“When I first put it on, I automatically stood a little taller and seemed to walk a bit grander. I felt more confident and liberated, as I think it signaled how fashion should also be fun, whimsical and no always so mundane.”
“It” is Jean Paul Gaultier’s iconic 1994 orange velvet dress with jutting cone breasts, and the speaker is model Susan Holmes McKagan.
Linking landmark fashions with their original wearers, curator Olivier Saillard has brought a personal narrative to each of the 100 articles on display at Palais Galliera in Paris. “Even if they wore it for only 10 minutes,” he says, explaining the backstory of the dozen or so runway looks that punctuate “Anatomy of a Collection,” on through Oct. 23.
The exhibition, spanning fashions from the 18th century to today, saw Saillard and his teams dig deep into the city museum’s collection to select garments that speak of their time, and their wearer, whether a celebrity or an anonymous laborer.
Saillard chose to display the fashions in a darkened setting resembling a natural history museum, specimens splayed in drawers or stood in glass cases.
Visitors encounter famous names and spellbinding clothes — a silk taffeta corset worn by French queen Marie Antoinette; a dress uniform belonging to Napoleon Bonaparte; a shift that Catherine Deneuve donned for her role in Truffaut’s “Mississippi Mermaid” — but also learn about lesser-known folk.
Consider Princess Murat, an avid horsewoman in the Twenties who bolted a monocle to the brim of her straw boaters and hunting caps, for she was nearsighted. “I’ve never seen hats like these before,” Saillard marvels.
More familiar toppers can be found in another case: All belonged to Audrey Hepburn, and telegraph the chic she projected in her Givenchy ensembles.
Occasionally clothes can engulf and erase the identity of the wearer. Case in point: Maison Martin Margiela cast Sam Kareen Taylor for her measurements alone. Face hidden under a flesh-colored stocking, she modeled a coat made of peroxide-blonde wigs. Not even 10 minutes of fame for her — until now.