Unbuttoning Fashion

In the 17th century buttons were so precious that the kings of France attempted to regulate their number and use. Buttons meet fashion with an exhibition— Déboutonner la Mode—featuring over 3000 buttons from the amazing collection of Loic Allio at Paris’ Musée des Arts Décoratifs (to July 19, 2015).

This is not a bunch of buttons tossed into glass cases, but a well designed exhibition illustrating buttons as they were worn on over 100 garments from aristocrats in the early 18th century to modern haute couture with such iconic designers as Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Patrick Kelly. A vest by Elsa Schiaparelli with butterfly buttons created in 1937 is absolutely stunning.

In the forties the magazine “Modes et Travaux” noted  “Buttons are the make-up of dresses.” The chronological exhibition has a button over 2000 years old from China. It concludes with contemporary designers including a beautiful Dior dress with black buttons, part of his 2014 autumn collection. Christian Dior once said that buttons “…help give a dress its full meaning.”

In addition to some remarkable clothing, photos and period fashion accessories text in English (which isn’t always the case with Paris exhibitions) informs how buttons evolved with French society. In the 18th century a man’s coat was typically adorned with a set of 18 buttons… With industrially made buttons in 1878 France’s button industry employed over 30,000 people.

Many of the buttons such as one created by Fragonard in the late 18th century depicting a woman’s head on ivory are almost jewels. Buttons by Sonia Delauney, Alberto Gicometti, Jean Arp and Francois Hugo are veritable mini works of art. Included in the exhibition are 900 finely crafted buttons from a separate collection of the artist-decorator Henri Hamm (1871-1961).

“Déboutonner la Mode,” to July 19, Musée des Arts Decoratifs, 107, rue de Rivoli, Paris