Fashion Double-Header at Paris’ Les Docks
Tiffany Jow

Last week, Paris’ Les Docks (the interim outpost of Palais Galliera, le Musée de la Mode et du Costume) mounted two exhibitions in step with the fashion-as-art bandwagon in its crocodile-like glass space that stretches along the Quai d’Austerlitz. Yet instead of a retrospective (like those of McQueen, Gaultier, Yamamoto, Louboutin, et al), each showcase offers a distinct angle on its subject: the cult label Comme des Garçons’ spring/summer 2012 collection and Cristóbal Balenciaga’s colossal collection of period costumes.

Rei Kawakubo designed and curated every last detail of the Comme display, which borrows its title, White Drama, from its latest runway array. Housed in sci-fi-style plastic bubbles, the complete thirty-three-piece collection is put up for intimate inspection. As its name suggests, the line was inspired by the color white’s significance to major stages in a woman’s life. Birth, communion, marriage, death, and transcendence are all realized through the form of a dress, simultaneously referencing and re-interpreting fashion trends past. Cloud-like headdresses, flower-adored blazers, crinoline satin-covered hoop dresses, and hooded capes pay homage to classic ceremonial gowns in quintessential Kawakubo style.

The Balenciaga show shines light on the period pieces that informed the expert couturier’s cocktail dresses and evening jackets. A keen collector of costumes and memorabilia from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, Balenciaga’s collaborator Fernando Martinez Herreros pledged the collection to the Galliera after the designer’s death in 1972. To demonstrate their influence on Balenciaga, the exhibition is sectioned off into six parts based on the kind of garment the designer collected: collars; coats, capes, and lace; folklore and regionalism; historicism; geometric forms; and monastic robes. Forty Balenciaga garments are juxtaposed with these items, suggesting a link between them. For example, a bone-white 1964 Balenciaga evening jacket is presented with a late eighteenth-century Madonna dress; a 1947 beaded Balenciaga bolero is shown alongside a nineteenth-century Andalusian men’s ballet jacket. The contrast underlines the designer’s storied flair for reinvention, interpretation, and re-purposing.

Both shows are on view through October 7.