounted on one side, so when viewing from the 'back' there aren't information labels visible for the gowns.

Overall, while the gowns were wonderful, and it was interesting to see them close enough to spot distinctive construction and pattern techniques like a big zipper across the front of a Gres Grecian gown, the show seemed to lack the luster of other recent exhibitions that I have seen here in the US such as the Balenciaga and YSL exhibits at the deYoung in San Francisco.

I found the exhibition catalog book better than the show since it contains all of the visuals seen in the display in excellent photographs. When it comes to exhibit design, this show is an example of the exhibit design overpowering the items it displayed. Somewhat confusing, dark and reflective glass doesn’t help us to see these gowns well. The fuller gowns were displayed in the open, while the black suits were hidden under the overhead ramp. Overall, the exhibition disjointed and lacked a cohesive sense of content and flow. Without a strong chronological format or designer reference, the garment selection and order of display created confusion, not enlightenment.


A few blocks away, a small jewel of an exhibit, Face-Dos-Profile, is also seen for free. This is the recent exhibition at the Galerie du Crédit Municipal in the Marais. This showcases couture designs from the 1931 era. It features mounted photos in a front-side-back view format of couture designs for legal purposes required to register the couture design as original and unique.

These technical documents are fascinating, showing us clearly how many fashions looked from views we aren’t often able to see. Drafts are also included. There are a few couture gowns as well (in glass boxes). The exhibit tends to be hung by theme, such as striped garments, diagonal inserts, and other technical devices used during that era.

As a reference of design for this time period, this show is fantastic, and I would hope that someone might be able to publish these and other like them at some point in the future. What is shown provides valuable information to current designers, costumers and historians. Sadly, unable to take photographs of this show, we can only take away what we can remember, until someone has the bright idea to create a book on this subject.

Dates: through July 6 for both exhibits

No Photos permitted at either exhibit

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