At a time when two museums dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent are inaugurated and where art and fashion have never been more closely linked, it was time to analyze the way in which the former pushed the second to assert its heritage by reinventing the rules
“Afashion designer stands out as a luxury artist who collects works of art, lives in sumptuous and refined settings, surrounded by poets and painters. He is also someone who creates costumes for theater, ballet , or film, which subsidizes artistic creation.” These words, it is the philosopher and sociologist, Gilles Lipovetsky, author of The Empire of the ephemeral, who wrote them in his essay “One hundred years of fashion” ( Debate No. 31, 1984). In one sentence, he not only summarized the essence of the fashion designer’s work, but also emphasized the special relationship he has with his time and the creators who shape it. Piet Mondrian and Yves Saint Laurent in 1965, Cindy Sherman and Comme des Garçons in 1994, Richard Price and Louis Vuitton in 2008, Rop van Mierlo and Marni in 2013 and, more recently, Celine’s reference to Yves Klein and, of course, Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Jeff Koons... The list of brands and artists who have worked together takes place over the years. Whether it’s a collection, an advertising campaign or direct references, fashion brands are constantly seeking art and its history to feed theirs. Yet fashion has always been seen as a place of frivolity and futility, while art has always been considered serious. What has changed is that fashion has become mass culture. Thanks to the social networks, it has entered the universe of pop culture and lost its aura of elitism in favour of a more affordable image, which creators hasten to spread with the help of collaborations with various artists.
We think of Kanye West, who, with his brand Yeezy, uses the talent of the performer Vanessa Beecroft or the shoemaker JM Weston who has just hired Olivier Saillard as artistic director, managing image and culture at the Palais Galliera until the end of the year. Through these two examples, we can see that the industry is trying to reinvent itself by making art its new Trojan horse, thus changing the image it reflects and that of artistic institutions. Just look at the success of the Louis Vuitton foundation in Paris or Prada’s in Milan and Venice: fashion exposes more and more artists, and designers are organizing more and more exhibitions, from Raf Simons and his exhibition “Extreme Teenager “to J.W. Anderson and his “Desobedient Bodies “. But if it is interested in contemporary art, fashion also seeks to be part of an era.
AN IMPACT ON OUR TIME
Like art, fashion has started to reflect on the place it will have in history, and the museum remains the favorite place to show the imprint that fashion leaves on an era. Already, in The System of Fashion (1967), Roland Barthes wrote: “The changes in fashion appear regular if one considers a relatively long historical duration, and irregular if one reduces this duration to the few years which precede the moment which one places oneself; Regularly distant and anarchical up close, fashion seems to have two durations: one properly historical, the other that could be called memorable, because it involves the memory that a woman can have of previous fashions and the fashion of the year. “In the case of Italy, from the 1990s, houses began to celebrate their history through their own museums - Gucci or Ferragamo in Florence for example. In France, only the Pierre Bergé-yves Saint Laurent Foundation has embarked on the adventure. Pierre Bergé, the companion and associate of the creator, confided to us a few weeks before his passing: “This archiving that we undertook from the first days was quite visionary, because we must understand that fashion houses were not used to keeping their designs as they all do today. I also want to point out that this collection is composed mostly of prototypes, that is to say, models as they were drawn, made under the eye of Yves Saint Laurent and sent by him on the runway: it is very important and unique because these are not the models ordered by the customers, whose colours, shape and size may have differed from the original designs. Today, the other houses have measured the interest of holding this ‘memory of creation’ and that is why they are now spending time and money acquiring and preserving this heritage.”
This month, prior to the 10th anniversary of the creator’s death, the foundation opened two museums in his honour, one in Paris, at 5 Avenue Marceau, which previously housed the workshops, the other one in Marrakech, near the Majorelle garden. Between permanent and temporary exhibitions, the two museums will now share the extraordinary fund of the foundation, which includes 5,000 haute couture models, 15,000 accessories and tens of thousands of sketches, photographs and documents relating to the creations of Yves Saint Laurent. For its part, the Galliera Palace will become in late 2019 the first museum in France housing a permanent collection dedicated to the history of fashion from the eighteenth century to today. And thanks to Chanel’s support, the City of Paris Fashion Museum will have new spaces.
CONTEXTUALIZING AND VALORIZING
At a time when fashion designers are benefiting from more and more exhibitions dedicated to their work, such as those of Christian Dior at the Decorative Arts of Paris or Rei Kawakubo at the Met New York, a question arises: how to exhibit fashion? A legitimate question because, in essence, fashion is inconstant, it is made of volume and movement. For Aurélie Samuel, in charge of the Yves Saint Laurent Paris museum, one should not see the museum as the mausoleum of clothing: “A museum is not necessarily stopped in time. It gives a snapshot of an era, a movement, a look, but it evolves, it is transformed, it lives. To do this, it must acquire, offer an ever renewed museography, a presentation that allows to train the eye and watch rather than see. A museum responds to a mission. That does not prevent the objects from being lived by contextualizing and valuing them.” Last spring, Lapo Cianchi, director of communications and events at the Pitti Discovery Foundation, explained: Fashion is the enemy of immobilism, it is a question of Zeitgeist (the spirit of the time, according to German philosophy, ed.). It’s an endless process of runways, styles ... Fashion gives a new life to what has been forgotten. It is contrary to the past, condemned to exceed it every day while referring to it. This is where it becomes delicate, not only in the relationship of fashion to the museum, but also in the relationship between fashion and itself. “And Björn Dahlström, arts specialist of Africa, director of the Yves Saint Laurent museum Marrakech concludes: “Fashion is no longer the poor relative of museums. It has become a legitimate subject of historical, technical, aesthetic, and social studies. The museum helps to make it better known, and this museum in Marrakech is the first dedicated to fashion in Africa. It is surprising when we know that discipline has never been as dynamic as it is today and that the continent has inspired fashion designers so much. In this, this unprecedented project is a real challenge. As for the typology of works, indeed, things differ according to whether one presents a painting - first painted to be shown - or a garment - first created to be worn. This is the major pitfall with the museification of everyday objects, including clothing: how to make them live without contravening the imperatives imposed by the preventive conservation of museum pieces? The execution is complex and we made every effort to make the models alive, understandable (extracts from fashion shows, minimal distance, no showcases). But one thing is certain, a dress will never be as beautiful as worn by a woman.”