Parisian Insights: La Mode Retrouvée

Rare are the fashion exhibitions that not only address your literary souvenirs but also real life. At the Palais Galleria, just ended La Mode Retrouvée, dedicated to the Countess Greffuhle’s wardrobe, one of the museum’s most important historical collections. I was very impatient to visit this show as I had often heard about this mysterious collection during my studies at l’Ecole du Louvre and having never had the occasion of seeing it before, it was surrounded with a romantic aura. Moreover, being a huge fan of Marcel Proust’s literature, I couldn’t wait to see come alive the woman that had inspired his magnetic Duchesse de Guermantes, in Search of Lost Time.

Countess Greffuhle by Nadar

Countess Greffuhle by Nadar

The simple yet very efficient scenography presents about fifty garments from Fortuny, Nina Ricci, Worth or Lanvin, all so very exquisite and dramatic. Playing with the Countess’s narcissism, the display presents the clothing in an unusual mise-en-abîme, a setting that gives the impression that visitors are penetrating elegant archives within which precious garments have been placed on crates, within frames…a hint to the idea that the countess had surely imagined her wardrobe deserved an exposition.

Byzantine dress, Worth - 1904. A scandalous dress the countess wore at her daughter's wedding and thus outshining her.

Byzantine dress, Worth – 1904. A scandalous dress the countess wore at her daughter’s wedding and that, thus outshined her to the displeasure of most commentators.

The epitome of elegance and style, the Countess Greffuhle inspired not only fashion designers but also poets such as her cousin, the dandy, Robert de Montesquieu, as well as painters that praised her beauty and allure – she always emphasized her slender figure. Very sure of her taste and what suited her best – dark green, brocards, black, velvet or veils – all her public appearances were perfectly prepared and commented. Not one of her outfits could leave viewers indifferent and it is amazing to read so many accounts of her style.

Russian Cape, Worth - 1896. A gift from the Tsar Nicolas II she altered into a sensational piece.

Russian Cape, Worth – 1896. A gift from the Tsar Nicolas II she altered into a sensational piece.

With the help of films, photographs, paintings as well as numerous writings, the exhibition wonderfully contextualizes the life and disposition of the countess who took incredibly precise notes of her clothing and how it should be arranged and handled, such as this Travelling archive, for example: ‘Large hat necessary – light and halo-like. Summer veils – choose them before departure – light ones – dark ones are stifling if they are made of silk. Have nine different thicknesses – light – slightly thicker – thick. This is how to fix them. 4 centimeters pinned straight through. First you pin the bottom at the neck, then in the middle of the head, then on the hat. Bring 50 meters of each rolled up (people always fold them, it’s awful). We need 2 black hats, 1 navy blue, 1 cream, 1 fancy, 1 fur hat for travelling.” On an extra list further down she added: “For the journey; front buttoned blouse, rubber corset, belt with buckle. Tissue paper, fabric collar with fasteners, laced boots.’

The black garments she privileged from the 1910s.

The black garments she privileged from the 1910s.

Obsessed with her beauty and how much she could have an impact on others, the countess Greffuhle remained a fashion icon even in her late years: I had to check labels twice as I couldn’t believe how modern and sensual her taste still was (and her figure, slim!)  in her late years.

It is the first time I got to come into such intimacy with the subject of an exhibition; even with something as frivolous as her wardrobe, it is as if I had got to know her well: her mysticism, her taste for mystery, her egotism…There is something of a femme-fatale in the countess that used fashion to dramatize her self. A fascinating skillful narcissist that predicted the selfie era.

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