Fashioning Fashion

If you want to understand Paris fashion—from couture to street style—head over to the Museum of Decorative Arts. Every new exhibition claims to be a Paris must-see but their “Fashioning Fashion” is unique. Here, in one hundred outfits, you can see how history’s best-dressed Europeans actually looked. Amazingly, every piece is also in perfect condition.

The show is more, however, than just a stunning spectacle. In many ways, there are few collections that can equal this one. Currently the property of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, its clothes were brought together over five long decades. This was the work of two top textile collectors: London’s Martin Kamer and Switzerland’s Wolfgang Ruf. Having spent 50 years as the fiercest rivals, the pair finally merged their greatest hits—then sold the collection. Now, the extraordinary end result is circling the globe, as the show “Fashioning Fashion.” It’s a survey of European style between the years of 1700 and 1915.

Both men were fanatical about fashion history, accumulating not just garments but the appropriate shoes, underwear, jewelry and accessories. It’s jaw-dropping to see the actual styles worn at Versailles under the Sun King or Louis XVI—from panniered gowns in cloth-of-gold to jackets laden with silver lace. (The latter weighs nine pounds.) Certainly, it’s the most seductive way to show fashion history. You can learn the politics behind the robe à la polonaise but also have a giggle at the Belle Epoque’s thigh-high stilettos. Cleverly placed mirrors show each angle of every costume, while individual digital screens are used to zoom in on details.

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