NEW YORK — There are certain things that just go hand in hand: Lucy and Desi, billboards and Times Square, boeuf Bourguignon and pinot noir. France and fashion are another. So it’s not surprising that New York’s French Institute Alliance Française has named the month of November Fashion Month, with a roster of events dedicated to all things la mode. What is intriguing, though, is that this marks the first time the organization has embarked on such an endeavor. Even though FIAF has held the occasional fashion event here and there, in its 109 years, it has never before plunged into so large-scale a survey of style.
What got the party started? Less than a year ago, Lili Chopra, director of programming at the institute, invited Pamela Golbin, curator of the Musée de la Mode et du Textile, to give a talk on Cristobal Balenciaga. (Golbin had organized last year’s big Balenciaga retrospective in Paris and written the accompanying book.) The two soon struck up a friendship which led to brainstorms about other possible events at FIAF. “Then Pamela had this notion of doing [James Lipton’s] ‘Inside the Actors Studio’ but for fashion,” says Chopra. Enter this month’s “Fashion Talks with Pamela Golbin,” a series of conversations between the curator and a guest designer that take place on Fridays. “We want to establish a transatlantic conversation,” Golbin adds. Last week, she spoke to Véronique Nichanian, men’s wear designer at Hermès. Next up will be Bruno Frisoni of Roger Vivier on Nov. 30 and, on Dec. 7, Olivier Theyskens of Nina Ricci. “We wanted to choose someone representing women, one for men and one for accessories,” says Chopra, explaining how they decided on the final three. “They all offer different experiences. And Pamela has intimate relationships with these designers — she really knows in detail all their work and lives.”
Guests at FIAF are getting peeks at the lives of other designers, too. In addition to the lectures, the center’s weekly Cinéma Tuesdays screenings are taking on the theme of fashion icons; last week, for instance, the lineup included two back-to-back documentaries on Yves Saint Laurent. Other selections will include 1998’s “In & Out of Fashion,” on the life of photographer William Klein, with appearances by Jean Paul Gaultier and agnès b.’s Agnès Troublé. And then, of course, there are flicks like “Funny Face” and “And God Created Woman” starring, respectively, Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot. Chopra explains that she chose these to show “how cinema influences fashion,” adding with a laugh that the bikini wouldn’t be where it is without Bardot. Jean Seberg’s in there, too, for her pixie turn in Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless.” “For us, she completely revolutionized the haircut,” Chopra notes.
If you can’t attend one of the above scheduled events, no matter. Fashion Month at FIAF also includes a daily (and free) exhibit, “A Woman’s Obsession,” by photographer Chantal Stoman. It’s the first Stateside stop for the exhibition, which explores the Japanese fascination with luxury brands like Chanel, after gallery rounds in Tokyo and Paris. And Chopra promises that this won’t be the last time the series takes place; she hopes to make it an annual event. “There are so many different angles in which we can really talk about fashion,” she says. And she already has her eye on what she’d like to tackle next: “the relationship between fashion and performance,” she says.