A fashion retrospective of the 1990s and 2000s in Paris part 1: the Belgian, the Japanese and Helmut Lang

Paris Fashion Week just ended, but you can still admire the work of the most prestigious designers at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris until May 8th 2011. The museum is holding a fashion retrospective of the 1990s and 2000s with the brands that we all love like Lanvin, Chanel and Balenciaga. It was during these two decades that I seriously started to become passionate about fashion so going through the exhibit reminded me of marvelous discoveries and fantasy wish-lists. Now let’s start our visit, shall we?

Martin Margiela is the anti-Lagerfeld in the sense that he is the most secretive major designer you could possibly think of. Want proof? Only one picture of him can be found on the world wide web. His designs are somewhat absurd and disconcerting like this dress that has not yet severed its ties with its roll of fabric.

Margiela began his career as Jean Paul Gaultier’s assistant. The influence of the master of punk couture is quite recognizable in the first picture of this post (Margiela Spring 2008) with the exaggerated 1980s shoulders. Margiela designed the women’s collections for Hermès from 1997 to 2003 when he was replaced by Jean Paul Gaultier. It’s a small fashion world, right? Further to the acquisition of his brand by the Diesel group in 2002, Margiela left in 2009. Where in the world is Martin Margiela now?

In 1981, 6 fashion students graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Antwerp and became recognized as a group of Belgian vanguard designers of international fame. The Antwerp 6, as they are called, have Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten as their most famous members. Inspired by rock music, masculine/feminine silhouettes and leather, Ann Demeulemeester creates collections for strong women like Patti Smith.

Talking of inspiration, Ann Demeulemeester had these very touching words that I love: “The things that meant something to you when you were sixteen stay with you forever. They are your roots.”

With his nostalgic fashion, his silhouettes and prints inspired by faraway lands and people, his mastery of color and the enchantment of his shows, Dries Van Noten is a favorite among editorialists every season and has gained a cult following.

Now let’s change schools and see what Japanese designers living in Paris have to offer.

Yohji Yamamoto is a master tailor. His poetic collections pay tribute to French couture with a deep inspiration from his native Japan. This video of one of his delightful shows was run at the exhibit. Don’t you just love it when such a solemn fashion event starts with laughter?

A major retrospective of Yamamoto’s work just opened at the Victoria and Albert Museum of London. As it reveals the designer’s wider creative output, it may display his work for the brand adidas Y-3.

Rei Kawakubo creates through her conceptual collections for Comme des Garçons clothes that could be mistaken for contemporary art, such as these dresses from the spring-summer 1997 “bump” collection. With their unusual fabrics and outgrowths, they modify the silhouette to the point where the body seems deformed.

Rei Kawakubo can deliver commercial fashion as well though: past collaborations include an H&M collection and Converse sneakers. Lately Kawakubo has been feeling quite cartoonish, designing capsule collections with Disney and Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons!

Helmut Lang is one of the designers I miss the most in fashion today. His conceptual and urban collections were perfectly suited for a strong modern woman. The dresses below inspired by the style of Azzédine Alaïa show a more sensual side of his work. Qualified as minimalistic, the brand set itself apart with its technological innovations on fabrics and textures. Helmut Lang was also very marketing-savvy. Did you know he was the first designer ever to run his show on live streaming in 1998?

Further to disagreements with Prada, the owners of his brand, Helmut Lang left his company in 2005. Passionate about contemporary art (he collaborated with Louise Bourgeois on a few projects), Lang is now a full-time artist.

The second part of this post will be here in a few days with Lanvin, Balenciaga and Chanel among others. In the meantime, if you like fashion retrospectives, you might enjoy my posts on the Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior exhibitions!

Alors que la Fashion Week de Paris vient de se terminer, le Musée des Arts Décoratifs organise jusqu’au 8 mai 2011 une rétrospective de la mode des années 1990 et 2000. Lanvin, Balenciaga, Christian Dior et compagnie ont répondu à l’appel pour illustrer ce retour sur un passé tout proche. C’est pendant ces deux décennies que j’ai commencé à réellement m’intéresser à la mode et revoir certaines collections m’a rappelé bien des souvenirs émerveillés.

Commençons par les créateurs belges. Martin Margiela est le designer anti-star par excellence. La preuve, on ne trouve qu’une seule photo de lui sur Internet ! Sa mode est assez absurde et déconcertante, comme cette robe qui n’arrive pas encore à couper le cordon avec son rouleau de tissu. Margiela a commencé sa carrière en tant qu’assistant de Jean Paul Gaultier. On reconnaît bien l’influence rock et extravagante du maître dans la première photo (printemps-été 2008) avec les épaules démesurées de la silhouette. Margiela a créé les collections femme pour Hermès de 1997 à 2003 avant que Gaultier ne le remplace (le monde de la mode est petit, pas vrai ?). Suite au rachat de sa maison par le groupe Diesel en 2002, le créateur l’a quittée en 2009. Mais où est-donc passé Martin Margiela ?

Les 6 d’Anvers désignent un groupe de 6 camarades de la promotion 1981 de l’Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts d’Anvers devenus les créateurs belges d’avant-garde à la renommée internationale. Parmi eux figure Ann Demeulemeester. Avec son inspiration rock, ses silhouettes féminin/masculin et son travail du cuir, la créatrice créé pour des femmes fortes comme Patti Smith. A propos d’inspiration, Ann Demeulemeester a eu ces propos très justes et touchants : « Les choses auxquelles on est attaché quand on a 16 ans restent avec nous pour toujours. Ce sont nos racines. » Et voici un autre membre des 6 d’Anvers : Dries Van Noten. Sa mode hors des tendances, ses silhouettes  et imprimés inspirés de cultures d’ailleurs, son travail sur la couleur et le charme de ses défilés continuent à ravir les femmes au fil du temps.

Passons maintenant à une autre section : les créateurs japonais exilés à Paris.

Yohji Yamamoto présente une mode poétique aux coupes étudiées, véritable hommage à la couture française fortement inspiré de son Japon natal. Le musée diffuse dans le cadre de l’exposition ce magnifique défilé… qui commence par la robe de mariée ! Le Victoria and Albert Museum de Londres organise jusqu’en juillet 2011 une grande rétrospective de l’œuvre de Yohji Yamamoto, créateur qui travaille aussi pour la marque adidas Y-3.

Après la grâce, l’étrangeté. Adepte d’une mode conceptuelle, Rei Kawakubo créé pour Comme des Garçons des vêtements qui s’apparentent à des œuvres d’art contemporain, comme ces robes de la collection « à bosse » du printemps-été 1997. Pièces aux matières inattendues, ornées d’excroissances, elles modifient la silhouette du corps jusqu’à la rendre difforme. La mode de Rei Kawakubo n’est cependant pas tout à fait hermétique : elle a collaboré sur une collection avec le géant suédois H&M puis avec les baskets Converse. Dernière collaboration en date ? Des T-shirts avec Disney et le créateur des Simpsons !

Helmut Lang est un créateur qui me manque. Sa mode conceptuelle et urbaine était destinée à une femme forte et moderne. Sensuelle aussi, comme le montrent les robes ci-dessous marquées par l’influence d’Azzédine Alaïa. La marque se détachait du courant minimaliste par ses innovations technologiques sur les tissus et le travail sur les textures. Helmut Lang était aussi un visionnaire du marketing. Saviez-vous qu’il est le premier à avoir diffusé ses défilés en live sur Internet en 1998 ? Suite à des différends avec son propriétaire Prada, Helmut Lang a cessé de travailler pour la marque qui porte son nom en 2005. Fou d’art contemporain (il a collaboré un temps avec l’artiste Louise Bourgeois), il se consacre désormais à sa passion.

La suite très bientôt avec Lanvin, Balenciaga et Chanel ! En attendant, si les rétrospectives de mode vous plaisent, vous aimerez peut-être mes billets sur les expositions Yves Saint Laurent et Christian Dior.

16 Comments

Filed under Fashion exhibitions

16 responses to “A fashion retrospective of the 1990s and 2000s in Paris part 1: the Belgian, the Japanese and Helmut Lang

  1. I had no idea that Margiela worked for Gaultier, but it makes so much sense now!

  2. This is why I love love LOVE you! :)

    I was dying to check out Yohji’s retrospective – if only i were still in London, le sigh.

    • Thanks LiYing! Yep, Yohji’s retrospective in London makes me want to head back home early this summer. It’s pretty rare to see his work in an exhibition I believe.

  3. Anne your posts are always so interesting and informative. I had no idea Lang was a full time artist now… I also want to visit the Yohji retrospective at the V&A, I am going to be in London for one week just around 10th July, so I might make it, but if you go before me, you’ll have to let me know what you thought!

    • Thanks Sarah! :) I don’t think I can make it to London before July 10th so I kind of envy you ;-) I’m starting to seriously think I should ask other bloggers to guest post in that case!

  4. Ava

    This was a great post – I felt like I was transported right to the exhibit. I’m so glad you wrote about Martin Margiela. I didn’t know a thing about him or his significance in the fashion world, so thank you for the fashion lesson :)

    Also, that Ann Demeulemeester quote is really great. I wrote it on a post-it note as a reminder. It’s so true. I like to play this game where I imagine I’m 16 again, and then think about whether my teen self would like and appreciate who I’ve become. It can be fun (if the answer is still positive)!

    • Thank you as always for your comment Ava! I didn’t understand the hype around certain designers either, but seeing the clothes up close and learning about them at the exhibition changed my mind ;-)
      That’s a wonderful quote, isn’t it? And as you say, so, so true!

  5. J’aime beaucoup ce billet !

  6. I am so sad this will close before I go to Paris this year! A few weeks shy! I hope to see you soon in NYC, I would love to pick your brain about where to dine in Paris. Any trips to Boston soon?!

    • Noelani, hi! Oh that’s too bad, I’m sure you would love it. Yes, Sarah @StyleOnTheCouch told me you’re coming to NYC in April and I’ll be joining you for brunch and (drumroll) the drag-queen bingo! Absolutely, I’ll have a look on where to dine in Paris and get back to you soon. As for Boston, it looks like I won’t be going there for work after all so I’ll have to plan a trip by myself, which is probably better that way. Will keep you posted!

      • Drats! I am very disappointed, but I’ll have to miss drag queen bingo. I need to head home earlier in the day on Sunday. But this just gives me all the more reason to come back soon. I am excited for brunch and to catch up! I have the hotel trying to get us into Spring in Paris but may be a lost cause. If you have any other ideas definitely let me know.

  7. Liza

    Brilliantly written. I have to say that I’m truly impressed with your ability to integrate and intertwine so many exclusive designers and their whereabouts in a single article. Familiar with some of these designers more than others, I often wonder when some of the really exclusive ones such as Margiela decided to leave the fashion bandwagon and if they are still involved in the business. I happen to have a pair of bright purple Helmut Lang suede ankle boots in my shoe collection. They are beautiful and I love them but I did not know much about the designer until I read your article. I’ll look forward to reading part two…

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