A review of the Palais Galleria’s exhibition ‘A History of Fashion’

By Babette Radclyffe-Thomas

Legendary Parisian fashion museum, Palais Galleria, is currently celebrating museum collection and curation in its latest blockbuster exhibition, ‘A History of Fashion’.

On October 2, 2021, the Palais Galliera opened the first tour of its fashion collections housed in their exciting, new gallery spaces. The first stage of the 'A History of Fashion: collecting and exhibiting at the Palais Galleria' exhibition traced the history of the Palais Galliera and its collections. The second stage opened more recently on the 2nd April 2022. The exhibition adopts both a chronological and thematic approach to show visitors a history of fashion from the eighteenth century to the present day with over 300 pieces. Some of the most beautiful pieces of the museum are on show, from the robe volante dress to the creations of Comme des Garçons. Each chronological section addresses the specifics of the period, from eighteenth-century men's clothing to Rick Owens' avant-garde creations, from nineteenth-century corsets to 1950s cocktail dresses.

The history of the collection is also told, including the constitution, preservation and presentation over time, which all testify to a long museum tradition and the major role of the Palais Galliera in the study of the history of fashion. Their blockbuster exhibitions and the remarkable acquisitions of the museum are highlighted, since the first founding donation made to the City of Paris by the Costume History Society in 1920 until more recent acquisitions made possible in particular thanks to the Vogue Paris Foundation.

In a scenography inspired by the world of the museum's reserves, the exhibition brings together almost 350 pieces from the collections including clothing, accessories, graphic arts and photographs. In April 2022, a large part of the works were renewed for reasons of preventive conservation and this second hanging offers visitors the opportunity to return and discover new masterpieces or view pieces more rarely exhibited.

Marie-Laure, responsible du department accessoires (the head of the accessories department) spoke exclusively with Costume Society giving us a fantastic view behind the scenes.

“For this first tour of the collections, we wanted to trace the history of the museum and its collections, such as the role of the Costume History Society, major donations, major acquisitions and prestigious wardrobes. It also seemed important to pay tribute to the directors who succeeded each other at the head of the museum, Madeleine Delpierre, Guillaume Garnier, Catherine Join-Dieterle and Olivier Saillard, each of whom contributed to making the Palais Galliera what it is today, a reference in the field of fashion history. For this tribute we have chosen to gather archival images, which are much stronger than a text that we could have written.”

“Pour ce premier parcours des collections nous tenions à retracer l’histoire du musée et de ses collections, comme le rôle de la Société de l’histoire du Costume, les grandes donations, les acquisitions majeures, les garde-robes prestigieuses... Il nous semblait également important de rendre hommage aux directeurs qui se sont succédés à la tête du musée, Madeleine Delpierre, Guillaume Garnier, Catherine Join-Dieterle et Olivier Saillard, chacun ayant contribué à faire du ¨Palais Galliera ce qu’il est aujourd’hui, une référence dans le domaine de l’histoire de la mode. Pour cet hommage nous avons choisi de rassembler des images d’archives, bien plus fortes qu’un texte que nous aurions rédigé.”

“We have nearly 200,000 works, costumes, accessories, photographs, graphic arts and dolls at the Palais Galliera. For this first tour, we wanted to offer the public not only some of our greatest masterpieces but also pieces that are less known or never presented before in exhibition. The selection was carried out with each curator, who, knowing his fund perfectly, was able to highlight exceptional works that make it possible to trace this history of fashion.”

“Nous conservons au Palais Galliera près de 200 000 œuvres, costumes, accessoires, photographies, arts graphiques, poupées… Pour ce premier parcours, nous souhaitions offrir au public non seulement certains de nos plus grands chefs-d’œuvre mais également des pièces plus méconnues voire jamais présentées en exposition. La sélection a été réalisée avec chaque conservateur, qui, connaissant parfaitement son fonds, a pu mettre en lumière des œuvres exceptionnelles qui permette de retracer cette histoire de la mode.”   

“We have to rotate the collections so we opened in October with a selection of 350 works. For this new exhibition in April, we present 115 new works, mainly from the old periods, from the eighteenth century to the 1930s, the graphic arts cabinet, the fan series and the Fashion and Arts section. The rotation was essential for issues of conservation of works. Some themes course have been modified, we address for example the notion of Great Renunciation in men's clothing, 19th-century textile weaves or even 1920s daytime fashion.”

“Pour des questions de conservation des œuvres nous devons réaliser des rotations des collections. Nous avons donc ouvert en octobre avec une sélection de 350 œuvres. Pour ce nouvel accrochage en avril, nous présentons 115 nouvelles œuvres, principalement pour les périodes anciennes - du XVIIIe siècle aux années 1930-, le cabinet d’arts graphiques, la série des éventails et la section Mode et Arts. La rotation était indispensable pour des questions de conservation des œuvres. Certaines thématiques du parcours ont été modifiées, nous abordons par exemple la notion de Grande Renonciation pour le vêtement masculin, les armures textiles pour le XIXe siècle, ou encore la mode de jour pour les années 1920…”

"The spaces on the garden level, where the collections trail is located, have been completely landscaped to become suitable for receiving collections. The work was extremely important since it was necessary to air-condition the spaces in order to create the best possible collection presentation conditions and create a controlled climate. Now the collections can be presented in compliance with museum preventive conservation standards."

"Les espaces du rez-de-jardin, où se situe le parcours des collections, ont été entièrement aménagés pour devenir un lieu apte à recevoir des collections. Les travaux ont été extrêmement important, puisqu’il a fallu notamment climatiser les espaces afin d’offrir aux collections les meilleures conditions de présentation possibles, à savoir notamment un climat contrôlé. Grâce à ces aménagements, les collections peuvent être présentées en respectant les normes de conservation préventive muséales."

"Originally, we wanted to open this exhibition in 2020 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the important donation of the Society of the History of Costume, which, with about 2000 works, constitutes the origin of the fund of the Palais Galliera. The pandemic disrupted our calendar and so we opened our first collections tour in October 2021. The concept of a collection tour was imagined several years ago, due to the ever-strong public demand for a Fashion History exhibition in Paris. It took a few years to fulfill this wish."

"A l’origine nous souhaitions ouvrir le parcours des collections en 2020 pour célébrer les 100 ans de l’importante donation de la Société de l’Histoire du Costume, qui, avec environ 2000 œuvres, constitue l’origine du fonds du Palais Galliera. La pandémie a bouleversé ce calendrier et nous avons ouvert notre premier parcours des collections en octobre 2021. Le projet d’un parcours des collections a germé il y a maintenant plusieurs années, face à la demande toujours très forte du public d’avoir à Paris une Histoire de la mode. Il a fallu patienter quelques années pour réaliser ce souhait."

The exhibition is open until the 26th June, so do go see this landmark exhibition and let us know what you thought of the curation!

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