Paris, Capital of Fashion
Paris, Capital of Fashion opened with an introductory gallery that places Paris within a global context, presenting it in dialogue with other fashion capitals, especially New York. By presenting an original couture suit by Chanel together with a virtually identical licensed copy sold by Orbach’s department store, for example, the exhibition demonstrated how the idea of Paris fashion “works” across fashion cultures, appealing to elite American women and making money for American manufacturers and retailers..
Entering the main gallery, visitors were immersed in the mythic glamour of Paris fashion as the exhibition traced a trajectory from royal splendor at Versailles to the spectacle of haute couture today. An 18th-century robe à la française was juxtaposed with a haute couture creation for Christian Dior, which was inspired by Marie Antoinette. Clothing and accessories were drawn from museums in Europe, Britain, and North America, as well as from couture archives and private collections.
The development of the haute couture transformed women’s fashion from an artisanal craft into big business and high art. In the late 19th century, Charles Frederick Worth praised his American clients, saying they had “the faces, the figures, and the francs.” Among his dresses on display is the famous “Electric Light Dress” worn by New York’s Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt II. After World War II, the haute couture entered a new golden age from 1947 to 1957 and, by the 1980s, the haute couture was recognized as part of the unique patrimony of France.
In today’s era of globalization, foreign designers often choose to show their collections in Paris, home to luxury conglomerates such as LVMH and Kering. In a world with many fashion cities, Paris defends its title of world capital of fashion by producing and maintaining the aura of Paris fashion.
In conjunction with the exhibition, The Museum at FIT published Paris-related content to its Fashion Culture podcast. Episodes featured past Fashion Culture programs exploring Paris designers and historical events, as well as original commentary about the exhibition from Dr. Valerie Steele.
- Christian Louboutin in conversation with Dr. Valerie Steele
- Dr. Monica Miller and Eric Darnell Pritchard, in conversation about Patrick Kelly
- The Battle of Versailles, Robin Givhan in conversation with Patricia Mears
Dr. Valerie Steele: From the Splendor of the Royal Court to the Spectacle of the Haute Couture
- Dr. Valerie Steele: Birth of the Haute Couture
- Dr. Valerie Steele: New York vs Paris
- Dr. Valerie Steele: Cult of the Designer
- Dr. Valerie Steele: Fashion, Art, and Luxury
The publication, Paris, Capital of Fashion (Bloomsbury), was edited by Valerie Steele with additional contributions by Christopher Breward, Grazia dAnnunzio, Antonia Finnane, David Gilbert, Sophie Kurkdjian, and Agnès Rocamora. The book was released in September 2019.
In conjunction with the exhibition, Paris, Capital of Fashion, The Museum at FIT held a symposium on October 18, 2019. Confirmed symposium speakers included all of the contributors to the catalog, among others.
Paris, Capital of Fashion has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the Couture Council of The Museum at FIT, The Coby Foundation, and the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the National Endowment for the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.
Additional support was provided by Chargeurs Philanthropies and Chargeurs Creative Collection. Live captioning of the symposium is provided, in part, by a grant from NYSCA/Theatre Development Fund’s TAP Plus. We also thank the Château de Versailles, Art Graphique & Patrimoine, and EPV/Thomas Garnier for providing photographs of the Hall of Mirrors, including a photogrammetric survey of the vaulted ceiling.