THE GREAT EXHIBITION: Olivier Saillard’s new exhibition, “The Ephemeral Museum of Fashion,” on show at the Costume Gallery of the Palazzo Pitti in Florence through October 22, may not be here to stay but the Parisian curator hopes it will have a lasting impact on the approach to fashion museums in Italy and beyond.
The poetic show unites rare pieces from the Palazzo Pitti’s collections as well as the Palais Galliera in Paris that Saillard directs, combining historical costumes and vintage designer gowns with contemporary creations on loan from Italian, French, Belgian and Japanese houses.
Spread throughout a series of the palazzo’s richly decorated rooms, the pieces are grouped into themes. Highlights include “Dust, Color, Time,” presenting creations including an exquisite 1911 Mariano Fortuny silk plissé gown and a 1966 couture wedding dress by Madame Grès whose hues and textiles have been affected — for better or for worse — by contact with dust.
In “Clothes, Hanging, Waiting,” a row of outerwear pieces ranging from an early-1900s dust coat to a 1990 cage jacket by Jean Paul Gaultier hung from coat pegs, while in a room titled “The Dresses of Oblivion” an ivory silk crepe Madeleine Vionnet dress from 1933 is on display for the last time. “It’s too fragile to restore it, and I like this idea of seeing one piece that we will never get to see again,” said Saillard at the exhibition’s opening night on Tuesday in between greeting guests including Lanvin’s Bouchra Jarrar and Michel Gaubert.
Of the conceptual themes and layout, with dresses placed next to props like antique frames and wooden ladders, Saillard said: “It’s a way to invent a new fashion museum for Italy. I was talking with the director of Pitti Imaggine Discovery [a cultural foundation in Florence founded by Pitti Immagine] and I said, ‘In Italy you don’t have any fashion museums so maybe there is room to do things differently. You have to think with more poetry, with more romanticism, and I really think if we invent an ephemeral museum in one place, then in three months time in another place, and six months later just one dress in another place, maybe it would be more fitting for the times,’” said Saillard.
“The fashion museum was invented in the Seventies and Eighties and we did the same thing: exhibitions on mannequins and that’s it, devoted to fashion designers, to a theme, and that’s it. For me there are still many opportunities for ways to present fashion that fall somewhere between the show and the fashion exhibition,” he added citing the 2012 performance he did with Tilda Swinton in Paris, “The Impossible Wardrobe,” where the actress held clothes in her arms. “Everybody talked about a performance, but for me it was an exhibition on the arms of Tilda Swinton.”
The ultimate aim, concluded Saillard, is to provoke something intimate between the visitors and “this kind of exhibition.”
“I still think probably the most interesting fashion exhibition is at home; when you take off your clothes, when you put your jacket on your chair, when you leave your trousers near your bedroom, something happens,” he said. “When you open your wardrobe and see your clothes, it’s a negative portrait of you, and I still believe it’s always more poetic than the very official way of doing a fashion exhibition.”