Last night, actress Tilda Swinton and artist/ Director of the Musée Galliera Olivier Saillard put on a show. To say the least.
Imagine the magnitude of it with this quote from Alber Elbaz, who told i-D backstage, “It brought me back to the love of fashion. This is why we’re here”. In the Palais de Tokyo, Tilda Swinton, paled and dressed in an off-white, wrap dress stood at the top of a catwalk, looking all tall and ethereal, dressed up as a blank canvas. Olivier handed her a piece of clothing and the correlating caption to the item scrolled across an LED screen: ‘Balmain 1953 robe de scene par Vera Korene; Dior 1972 par Wallis Simpson; Schiaparelli vers 1950 par Elisa Schaparelli.’ She walked each piece down the catwalk, each time with a different gesture; hugging them to her, stretching them high above her head, draping them over one arm, sniffing them, showing them to members of the audience and nodding as if to say “Yes, look how magnificent”. There were 57 items in total, “but we worked on about 120 and whittled them down”, Tilda said. “Each piece made a different gesture, it was a bit like writing a ballet”. The poeticism, theatre and emotion of the show was a bit like a ballet, and what a privilege, to slow down amid the ferocious speed of fashion week and for forty minutes watch one woman who believed in every piece of clothing and who felt herself, an emotional connection that she was so desperate to share. Olivier told i-D he wouldn’t have done the project if Tilda had said ‘no’, “I wanted her because she’s beige, for me she was the only one; she could be a woman, a man, a boy, a girl, from the 19th or 20th century, she is the only one who can be every person.” It seems her role in the film adaptation of Virginia Wolf’s Orlando was, inadvertently, the perfect training.
Choosing the pieces together over the last year, Olivier and Tilda breathed new life into an archive of clothes, some dating back to the 1890s. Experimenting with curation, the two took the garments out from musty glass cabinets and breathed life into them, ignited and celebrated them. “Napolean’s jacket literally smells of Napolean”, Tilda said, “so that’s what I did, smell it”. The pieces, emerging non-chronologically, included a dress by Jeanne Lanvin from 1934, a Mariano Fortuny dress from 1912; a gold Balenciaga dress from 1964; a Yohji Yamamoto headdress from 1993; a Chanel tweed suit from 1964; a Paco Rabanne dress from 1968, worn by Brigitte Bardot; a fan of eagle wings; a pair of black Schiaparelli gloves with gold nails, and 45 more. It was magic, a live fashion history exhibition that challenged everything we’ve been doing over the last few weeks – not only fashion and fashion shows, but our attitude to fashion. It demanded respect of these pieces of clothing, respect that in an 8-show a day schedule can be forgotten or brushed aside always wanting the next, the next. Alber Elbaz’s comment: “It brought me back to the love of fashion” was poignant. And for those reasons, this was not just a show, it was a moment of realisation, and appreciation for the makers, the wearers and the craft.
The Impossible Wardrobe ran from 29th September – 1st October at Paris Fashion Week. For more performances and film pieces at Palais de Tokyo visit palaisdetokyo.com
Text: Sarah Raphael
Photography: Piero Biasion