A New Way to Look at Things

Accustomed to themed fashion exhibitions and retrospectives, I was surprised and intrigued by the critical approach of the current show at the Musée de la Mode et du Textile: L’Histoire ideale de la mode contemporain, Vol 1: 70-80.

Brainchild of Olivier Saillard, the museum’s director, it is the first half of a two part exhibition series. A further exploration into the book of the same title, published last year, the exhibit presents key moments in the development of fashion through the 70s and 80s. But this is not a typical fashion exposition. It is set up to demonstrate a contemporary phenomenon; a phenomenon that is actively occurring in fashion today. The nature of showing contemporary artifacts is that the story is unfinished. In this case the narrative is not only to be continued, awaiting the second half of the exposition, but also in the sense of the ongoing evolution of fashion. Mr. Saillard has tried to trace back the path that has led us to where we are today. Like a work in progress, representing the transitions that designers go through to develop their vision into the next story.

The show’s prerogative is to represent the diversity of what was being produced during the decades of the 70s and 80s, and also to identify the connections and trends. From Sonia Rykiel to Thierry Mugler, Claude Montana to Romeo Gigli, there are obvious contrasts, but also nuances of similarity that evoke the time.

In the context of this show, with Yohji just around the corner from Alaia who is back to back with John Paul Gaultier, there is a dialogue that is just like the dialogue between designers today. In the middle of all of these French houses, Yohji Yamamoto’s presence reminded me of the important shift he was a part of(along with Rei Kawakubo, two of Japanese designers to enter the Paris scene in 1981).There was also a literal overlap of designers were the videos and the neighboring mannequins reflected of the off of the scattered mirrors and the glass dividers. The physical space thus mimicking the suggested relationships.

Of course it can be dangerous to classify a designer by an era. You risk putting them in a box that obscures their individual contribution. Saillard overcame this obstacle by creating a story around each of the designers, showing the strength of their identities. He accomplished this by incorporating the videos of runway shows (with headphones to listen to the music, an important part of the experience), and through beautifully written texts accompanying the displays.

Finally a fashion story that is relevant and progressive. Instead of observing the past as something we have left behind, it becomes an integral part of where we will arrive in the futre. It brings up questions about what the next direction is, and who might be the defining characters of the 2010s?

And now I am dying to see the film version, specifically the evolution of the runway show. Are you up for it Mr. Saillard?

Open until October 10th, 2010. Vol.2, covering the 90s and the aughts in the development now, will follow the current exhibit.

The book: Histoire idéale de la mode contemporaine - Les plus beaux défilés de 1971 à nos jours

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