Parisian Insights: Jacques Doucet-Yves Saint Laurent: Vivre pour l’Art

I think I may have already expressed this here but my interest in history of fashion was nourished by my decorative arts courses at l’Ecole du Louvre. As I studied “total art” movements such as the Arts & Crafts, the Bauhaus or the Wiener Werkstatte, I was introduced to garments that responded to artistic aesthetics. I had a teacher, Olivier Gabet who now directs the Arts Décoratifs museum, who had an inspiring passion for refined interiors and would present us the homes of influential and wealthy personalities of the 19th century and early 20th century. That is how I once discovered Jacques Doucet (1853-1929), the couturier that was essentially presented to me at the time as an avant-garde art and design collector. With its latest exhibition, Jacques Doucet – Yves Saint Laurent: Living for Art, the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent thus brings together two couturiers that had in common an ardent appetite for art and that had turned their homes into superb personal museums.

Le Douanier Rousseau, La Charmeuse de Serpent, 1907. Musée d'Orsay

Le Douanier Rousseau, La Charmeuse de Serpent, 1907. Musée d’Orsay

The display brings the visitors from Jacques Doucet’s studio, in 1928 to Yves Saint Laurent’s apartment where he had settled in the 1970s. Within a hybrid reconstitution, the atmosphere of their interiors is perfectly palpable and it seems as though we are the privileged guests of the two couturiers. To be honest, the visit is jaw-dropping. To observe this reunion of masterpieces and to imagine they once were installed within private houses is quite astounding. In the space dedicated to Jacques Doucet, we can observe the Douanier Rousseau’s La Charmeuse de Serpents alongside Constantin Brancusi’s Danaide as well as Edouard Manet’s Sur la Plage and Pierre Legrain’s Art Deco furniture.

Constantin Brancusi, La Danaïde, 1913. Musée National d'Art Moderne.

Constantin Brancusi, La Danaïde, 1913. Musée National d’Art Moderne.

In Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s room, the selection is more eclectic and we delightfully examine Francisco de Goy’s Portrait of Don Luis Maria de Cistué y Martinez and Piet Mondrian’s Composition with Blue, Red, Yellow and Black alongside Andy Warhol’s portrait of the fashion designer. An interesting point is to notice how some of Yves saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé’s artistic possessions were once in Jacques Doucet’s collection such as Giorgio de Chiricio’s Il Ritornante.

Giorgio de Chirico, Il Ritornante, 1917-18. Musée National d'Art Moderne

Giorgio de Chirico, Il Ritornante, 1917-18. Musée National d’Art Moderne

Some of you might appreciate this post but wonder what it has to do with fashion or textile. Well, that was quite the comment I made during my visit. I was indeed expecting a dominant arts and design display but I had imagined the curators would have contextualized their discourse more. Indeed, despite from a very general introductory panel, little was said about the works of the two personalities as couturiers. Of course, most people had already heard of Yves Saint Laurent but very little knew who Jacques Doucet was and I was appalled by the number of visitors I could hear still asking who he was and what he had done once they had ended their visit: quite a shame to leave an exhibition full of interrogations about one of its main subjects.

Jacques Doucet, 1898-1900. Ball Dress. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Jacques Doucet, 1898-1900. Ball Dress. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Moreover, I would have found it highly interesting to put into perspective the work of each fashion designers with their art collections. How interesting it would have been to present Jacques Doucet’s charming and opulent lacy garments that echoed his 18th century art collection he had sold in 1912 and that clearly contrasted with his innovative eye for the avant-garde. On another hand, it would have been compelling to demonstrate how powerfully Yves Saint Laurent was inspired by the art he possessed: the clashing of vibrant colors, of prints, the literal “art to wear”…How I would have loved to see the Mondrian dress by the side of the painting!

Yves Saint Laurent, Mondrian Dress, FW 1965. Kyoto Costume Institute

Yves Saint Laurent, Mondrian Dress, FW 1965. Kyoto Costume Institute

Because of that, I left the exhibition delighted by so many remarkable sights but disappointed by the lack of depth in the theme’s approach. I felt as though it had been executed in a very superficial manner. That the display had privileged eye candy over scholarship.

Nonetheless if you enjoy beautiful art works, I do recommend an entertaining tour.

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1 Comment

  • Bertrand February 02, 2016 07.31 am

    Fashion and/as Gesamtkunstwerk is such an exciting topic! There is indeed a lot to be thought about on this relationship, especially as Doucet mark the transition between a radically inflected conception of totality proper to the historical avant-garde, and a more leniently bourgeois conception at the cross-road between deco and modern movement… That’s a subject of particular interest to me (fashion and totality, that is) – did you write anything on the subject or have any recommendations?


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