In Florence, Energetic and Ephemeral Fashion
The peacock males strut their stuff in front of billboards on which giant psychedelic flowers mock Mother Nature with the slogan “Boom, Pitti Blooms”.
Florentine alleyways are filled with elegant men wearing much more tailoring than is necessary in the intense summer heat, while in the menswear displays at the Fortezza da Basso, vivid hues and quieter masculine styles jostle for attention.
A quick cool down comes digitally, as Z Zegna, the sporty arm of the menswear company, transports its audience to the undulating ocean by way of speedboats, with athletic males negotiating the waves in sleek sportswear and woven wool sneakers.
Long, lingering Italian afternoons are broken by a madcap Bike Polo Tournament, with professional athletes making an Olympic effort to pedal around the Piazza Santa Maria Novella – all so that Christian Louboutin, once best known for sexy, feminine heels, can display his unlined, punctured “Aurelien” sneakers for men.
Yes! It’s Pitti Immagine Uomo in action in Florence with a fast flow of fashion energy. When is all this stuff for? Think summer 2018, which is only a minute away in the crazy-busy, more-and-more, “What’s next?” world of fashion. Hugo – the junior line of Hugo Boss – paraded men and women’s clothes in the blink of an eye after an hour-long wait.
Behind all the fun of the fair, Pitti Uomo is a serious financial business and this was emphasised by the event’s kick-off, where Mayor Dario Nardella and a series of political dignitaries spoke about the importance for Florence of the twice-yearly fair.
But there are other events under the overall banner of Pitti Immagine. And it would be hard to get more imaginative than the new story unfolding at the Palazzo Pitti museum.
“The Ephemeral Museum of Fashion” – an exhibition in the Costume Gallery of the Palazzo Pitti curated by Olivier Saillard, Director of the Musée Galliera in Paris – opened with displays of feathers, wigs, clothes as blue as the sky, and silk frayed to the end of its fashion life.
Everything – from a line-up of coats hanging drunkenly from pegs or the plastic-covered wedding dress with which Christian Lacroix started his haute couture career in 1987 – is the antithesis of the bright, buzzy, fast fashion engulfing Pitti Uomo and, indeed, the rest of the clothing universe.
“We are a world with so many shows each season; I wanted to build an exhibition about the ephemeral aspects of fashion, but suddenly you realise that some clothes are resisting time,” explained Saillard, whose masterly mix of contemporary and 19th-century pieces includes works in feathers or even human hair, given a second fashion life as decoration.
In this poignant display, the sweet sadness of a dying dress appears as a Madeleine Vionnet creation from 1933, the crepe, silk, and satin so fragile that it cannot even appear on a mannequin, but has to lie in a flat pool. Something once worn and loved, privately, now passes like a wisp of wind. It is a final outing.
Other pieces are given a painterly bias – grouped together with titles such as “The Blues of the Sky” or the “Ephemeral Green” of nature, with camouflage patterns or a Gucci gown. Meanwhile the floor is covered in carpet with a patina of ever-changing shades of red, designed by Christian Lacroix as a gift for the Florentine museum.
“The idea is to create a process of exhibitions that doesn’t seem finished, but is. It was more poetic for us to play with this idea,” says the curator, who has included pieces from the Palais Galliera in Paris to offer comparisons and face-offs. But there is no pretense at matching dates, styles, or display, as not all the garments are exhibited on traditional mannequins.
“I tried to forget everything I’d learned about museums when fashion displays were invented, around the 1970s,” Saillard says. “I tried to present clothes as we have never done before in a fashion museum. Some are even displayed on the floor – but very carefully! I would love museum visitors to understand that sometimes, at home, you are creating your own private fashion exhibition: a jacket on a chair or in a wardrobe is a small exhibition you can create for yourself.”
The effect of these deep thoughts is to produce a vision of history that is extraordinarily light, as the garments flock together or stand proudly alone, even in a ruined state – as in the display of “Cast-off Clothing” in which a vivid, defiant, red outfit, hat included, from John Galliano at Dior in 2003 is shown beside broken, gilded picture frames. On the other side of this imaginary storage area, a Bernhard Willhelm men’s jacket and trousers, frayed and stained with lipstick, lie in a heap on the floor.
The purpose of the exhibition, which ends with a Madame Grès wedding gown destroyed by dust but once worn in the 1966 William Klein movie, Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?, is to show that renewal is possible, in a tribute to what Saillard calls “autopsy rooms”. He is referring to the exceptional skills of textile restoration and is deeply grateful to the Pitti Museum’s staff for their support.
Saillard also underscores the importance of time, saying that each display is a recognition of the designer’s work.
“In the 1950s a fashion show took two hours,” he says. “In the ‘80s it was 40 minutes; in the ‘90s, 20 minutes; and today it’s seven minutes! It’s more natural and enjoyable to have this on display for four months!”
Yet behind this story, with all its intense beauty and marvels of creation, there has to be a sense of loss. Where have all the bodies gone – the real flesh and bone ones – that engaged with these clothes in their prime? Even to a couturier steeped in knowledge of fashion and its creation, something dies when an outfit is donated to or bought by a museum.
The true brilliance of Saillard – and surely why he was enlisted by Eike Schmidt, the Director of the Uffizi Gallery – is that he understands the ephemeral quality of fashion. But he makes this seem, in his museum shows, as beautiful as a trapped butterfly still fluttering its wings.
“The Ephemeral Museum of Fashion” is at the Galleria del Costume of the Palazzo Pitti until 22nd October 2017. Produced by the Fondazione Pitti Immagine Discovery in collaboration with the Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence and the Palais Galliera, Paris