Following the Palais Galliera’s successful exhibition dedicated to Jeanne Lanvin that I presented here in my last post, it was interesting to focus on another display celebration the French couture house. After history, it is now time for contemporary creation. The Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris’ photography museum, is showing, until the end of October, an exhibition dedicated to the work of Alber Elbaz at Lanvin, not with the help of his designs – textile not being the museum’s subject and the designer refusing to be exposed during his living – but with the help of fashion photography.
Conscious of the importance of image in fashion today, Alber Elbaz has, for the last years, invited various photographers to capture the work behind the making of a fashion collection, from sketching and inspiration to the catwalk show. Thus, with about 300 photographs, the display invites visitors within diverse ambiances enabling them to understand not only the creativity of the fashion designer but also the role fashion photography plays in the making of a brand’s identity. Most designers now consider the importance of the two-dimensional projection of the clothing, thinking about how it would look like on screen or within glossy pages and thus, how it would look like, flat. Albert Elbaz has, on the contrary, maintained his reflection on volume, privileging curves to lines.
So when the fashion designer imagined his creations for a living and active body, the photographers he has collaborated with have given a whole new dimension to them, revealing details and the technical making of the pieces of clothing but have also delivered the buoyant atmosphere of the fashion show with blurry dynamic images and models caught as if they were walking alongside us. And although, we do observe these photographs on a two-dimensional medium, something truly lively is expressed thanks to the bold colors and forms the designer uses but also to the photographers’ meticulous inspections.
The MEP’s first ever exhibition dedicated to a fashion designer (they did present Karl Lagerfeld’s photography a few years ago but not from a fashion perspective), the display differs from the usual uncluttered and classic photography exhibitions it proposes. Albert Elbaz who has designed the show, has made it take the form of an artistic installation, from the room dedicated to Katy Reiss’s black and white pictures that capture specific details and expressions of the preparation of the models backstage and that also features several hanging screens that feature the missing movement, to a long vivid red corridor that enhances But Sou Lai’s bright images that diffuse hazy-like emotions.
My favorite room was what we could call the white room with its Stockman mannequins featuring unachieved designs alongside large mural sketches and further Bout Sai Lai photographs that, this time, highlighted a calmer mood. The whole was immersed in an aggressive bright light as though we were within a laboratory dissecting not only the making of the unachieved creations that looked so poetic and vulnerable but also Alber Elbaz’s inventive mind. Bout Sai Lai’s images act as the garments’ shadows questioning visitors on the reality of the whole creative and challenging process behind the glamour of luxury brands. Although the luminosity of the space could give the sensation of a certain serenity, visitors are on the contrary, invited within the most intimate and ebullient moment of creativity, that of the reflection and the projection of the designer.
While the Palais Galliera’s display was all about patrimony, the MEP exhibition highlights the present time and proposes, rather than a retrospective, an introspection alongside a valuable dialogue between fashion and photography.
I loved how, at a time when image has become so authoritative with thousands of anonymous users threading their very own collection of images on social media, Alber Elbaz has regained power over his brand’s identity and proposed his very own vision.