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By: Mike Mills

Thursday, March 25, 2010

aujourd'hui: voici Paris!

Recently I went back to my home town The Hague to pay a visit to the Gemeentemuseum. As I stepped out of the car, I saw at least a hundred people were queuing in line, so my heart started pounding a bit faster and my eyes got that glazed, determined shine, that I always get whenever I am very excited about something. This exposition must be quite something then, if everyone was dying to get in...

After what seemed hours of waiting (but actually only took fifteen minutes), I was released into the wild. Err, into the museum. Voici Paris focuses on high end fashion, couture fashion as we may say, throughout the years. The glamourous Haute Couture; a world that is drenched in champagne, charm and Chanel.

It all started with the man Charles Frederick Worth (1826 - 1895), who not only invented the label that is nowadays sewn into every garment made, but he was also the first to come up with the idea of Haute Couture. That meant several big changes, but it made the fashion world how she is today. Designers design a collection from their own inspiration (opposed to before, when women went to their tailor to have a dress made for them, with their instructions on how the dress should look), and they show this collection on mannequins to prospective clients. These clients can order from the collection, that consists of limited editions only. Everything is handmade in the couture house and it's all tailored on the body. A last important feature of Haute Couture would probably be that the designer oversees every aspects of the production.

Not every designer that makes pretty dresses can call himself a couturier, though. Le Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, that was established in 1868, is a very select group of designers. You have to earn the right to be a member by following certain guidelines, such as design made-to-order for private clients, with one or more fittings; have an atelier in Paris with at least fifteen full-time employees; present a collection to the Paris press every season (twice a year), with at least thirty five runs with outfits for both daytime wear and evening wear. Members nowadays include Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Chanel, Givenchy, Jean Paul Gaultier; some international members are Maison Martin Margiela, Valentino, Giorgio Armani and Elie Saab.

Anyways, back to the exposition! You first enter a room that is filled with my favourite label of all time: Chanel. It shows you a peek in the collection that Kaiser Karl himself designed for the s/s 09 collection, where he worked together with the Japanese origami artist Kamo and transformed the runway into a white flowerfield, all made of paper.

From contemporary Chanel, the expo then leads us back into the history of fashion, starting with Worth and onto big names like Paul Poiret and Marie Vionnet. Oriental influences are clearly visible in these designs, and about the life of monsieur Poiret could be held an exposition alone. With his love for extravagant and exotic parties this 'king of fashion' ruled in the beginning of the 20th century. As the website of the Met explains very clearly:

"Poiret's exoticized tendencies were expressed through his use of vivid color coordinations and enigmatic silhouettes such as his iconic "lampshade" tunic and his "harem" trousers, or pantaloons. However, these orientalist fantasies (or, rather, fantasies of the Orient) have served to detract from Poiret's more enduring innovations, namely his technical and marketing achievements." 

Poiret was well known for his parties that had the sole purpose of creating name in the fashion industry and showing his wealth. He often claimed to have freed women from their corsets, and didn't have one bone of modesty in his - well dressed - body. In his memoirs "My first fifty years" (1931) you can get a good image of the man that more or less invented how to bend marketing to his advantage in the fashion industry. 

We're taking a quick walk through the roaring twenties when Miss Coco Chanel first came to play, and go on to the thirties and forties.

After the Second World War, Christian Dior enters the fashion stage, shocking the world with his excessive use of fabric for a 'New Look' in a time when fabric was still very rare. His silhouette referred back to the 19th century, when women still wore corsets and  big dresses. He claimed to have designed ''flower women'', with a skirt that would sway open as the cup of a flower upside down.
Dior in the 70s

Miss Coco makes her comeback after the war, mostly improving her earlier designs and introducing items to the fashion world that we now consider classics, such as the tweed ladies suit, the Little Black Dress, the two tone pumps and the black quilted purse. 

Let's jump to the sixties, when Audrey Hepburn wore this lovely fuchsia pink Givenchy dress in Breakfast at Tiffany's ('61). 

The exhibition also shows you work of today's designers; Dutch well known names - as well as international couturiers. A last designer worth mentioning is the Chinese Ma Ke. Her collection is all about authenticity and tradition. As an reaction against 'fashion for the mass' she pleats about going back to fair trade, quality and individual creativity. 

Feb 2007 collection WUYONG ('useless') The Earth, in Paris. Garments were stained with mud and sand, and presented in sculptural shapes. 

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