All photos by Andrea Paoletti of ArtBlog.
Something quite extraordinary is happening at Palazzo Pitti. In an exhibition that audaciously aspires to be “The Ephemeral Museum of Fashion”, the substance stands up to the fifteenth-century setting in a way that charms the visitor, fashionista or not.
An unassuming sign marks the entrance to the 18-room and 200-piece show held in the Costume Gallery, now transformed by the Uffizi Galleries into—unbelievably—the only Museum of Fashion in Italy. Realisation duly dawns that a je-ne-sais-quoi star quality, curatorial sleight of hand and international ambition is at work here, all of a masterful calibre rarely glimpsed in Florence’s museums.
Frenchman Olivier Saillard is the magician behind the mostra, director of the Palais Galliera, Paris’ foremost fashion museum—his wizardry holds no bars with a revolutionary layout of the halls, the Renaissance flooring plush with runners by Christian Lacroix, unknown labels and designer dresses hung, draped, lovingly laid out and discreetly dangling alongside plastic-wrapped fauteuils, strips of antique picture frames and the omnipresent colour red. Salliard sparks a discussion about how fashion can work in a museum setting, challenging the concept that the removal of the body silences the garment, or as he states in the tasteful exhibition pamphlet, “By resisting a certain kind of solemn and established museum setting, we wanted to prevent the staging of the works in the course of a temporary and ephemeral installation. Strictly speaking, there are no fashion museums in Italy. There are, on the other hand, many museums that can be considered the most beautiful in the world.”
Feathers are the focus of the opening room, titled “Sleeves are the wings of the heart”, showing an impressive fan in albatross and swan plumes by E. Cléray and a fluid Lanvin evening gown. Then the viewer moves on to hair, from wigs to wires, felt and fringes, before being greeted by the sumptuous red room deconstructed with capsized chairs and gowns structured in formal display cases by Ferré and Yamamoto, as well as unlabelled fans and Ferragamo sandals. “Clouds of faille” are the next delight: a shot pink and ivory taffeta vision by Christian Lacroix enveloped in a plastic bubble. The wedding dress, one of the designer’s earliest made in 1987, once concealed a handwritten note from the couturier to his client: “For Pia de Brantes, this first Lacroix dress. May it bring us happiness. Peace & Love”.
“Makeup and illusion”, “The blues of the sky” and “Ephemeral green” continue the mesmerizing time travel into the fleeting eternity of fashion before we encounter cast-off clothing, a 2003 John Galliano number in gabardine, silk chiffon and – again – feathers, a French “Polonaise” dress dating to around 1884 and 2013 men’s ready to wear by Bernhard Willheim, “shadows of the memory of those who have loved them” (exhibition pamphlet).
An entire hall dwells on the “threat of light”, dark garments with ghostly nuances of violet by Versace, Issey Miyake and Grès hang beside a light-filled window vaunting Dolce & Gabbana, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and other unknown yet luxuriant treasures.
The ephemeral appears softly in the final public appearance of a weighted silk negligée by Madeleine Vionnet. Fragile to breaking point, the ivory gown can no longer be restored; at Palazzo Pitti it lies still and immaculate in a glass case, a coffin perhaps, for its last great journey.
The Ephemeral Museum of Fashion
Until October 22, 2017
Museo della Moda e del Costume, Palazzo Pitti, Florence