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August 31 2014

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Haute History: Paris Celebrates Couture’s Legacy

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It’s ready-to-wear time, but the fashion set will fete made-to-measure clothes tonight when Paris Haute Couture opens at the Hôtel de Ville. The Swarovski-sponsored exhibition showcases one hundred pieces from the Musée Galliera’s archives and a few loans from private collections. According to curator Olivier Saillard, the Galliera’s director, it tells a chronological story, starting with Charles Frederick Worth at the turn of the century (the show’s first dress was owned by the Comtesse Greffulhe, who inspired Marcel Proust’s Duchesse de Guermantes) and ending with one of the final pieces Cristóbal Balenciaga made before he shuttered his couture business in 1968.

Many of the dresses are juxtaposed with contemporary pieces; “For me, haute couture is not a discipline slave to the present,” Saillard explained. A Galliano-designed Dior, for example, is matched with Paul Poiret, while a 1920s Chanel is paired with a dress from Bouchra Jarrar’s latest couture collection. Saillard has affection for every piece in the show, but he’s partial to the 1930s. “The thirties is the most elegant period. There were a lot of women designers: Vionnet, Chanel, Schiaparelli—that means something,” he said. “They didn’t see back to the past, they see only the future.” As for couture’s future, Saillard says it’s not dead. “There are a lot of designers interested in haute couture: Raf Simons at Dior; Comme des Garçons is doing another kind of couture; Nicolas Ghesquière was, for me, a good designer who could make haute couture.”

Paris Haute Couture is free to the public from March 2 through July 6, at the Hôtel de Ville.

Photo: Courtesy of the Musée Galliera

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Dept. of Culture