As part of their recent initiative to give the museum treatment to modern fashion history, the newly revamped Palais de Tokyo selected iconic French brand Chloé as its inaugural exhibition. Titled “Attitudes,” the exhibit showcases designs, sketches and garments, as well as editorial and advertising photographs depicting the brand from its founding in 1952 through the SS2013 collection. Created as a contradiction to Christian Dior’s stiff and structured post-war New Look, Chloé has become the quintessential French brand. Founded by young Egyptian-French designer Gaby Aghion, who was just 31 when she launched the label, the line was infused with fluidity and freedom that presaged the “boho” movement of the 1960s, and is credited with the invention of luxury prêt-a-porter. It embodies the “effortlessness” that seems to be the buzzword of every editor or stylist today.
The museum looks at the ever-present themes that pervade Chloé history, exploring the commonality of the nine designers that have helmed the house over the last 60 years. The themes tied together looks from a range of designers, grouped around the ideas of “graphics,” “games,” “power,” and “pop.” And lest we forget how influential those designers have been, look at who’s led the house since Aghion left: Gérard Pipart, Maxime de La Falaise, Karl Lagerfeld, Martine Sitbon, Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo, Hannah MacGibbon, and present Creative Director Clare Waight Keller. All have become strong influences in fashion, or icons themselves.
IFA Paris undergraduate fashion design students visited the Palais to see, sketch and get inspiration.
The exhibit starts with a display of brand images and campaigns, and you can see the brand’s evolution from the youthful and artsy days of informal shows at Paris’ Café de Flore to the international powerhouse it is today. Noted imagery that followed the Chloé girl as she morphed from the innocent hippie ingénue of the 70s to the sexy-strong woman of the 80s are on display. Some never before published pictures from renowned photographers including Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, and David Bailey are hang in the entrance hall, and there is also an interactive component to the show – a console where you can view videos, short films and photos from past and present collections.
Moving further into the exhibition, the dresses are arranged in garment groupings that showcase 70 pieces in total, showcasing the consistency of the Chloé spirit across decades. If the images are the bones, the exhibition is fleshed out with pieces sourced for the creation of the archive that has been developed since the arrival of Waight Keller in 2010. Upon her appointment as head designer, the Brit wanted to comb the archives for inspiration but found them empty. While the house has done a tremendous job of acquiring and archiving pieces in the last two years – enough to put on this stellar show – the exhibit is sadly lacking in accessories, which is especially obvious when looking at Lagerfeld’s tough looks from the 1980s.
The exhibit was curated by historian Judith Clark, who created the open boxes to play on the Palais big windows and bright light, but kept the small details such the floral floors the recreate the pattern from popular Paris resto Brasserie Lipp, or the carved domino dance floor for the glittery party gowns. Looks included everything from the first Chloe prints of the 60s to the silk-screened horse dresses and embroidered pineapple suits of the 90s. Hair stylist Angelo Seminara created his own works of art, creating intricate and elaborate hair styles including perms, poufs, knots and braids that literally linked some mannequins together, again emphasizing the integration of themes.
Fashion exhibits can feel empty since the pieces are presented in a museum setting and you don’t necessarily get a sense of a garment’s movement, or seem like larger marketing and branding exercises. Alternatively, photo exhibits give you a sense of image, but not for fabric and construction. Having the juxtaposition of both adds additional context for how the brand has successfully navigated the decades. What is most exciting about the exhibit – for students at least – is to see the sketches and inspirational drawings from designers. There are several never-before-seen sketches from Karl Lagerfeld, who kept an intricate record of his inspirations and ideas over the years, presented below their final creations or next to runway photos of the contemporary shows. It imbues the entire exhibit with a feeling of completion – you can see where the house has come from and get an idea of where Waight Keller is taking it in the future.