The Grand Tour 2015

So, yes, holiday! Tim and I have just returned from five weeks in Europe where we visited many cultural sites in Italy, France and the UK.

A highlight of course was the opportunity to see some wonderful fashion exhibitions and I thought you might like to hear about them too – because even if you’re not able to visit them in person, they all have books and merchandise you can order online and they’ll send them to you. Ah, the wonders of the modern world. Plus there are many images online too, if you’d like to see more.

First up was the Deboutonner la mode at the Musée des Arts décoratifs at the Louvre in Paris. I must admit that I almost didn’t go to this one because buttons have never excited me as much as the clothes they adorn but here I was wrong: they’re fascinating!

The exhibition presented a thorough history of the wide variety of materials and types available, plus even better they included lots of authentic fashions where the buttons were an intrinsic part of the design. And not just any fashions – the Musée des Arts décoratifs houses the archive of Elsa Schiaparelli and a great deal of Parisian haute couture so the garments alone are worth the visit, even if you skip over the buttons – which would be a mistake because they’re divine.

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Early 20th century fashions on display at the Musée des Arts décoratifs.
Photo source.

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1920s two toned button boots.

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Art Nouveau buttons, circa 1900.

One of the lovely things about this exhibition is that the lighting was very low, the display perfection but they also allowed photography (sans flash naturally), which was great because it allowed me to post pics to Instagram as I went so many who can’t visit Paris could ooh and ahh over the lovely things.

It’s not often I get the luxury of seeing so many great exhibitions during such a short space of time and some did not allow photography – like the next one, the work of Jeanne Lanvin at the Pallais Galleria. How I itched to break their rules and take snaps of the incredible beadwork and embroideries!

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Thankfully there are images available online, and you can see some here. I was pleased to see that many of the more fragile gowns were displayed lying down in cases, with well placed mirrors so you could easily see all the detailing.

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The fashion’s sublime, it begged the question as to why Lanvin had not received a solo exhibition before – this is the oldest of Parisian couture houses and the styles are simply incredible. There was a whole room dedicated to the ground-breaking Robe de Style.

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Photo source.

Onto the UK and the first treat was a few days in beautiful Bath where we visited the Fashion Museum – they’re currently featuring an incredible display of Georgian fashion from the 18th century. Never before have I seen such beautiful preserved examples from this excessive period of fashion. Here are a couple of their “mantua” gowns, with wide panniers supporting the skirts. Before you get excited about the front gown, it’s a minature which was for promoting the latest styles, but the one behind was worn by a real woman. Unbelievable. No wonder the doorways were so wide during this period.

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The Bath museum also had a permanent display of fashion through the ages and my favourite, a behind the scenes look at what they do. I love this museum so much I checked their website to see if they had any jobs going.

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Dior…Fortuny… *happy sigh*

London had more treats in store: time to step up to the modern world and see the work of Alexander McQueen in “Savage Beauty” in my favourite museum, the Victoria and Albert. By this time I really was finding it hard to justify my continued residence in far flung Australia, when so many exciting things are happening in this part of the world.

Alas, we weren’t allowed to take photos but they can’t stand in for the whole experience any way. Go and see it if you can. Intense. Several themed rooms, I particularly thought the music was well chosen. Lots of people, great to see the crowds but it made it hard to see. Timed entry of course – go early if you can. You can always buy the book too.

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McQueen is a great loss to the world: this is fashion as high art.

Perhaps the opposite of art is functionality and here we went to the Imperial War Museum to see “Fashion on the Ration” – Make do and mend, how normal people adapted to the restrictions of WW2 and all that it meant.

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Again, no photos allowed, but it was an interesting exhibition with many examples of wartime fashion. Personally I would have liked to have seen more of the fashion (I love this era, and especially the resourcefulness that can result in hard times), but it was worth it for all the timelines about restrictions – I find dates really helpful in my work eg silk was unavailable for fashion in the UK after 1940, and there were no peep toe or sling back shoes until after restrictions were lifted in 1945. Maximum allowed heel height was two inches, etc.

Also – they had a big display on one of my favourite garments, the housecoat!

They did such a great job of presenting it all very positively, I almost wished for another big war to make us treat our wardrobes more seriously and get up with repairing and recycling. No disposable fast fashion here.

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Photo source.

Plus, the Imperial War Museum is incredible – free entry (hurrah!*) and very well resourced, it was like heaven for little – and big – boys. The fashion exhibition resulted in a very gender-separated space, which was interesting too. I also met a lovely lady with red ringlets and perfect ’40s pout. Mystery lady, how I wish I had taken a photo of you! You’re just who I wanted to see in the gift shop as I stocked up on my “make do and mend” books.

More pics from our trip can be seen on instagram. Hope you enjoyed my highlights!

* entry fee applies to “Fashion on the Ration”, as it does for all of these exhibitions.

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3 comments

  1. Hi Nicole, thanks for the gorgeous photos from your Grand Tour. I was also in London (snap!) and on one of the few nice days in April we were walking around the Regent’s Park area and to my utter delight saw a large group of bike riders wearing vintage clothes, the men all in tweed and the ladies in either tweed or summer dresses. It made my day! Your blog post prompted me to Google it, and yes it’s an event! It’s called the Tweed Run and its held every year and the riders are encouraged to ride vintage bikes. Love it!

  2. […] Incidentally, if you love the work of Schiaparelli, the Musee’ des Arts Décoratifs hold her archives and pieces are often on display. And if you love buttons and/or couture fashion, you may be interested to learn that the exhibition is available for touring: attention Australian museums and galleries! It’s quite extraordinary. You can read more about it in my blog post about our recent European sojourn. […]

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