Through costumes, photos, film extracts, sketches, paintings and items of haute couture, the exhibition will show that, over the centuries, fashion has put the human body on show by stretching it beyond its natural limits. It will illustrate the continuing spectacular link between fashion and the body.
On display until 28th of April 2013, A Feast for the Eyes showcases historical objects and garments signed by Chanel, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Thierry Mugler and others which will grace the scene alongside the mythical dresses worn in the films Gone With The Wind or La Reine Margot (Queen Margot). Indeed the film-making industry has effectively captured the spectacular aspect of these forms to reproduce them in its big blockbusters.
How do kings, princes, aristocrats, the upper class or stars dress on special occasions? Eye-catching Renaissance ruffs, corsets that pull in the waist, impressive dresses with panniers or crinoline, brightly sparkling embroidery ... These dress codes have been passed down the centuries and are still being given a fresh interpretation even today.
The City of Lace is therefore bringing exceptional items out of its reserve collections, rounded off with loans from major institutions (including the musee national de la Renaissance, CNCS, Comedie-Francaise and Cinematheque francaise). Historical accessories and outfits will grace the scene alongside stage costumes and haute couture: Adjani’s mythical dresses in the film La Reine Margot (Queen Margot), Scarlett O’Hara’s in Gone with the Wind and garments signed by Dior, Chanel, Givenchy, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Thierry Mugler and more … Painted portraits, film posters and film extracts will put these extraordinary clothes into a new context.
The exhibition is divided into five acts, which highlight this theatrical relationship between fashion and the body.
Act 1 : Ruff times
To begin with, Ruff times addresses the impressive ruffs and other large collars which reached their apogee in Europe at the end of the 16th century. These accessories, with their extreme whiteness, refined lace and volume, were used to create deliberately striking profiles. This fascination with making the body appear bigger and more impressive was particularly prevalent among the European elites, looking for new ways to convey an image of magnificence in their grand homes, at aristocratic balls or at the royal court.
Act 2 : Blinded by the light
Next, Blinded by the light focuses on the luxury and the magnificence of the decorative elements used in these clothes. The extraordinary appearance of the elites in the late Renaissance period cannot be attributed solely to the impressive volume of their outfits. The magnificence of the ornaments and the sumptuous materials used were intended to convey the magnificence of the wearer. Such displays of grandeur were made possible by the immense skill of luxury textile workers, jewellers and embroiderers. Members of Europe’s royal families dressed to impress in extravagant costumes embroidered with gold and silver thread.
Act 3 : Caged bodiesThe next act is entitled Caged bodies, exploring designs which encase the body in its own ‘shell’. The quest for ever greater volume, so emblematic of aristocratic fashion since the Renaissance, was all about allowing the wearer to physically dominate the space in which he or she appeared. Clothing was constructed to form a sort of superstructure, concealing and subsuming flesh and bone to create an entirely new, spectacular physical outline. The most extreme representations of this practice were to be found in women’s fashion, from the 16th through to the early 20th century. The art of restructuring the silhouette and accentuating the distinction between the upper and lower body involved two complementary actions: amplifying the volume of the hips and reining in the waist. The contrast between the two was intended to convey a sense of elegance.
Act 4 : The Wardrobe Department, your chance to get involved!
At the heart of the exhibition, the wardrobe department gives visitors the chance to change their own appearance dramatically with our replica costumes and accessories from the 16th to the 19th century. These replicas allow you to experience first-hand the feeling of wearing these symbols of aristocratic splendour.
You can see for yourself why these long, complex dresses required more than one person to put on and take off, and experience the restrictions they placed on the wearer’s every movement (rigid materials, heavy and bulky structures, contorted forms). Nowadays fashion, particularly everyday wear, is generally intended to be comfortable and practical to wear.
Act 5 : Catwalk
Finally, the Catwalk explores the spectacular ways in which contemporary fashion designers frame the body on the runway. These designers excel in the art of re-appropriation, finding inspiration in vastly disparate periods, places and artistic movements, while also keeping an eye out for new styles born in the streets. Styles, periods and profiles collide and coalesce. Shoulders are often accentuated, while silhouettes may be extravagant and structured or simple and tailored to follow the body’s natural contours. These days, anything goes...