I first became interested in haute couture thanks to Audrey Hepburn. In her movies, she always wore these wonderful dresses and I learned that they were usually designed by Hubert de Givenchy. Sabrina, Funny Face, Breakfast at Tiffany’s... all were by Givenchy. He was the first haute couture designer to break into costume design in film and Audrey Hepburn was his favorite model. Together they defined elegance to me.
From there, I branched out to explore other fashion designers... Elsa Schiaparelli and the modernistic Cristobal Balenciaga came first. Because their names sounded exotic. Romantic.
Then I discovered the simplicity of Christian Dior - the Little Black Dress - and Pierre Balmain, Mr. Sophistication. Plus a bit of the androgynous Coco Chanel, who came onto the scene well before feminism.
Ultimately I began delving into the history of haute couture. And I found it fascinating. It was, at one and the same time, a breeding ground for outsider opposites: feminists yearning to breathe free in a man’s world and homosexual/metrosexuals wanting to liberate their feminine side. It seemed that if you had something different to say, you could only say it through fabric.
I learned about the reign of Charles Frederick Worth at the end of the 19th century, the first to dictate fashion instead of just knocking off knock-offs of what the nobility was wearing. And then in the period just before World War I, Paul Poiret took the Orientalism out of art and draped it onto the female body... before it was widely accepted that Woman had one to drape. At more or less the same time as Poiret appeared the first female, Jeanne Paquin, who was also the first Parisian couturier to open multiple branches of her fashion house abroad. In the Roaring Twenties came Jeanne Lanvin and Jean Patou - both of whom still exist in the world of perfumes. Lanvin was all trimmings, embroidery and beaded decorations in light, clear, floral colors. Patou, who was never mainstream but always original and simple, worked with the Cubist influence that later led to Paco Rabanne and Pierre Cardin. After the end of the war arose the timeless Madeleine Vionnet, who became one of the leading couturiers of the Thirties, basing her flowing gowns on the drapé of ancient Greek statues.
And it all seemed to be happening in Paris.
But why hold this show at the studio of a sculptor, you may ask. Madame Grès said many times throughout her life: "I wanted to be a sculptor. For me, it’s the same thing to work the fabric or the stone".
So although the Musée Bourdelle is a bit off the beaten museum track, it’s well worth the Métro ticket. Think of it as a two-fer: sculpture plus haute couture. Which was the curator’s point, after all.
Extended until August 28
18 rue Antoine-Bourdelle;
Métro: Montparnasse-Bienvenüe or Falguière
10 am to 6 pm. Closed Mondays
Entrance fee: € 3.50 and 7