French Fashion Exposed

Visitors to the French capital looking to learn about Paris fashion are in for a real treat this year. This summer, there is an exceptional amount of style exhibitions on view for every taste and style. Moreover, each and every show tells a fascinating story about a different fashion icon.

Dalida…Une Vie Though you may or may not know her, Dalida is one of those entertainment icons that has the same cult status here in France as that of Barbara (Streisand) and Liza (Minelli) . The statuesque beauty, born “Yolanda Gigliotti” and crowned Miss Egypt in 1954, Dalida, as she was later renamed, came to Paris after first working as a fashion model before embarking on a career as a singer. In the early years of her career, she performed with

Alain Delon, all the while launching both dance and fashion trends. Dalida recorded over 2000 songs and performed in concerts all over the world. But her personal life was less successful than her professional career and exactly 20 years ago she took her own life. On this the anniversary of her death, Mayor Bertrand Denoue is hosting a tribute to her talent and taste in fashion with an exhibition at city hall featuring a selection of the gowns she wore on stage, video clips and an assortment of documents. Hotel de Ville (Salle Saint Jean) 1, place de lHotel de Ville 75004 Paris. Open: Monday through Saturday, 10am-7 pm except holidays. Though September 8. Admission: Free.

Image Nan Kempner: Une Americaine a Paris A very moving expo, this is the story of an haute couture house paying homage to its most loyal customer, Nan Kempner who passed away nearly two years ago. It is said that Nan and her intimate circle of friends were the lifeblood of Haute Couture, single-handedly keeping the industry viable in recent years. She owned one of the worlds largest private collection of Haute Couture, which included 3000 garments and accessories. She was often overheard saying “I spend more than I should and less than I want.” What is certain is that she had a very special alliance as well as 376 couture garments from one of Frances most prestigious high fashion houses, that of Yves Saint Laurent.

Born to a wealthy San Franciscan family and wife of a Texan banker, Nan Field Schlesinger Kempner was a third generation haute couture client. Model slim, she measured 5’9″ had a 26″ waist and weighed a scant 110 pounds. “Nan always represented this modern, free, independent and elegant woman,” said Saint Laurent. “She is probably the woman who wore best my clothes and (the woman) with whom I shared the longest and greatest complicity.” Thanks to her svelte silhouette, she often picked up her made-to-order creations for half-price.

Kempner had impeccable taste, favoring long, slim skirts, transparent blouses and long, curvy, square shouldered tailored jackets that she often wore with straight legged trousers. Her taste in evening rarely exceeded the extravagance of the black velvet wrap dress trimmed in turkey feathers or the green iridescent chiffon gown spilling over the body like a tall drink of water. Both of these garments are on display. The exhibition, hosted by the Fondation Pierre Bergé & Yves Saint Laurent situated in the former couture salon of the designer, features 77 of the 376 outfits owned by Kempner. Fondation Pierre Berge & Yves Saint Laurent 3, rue Leonce Reynaud. 75116 Paris. Open: 9:30am/2:30-6pm-1pm.  Admission: 5 Euros.
Jean Paul Gaultier/Regine Chopinot “Le Defile” The wild and crazy antics of Jean Paul Gaultier, fired by the world of contemporary ballet make for a fun filled exhibition now on at the Musee de la Mode et du Textile through September 23. Some 328 garments and accessories tell the story of an amazing collaboration between the avant garde fashion designer and choreographer Regine Chopinot of the Ballet Atlantique / BARC, Centre Choregraphique National de la Rochelle. From 1983 to 1994 there were notable performances such as “Delices,” “Les Rats,” “A la Rochelle, Il ny a pas que des Pucelles” and “Soli Bach.”

The most famous, however was “Le Defile (1985),” an atypical creation for 16 dancers, actors and models. Half fashion show, half ballet, it became a landmark in both contemporary fashion and modern dance by reconciling a new generation of choreographers with fashion inspired costumes. Regine Chopinot wanted something that revealed the body using clothes. Gaultier worked on the drawings while she designed the caricatures. The result was “anti-choreography” for “anti-fashion.”

Le Defiles extraordinary costumes were designed and made according to codes which usually structure a fashion show. Corset dresses with tutu leg warmers, cable knit bustle dresses, giant mens underwear, quilted satin cushion outfits and oversized clothes replaced the conventional tutus of the typical ballet. Le Defile was not only a profession of faith on the part of an iconoclastic, humorous and demanding couturier, it was also an extension of Gaultiers outrageous and eclectic fashion collections.

What is wonderful about this exhibition is that not only do you see the costumes up close and personal, you also see them in movement, thanks to a large screen video which runs the ballet in its integrity. Upstairs there are other costumes from other productions complimented by still other videos. The entire show ends with three of Gaultiers signatures: a graduated navy striped slinky dress, the bottom half spiked with ostrich feathers (2001); a form-fitting shirred velvet dress with exaggerated conical bra top (1984), and a studded motorcycle jacket over corset and white tutu (1976). Musee de la Mode et du Textile 107, rue de Rivoli 75001 Paris. Tel: 01 44 55 57 50. Open Tues-Fri 11am-6pm (Thurs. open until 9pm); Sat. Sun. (10am-6pm). Admission: 8 Euros.

Jean Charles de Castelbajac: Galleirock During the 1980’s, the fashion scene in Paris was alive with talent who used the catwalk to express a free range of their creativity with only a minimum concern for the commercial side of business. One of the stand-outs of that era, the 40th anniversary of Jean Charles de Castelbajacs career is the subject of the current exhibition on until July 30 at the Palais Galliera.

At a time when people experimented more with the way they dressed, clothes were sometimes designed as works of art and contemporary trends in art were almost always incorporated somewhere within the designers collection. Of all the men and women to capture the attention of the press,  Jean Charles de Castelbajac was famous for ending his shows with a select number of garments we call “art-wear.” Andy Warhol Pop Art, larger than life portraits of famous personalities, the writings of famous philosophers were all lifted from their proper context and onto the tunic dresses of each seasons collection.

All of the signature pieces of Castelbajac are there from the minidress fashioned after a Jean Paul Sartre book (1978), to “Homage aux portraits,” effigies of Coco Chanel, Jackie Kennedy and Maria Callas, “Paintings,” bearing the works of Ben, Gambas and the Guitar dress with a portrait of Elvis Presley. In his line called “Accumulation,” the visitor has a close up and personal look at a mini sweater dress assembled from knit gloves, a dolman sleeved mid-calf coat made from berets, a sneaker jacket where shoes were taken apart, flattened and fitted into a jacket and the most famous, his iconic teddy bear jacket made from stuffed animals. Palais Galliera 10, avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie. 75016. Tel: Open Tues-Sun 10 am – 6 pm except holidays. Admission: 7 Euros

A Thousand and One Lives of Barbie Once again, the worlds most famous doll has an exhibition featuring her life as a fashion icon. Inspired by Lili, a comic book character promoted by the Bild Zeitung magazine in Germany in the 1950’s, Barbie was introduced in 1959 at the New York Toy Fair. She was named after Barbara, the daughter of Ruth Handler, creator of the doll. Since her appearance in 1959, over a billion dolls have been wold, of which 4.6 million are sold in France annually.

Since her inception, this diva has reflected four generations of fashion and sociological trends from model girl of the 1960’s to haute couture icon at the beginning of the 21st century. She has portrayed more than 90 different roles from top model, dancer, nurse, airline attendant and astronaut to surgeon, Olympia athlete, hip hop rock star and even US presidential candidate.

This exhibition, realized with the participation of Mattel France, features 200 dolls placed in settings created for her throughout the 20th century. In addition, there are workshops organized to teach children how to make clothes for Barbie each Wednesday (reservations: 01 42 72 73 11). Consult the museums webpage for info on more activities, contests and workshops at:  Musee de la Poupee Impass Berthaud (near 22, rue Beaubourg) 75003 Paris. Tel: Open Tuesday-Sunday 10am – 6 pm except holidays. Admission: 6 Euros (Children: 3 Euros)