I have been on the road almost constantly since my last post so have lots of new travel tales but haven’t had any time to commit them to paper. My summer project… thought I would start with some exhibitions that are current in case anyone is inspired to check them out…
I was one of those children who made clothes for my dolls. I didn’t have access to Vogue. I’d never seen a designer dress. I didn’t even know the concept. My fashion inspiration came from the Simplicity and Butterick pattern books my grandmother brought home from the dry goods department where she worked when the new ones arrived. I learned that I could put in a request and I could have my very own collection. I poured over all the shapes and styles, noting the subtle changes that transformed the base pattern. It was an early education in tailoring – and perhaps the reason I lean toward Armani rather than Galliano.
Most of the photos of me as a child show me dressed in embarrassing outfits. I have no idea why they want to bring the 70’s back. Those were some scary moments in fashion…
But it was a time of high drama, especially in western countries. The 60’s ushered in the concept of social change but most of it happened in the 70’s. I was too young to appreciate most of it, especially as I lived in a remote rural community where not that much was changing. One thing I did know about was David Bowie. Before the internet, information was hard to come by. I didn’t even know the Talking Heads existed in 1977, let alone that I should be buying that album.
My first fledgling teenage romance was with a drummer. It was a headbanger rock kind of town so most of his favourite songs just sounded like noise to me. But then he played “Changes”. We had common ground – and I liked him a little more… It became part of the soundtrack of my life.
I am not particularly interested in famous people and think most of them would likely prove to be quite boring in person – but Bowie is an exception. He was my first decent musical choice so I know quite a lot about him but never really thought much about his social impact. Being a big Bowie fan, I was intrigued when I emerged at Gare du Nord last month and saw intriguing posters of him all over the station. Luckily, I had dinner the next night with friends from Vancouver who informed me there was an exhibit at the Philharmonie de Paris.
I was worried that – in the age of the internet – my lack of research and preparation for Paris – would render me ticketless but the Philharmonie is new and in an area of Paris I have not yet explored so worth the trip even if I couldn’t get into the exhibition. It appears there are still some tickets reserved for people willing to make a journey to the ticket office in person. You need some patience but eventually you get in…
It was definitely worth the wait. The exhibition originated at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s called “David Bowie is”. It’s hard to describe, as mercurial and enigmatic as Bowie himself. You walk through a series of objects, videos, photos and costumes depicting Bowie’s biography. You have headphones and the music changes as you roam to put the right soundtrack to the particular part of the exhibit in which you find yourself. It includes the expected key points in his biography and the musical history but what makes it really resonate is the analysis of Bowie’s influences, collaborators and social impact.
I am one of those people who have spent a lot of time searching for the meaning to life. For me, it’s been a combination of art, culture and relationships. So it was fascinating to see how Bowie was influenced by books, music, travel and the people in his life – and how his achievements were generally part of a collective of talented, intelligent, interesting people. He was just the most famous name in the group.
Anyway, go check it out for yourself. It closed on May 31, 2015 at the Philharmonie de Paris but it’s touring internationally so see if it’s coming to a location near you…
The Victoria and Albert Museum featured heavily in my May sojourn in Europe. They have also put together a killer exhibit on Alexander McQueen called Savage Beauty. It’s on until August 2, 2015. I would recommend booking in advance. I’m not sure if I just got lucky, or if my friend Monica’s E&Y connections scored us tickets, but they are definitely in high demand. Seeing the exhibit I could understand why. While there are very few items of clothing or accessories I would have any interest in actually wearing, it is fascinating to be inside Alexander McQueen’s head as he dreams this stuff up.
The V&A has made it very atmospheric so it doesn’t feel like a museum but rather a strange trip into a dark, gothic Romanian forest where you are wary that Dracula might jump out from behind a mannequin and bite you on the neck. The coolest part is a room staged like a cabinet of curiosities. On the walls, items are placed in boxes like a giant Renaissance cabinet of curiosities. In the center, there is a 21st century bank of monitors playing video from multiple McQueen shows on a continuous loop. It’s a perfect embodiment of his sensibility – strange old-fashioned exceptionally English clothes modified for the 21st century.
If you also made clothes for your dolls – or just are really interested in fashion…
There are two more stops for you in Paris. The Fondation Pierre Bergé Yves Saint Laurent is hosting an exhibit “Yves Saint Laurent 1971 – the Scandal Collection” until July 19, 2015. It’s for fashionphiles. It’s basically a chance to look into the archives at a couture house. You can see the entire design process for one of the finished garments and see sketches and mannequins displaying some of the pieces from the collection as well as watch some very old-fashioned fashion videos.
The 1971 collection was heavily critiqued because many felt Saint Laurent was glamorizing the Nazis and the
war was still fresh in the memories of the people who could afford couture. Like Bowie, he was pushing boundaries and making people feel uncomfortable.
My final foray into European fashion was at the Palais Galleria Museé du Mode, a new addition to the wonders of Paris. Until August 23, 2015 they are hosting an exhibit on Jeanne Lanvin. I know the name but that was about it until I went to the exhibit. The clothes are stunning – the antithesis of H&M. She started as a milliner so there are lots of hats. The clothes are sumptuous, full of embroidery, topstitching, cut-outs and other couturière virtuosity. Nothing I would ever wear but easy to appreciate the craftsmanship.
What was most fascinating though was her business acumen. She was a 19th century titan of commerce, a self-made woman in a world in which women couldn’t even legally vote in most places. Apparently she was very customer-focused. She was a real estate tycoon. Jeanne started the whole craziness of dressing toddlers in mini-me designer clothing 🙂 She branched out into lingerie, menswear, interior design. She created her own fragrance. She opened shops to sell her wares to the public. She had a distinctive logo. Jeanne Lanvin knew how to brand herself before the concept was even a concept 🙂 An inspiring lady.
There is much to be inspired about right now so start making your travel plans…
p.s. if you are a fashion junkie, there is also a Jean Paul Gauthier exhibit at the Grand Palais – but I discovered it is closed on Tuesdays – but the walk to the other museums was worth it.