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Twelve grand windows. Mannequins clustered together. A list of quirky names for dresses.
These are among the elements fashion curator Judith Clark employed in the exhibition “Chloé: Attitudes” to telegraph, respectively, three celebrated characteristics of the brand: lightness, community and playfulness.
One could argue that the choice of venue itself — the funky contemporary art museum Palais de Tokyo — is itself a signifier of the brand’s youthful, carefree spirit.
Clark, an Australian whose background is in architecture, also played up the Art Deco features of the brand and the building, inaugurated in 1937. She assembled some 85 outfits, 100 drawings and 50 photos for the lively anniversary showcase, which opens to the public on Saturday and runs through Nov. 18.
The work of nine key designers are showcased, from founder Gaby Aghion to incumbent Clare Waight Keller. Iconic looks — such as Aghion’s simple jersey Embrun dress from the fall 1960 collection — are displayed alongside lesser-known designs.
“It really is an extraordinary archive,” she enthused. “It was no hardship.”
The other Chloé designers featured are Gérard Pipart, Maxime de la Falaise, Karl Lagerfeld, Martine Sitbon, Stella McCartney, Phoebe Philo and Hannah MacGibbon.
Rather than chronological, Clark opted for a thematic exhibition. A row of windows illuminates 12 iron display boxes, each based on themes ranging from obvious — Art Deco and Horses — to quirky, as in Bananas, a wink to one of Philo’s show invitations, in which an inflatable banana was photographed in various tourist locations.
For Power, Clark assembled several dresses with wave patterns, and one embroidered with lightbulbs. Hats from the archive of the late Anna Piaggi finish off the looks.
“It’s like using the archive as a mood board and behaving like a magpie,” she said.
Clark noticed that in Chloé ads, girls are often whispering or chatting together. She echoes the gesture in the exhibition by placing mannequins in close proximity. In one scene, models stand together in a field of wheat, their hair braided together.
Like many European brands, Chloé only recently began assembling and cataloguing its archive, compelled by a strong heritage trend in fashion partly fanned by rapid growth in China, whose consumers value names with history and pedigree.
“What I’m doing is gleaning elements of [Chloé’s] history through surviving fragments,” Clark said. “It’s very important that I’m an outsider. This is not an inside job.…They called on me as a fashion neutral.”
To be sure, Clark played up Chloé’s legacy of “wearable fashion” as opposed to “high-concept” or only-for-the-red-carpet designs. After all, Aghion founded the brand to create an informal, yet stylish and luxurious wardrobe for women no longer constrained by couture and a coddled lifestyle.
“It can be casual even though it’s beautifully made. It’s daywear, primarily,” Clark said. “Some of the beading was a surprise to me. I expected the silk blouses.”
Changing with the times, Chloé collections included graphic prints in the Sixties, groovy chiffon daywear in the Seventies, tongue-in-cheek surrealist elements in the Eighties.
“There’s always a knowing playfulness,” Clark noted. “It’s not stark.”
For example, while Aghion and her husband surrounded themselves with intellectuals, she referenced them and their ideas in a lighthearted way.
The curator was particularly tickled by the clever names she chose for dresses, anointing one Aubrey instead of the more obvious Beardsley, a playful nod to the English illustrator and author. Other fun ones included Boomerang and Bois de Boulogne, illustrating Aghion’s “mental elasticity.”
Photographs by Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Jeanloup Sieff, David Bailey and Deborah Turbeville offer still more interpretations of the Chloé look.
Clark was particularly dazzled by Lagerfeld’s sketches and collages illustrating his far-flung cultural references — from Italian friezes to Pop Art.
“A book on these drawings needs to be done,” she enthused. “The breadth of references is really extraordinary.”
The Chloé exhibition inaugurates a cycle of exhibitions at the Palais de Tokyo dubbed “Fashion Program” and organized by esteemed curators at the invitation of Palais president Jean de Loisy.