Exhibitions and artistic displays are nothing new in stores. The ever-so lasting ‘art meets commerce’ debate is revived every time art hits shops, runways or window displays as well as when fashion brands take part to the artistic world through foundations, galleries or sponsorship. When it comes to fashion as a patrimonial/curatorial tool, the boundaries are slightly more blurred because today, curated fashion has become a norm. Curators of fashion (I intentionally prefer to not use the ‘fashion curator’ expression that to me signifies the patrimonial profession more) are everywhere: from Pinterest boards to Instagram creative accounts, many like to claim themselves as curators. To curate a fashion display has never been so ambiguous: when is it a true curatorial practice? When is it simply an aesthetic mise-en-scène? A nicely presented collection in store can now be entitled as curated while certain fashion exhibitions resemble commercial installations.
That is why I appreciated so much the L’Elégance Engagée display at the department store, Galeries Lafayette, in Paris: it solely and brilliantly assumed its equivoque identity. Installed in the store’s Galerie des Galeries (its space dedicated to exhibitions), the display showcased the Galeries Lafayette’s Spring Summer 2017 collection, not only celebrating its colorful garments but also the newly appointed designer, Laetitia Ivanez. With a minimalist, elegant, creative and aesthetic scenography, as professional and inventive as that of fashion museums, the display offered a playful look on the collection. The people behind this project are Marine de Bouchony and Camille de Laurens from M/B, a Parisian creative agency, specialized in art direction, branding, scenography…(and whom I secretly dream to work with one of these days). M/B chose to highlight the strong colors but also the whimsical words of the fashion designer, showcasing them on large paper posters that took as much space as the garments themselves – enhancing how the intellectual creative process may be as crucial as the manual technique or French’s love affair with ‘literature – meets – fashion’ (think of Sonia Rykiel’s Boulevard Saint Germain des Prés’s boutique filled with books).
Surely, M/B did not face the restrictions traditional curators have to confront when handling the often fragile and aged clothing they have to expose. Here, no mannequins, no glass cases, no dimmed lights…Pure fun and freedom for the garments hung or laid on various wooden elements evoking chairs, easels or tables. The common theme throughout the display was the concept of precarious balance and every installation echoed that idea should it be through an unstable table, a pair of dungarees competing with bricks to remain hanging or several garments simply thrown on the corner of a chair, a hanger…as if they were about to slide from it at any moment. Although the main argument for this choice was humor, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was any more profound discourse underneath it all: could it have something to do with the overall precariousness of fashion: its delicate textiles, its changing trends, its interchangeable designers…? In a way, didn’t the display just mean: ‘Com’on, let’s have fun with all this, because it’s only fashion and it won’t last’?
Not an exhibition, nor a commercial display, L’Elégance Engagée was ingenious because it invited itself in a new territory and it solicited curatorship for the most trivial object, the very affordable collection of a department store, not haute couture garments nor designer creations but the mundane clothes we could all buy this summer. It enabled the Galeries Lafayette to go one step further in the ‘art vs. commerce’ approach, using museological tools for the most ordinary.
I don’t know whether you have seen similar approaches in other department stores elsewhere but I’d love to hear about it if it’s the case because here, in Paris, I had never seen such an exhaustive proposal.