Category Archives: Fashion

Buttons through the ages at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs

YSL button

The button tray from Yves Saint Laurent’s couture atelier

So you thought buttons were just a detail? The lovely exhibition Unbutton Fashion at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs will prove you wrong. Buttons held a central place in fashion history, revealed social positions (often higher class) and mirrored major social events. Some of them are like small jewels, not to mention miniature art pieces.

On peut penser que le bouton n’est qu’un détail. Détrompez-vous ! A travers la belle exposition Déboutonner La Mode au Musée des Arts Décoratifs, on apprend à quel point il a tenu une place centrale dans l’histoire de la mode. Symbole de codes sociaux, reflet des bouleversements de son époque, il a eu bien plus qu’un simple aspect fonctionnel. Certains sont même des petits bijoux quand ils ne sont pas carrément des œuvres d’art miniatures.

Comme d’habitude, le Musée des Arts Décoratifs a très bien fait les choses pour cette exposition de mode. Le parcours retrace l’histoire de cet ornement du 18ème au 20ème siècle avec des commentaires détaillés et pertinents. Les belles pièces (une centaine de vêtements et boutons) s’enchaînent sur deux étages. Bref, je vous recommande vivement la visite ! Pour ceux qui ne peuvent s’y rendre, voici quelques photos et commentaires.

Bouton Arts Décos 18ème 1

Bouton Arts Décos 18ème 2

Boutons Arts Décos Revolution

Bouton Arts Décos fin 18ème

Boutons Arts Décos Pierre précieuses

Buttons used to be exclusive to menswear. In the 18th century, they would decorate clothes as did embroideries and revealed the social position of the owner. After the French Revolution, buttons became miniature paintings. At the end of the century, menswear became more minimalistic and codified. However, buttons became true luxury objects and resembled jewelry.

Le bouton est d’abord une affaire d’hommes. Au 18ème siècle, il orne les vêtements des nobles et riches bourgeois, tels les broderies, et participe ainsi à définir les codes sociaux. A la Révolution, il devient tableau miniature. On change alors de bouton au gré de son humeur en choisissant le thème adéquat : nature, amour, paysage… A la fin 18ème siècle, on revient à plus de sobriété avec un port du vêtement très codifié. Ceux-ci peuvent être de véritables objets de luxe, empruntant à la joaillerie ses techniques et matières. 

Bouton Arts Décos Hussard 1

Bouton Arts Décos Hussard 2

Bouton Arts Décos 19ème

Under Napoleon’s reign, menswear became inspired by military uniforms and buttons took center stage. Afterwards, fashion became minimalistic again. Buttons then structured the silhouette and were seen as objects of refinement.

Vers 1808 sous le règne de Napoléon 1er, le vêtement masculin prend une inspiration militaire à la hussarde et le bouton revient au centre du vêtement. C’est tout le contraire qui se passe ensuite. Le vestiaire masculin se débarrasse du superflu pour plus de sobriété. Le bouton souligne alors la ligne et contribue au raffinement de la silhouette.

Bouton Arts Décos 19ème Femme

Arts Décos bouton japonisme

On the contrary, buttons appeared in womenswear inspired by English fashion. In the 1880s, they were positioned in the back and the help of a maid was necessary to get dressed. Button really exploded as an industry at the time, employing as far as 30,000 people. No wonder, as they were everywhere, from lingerie to shoes, and in great quantity. Under the influence of Art Nouveau, buttons became more precious and ornated clothes as jewels. When Paul Poiret liberated women from corsets in the 1910s, buttons structured the dresses and this fashion was dominant over the following decades.

A l’inverse, les boutons réapparaissent dans la mode féminine soumise à l’influence anglaise. Vers 1880, ils sont positionnés dans le dos, nécessitant l’aide d’une femme de chambre pour se vêtir. Pendant la seconde moitié du 19ème siècle, l’industrie du bouton se développe avec la révolution industrielle, allant jusqu’à employer 30 000 personnes. On trouve alors des catalogues entiers de modèles dans les premiers grands magasins. C’est que le bouton orne tout, même les sous-vêtements et les chaussures, et ce en grandes quantités. Sous l’influence du Japonisme et de l’Art nouveau, le bouton se fait plus précieux et devient un véritable ornement, comme un bijou. Dans les années 1910, Paul Poiret débarrasse les femmes du corset. C’est alors le bouton qui structure la silhouette et définit la structure de la robe. Cette tendance se poursuit dans les décennies suivantes.

Arts Décos Boutons noir blanc

With World War II and ensuing shortages, buttons lost their importance in fashion. They took center stage again in the 1950s with the golden age of haute couture, as ornaments of sophistication and refinement. Christian Dior would say that buttons “could even help to give a meaning to a dress”.

Avec la guerre et ses pénuries, le bouton perd de son importance. Il faudra attendre les années 1950 et le développement de la haute-couture pour qu’il retrouve de sa superbe. Les boutons prennent alors l’aspect de bijoux fantaisie. Christian Dior dira qu’ils « peuvent même aider à donner à une robe tout son sens ». Il contribue à faire oublier une époque difficile pour se plonger dans la sophistication, la féminité et le raffinement.

Bouton Arts Décos Christian Dior

Boutons Arts Décos Christian Dior robe rougeChristian Dior

Bouton Arts Décos ChanelChanel

Bouton Arts Décos BalenciagaBalenciaga

Boutons Arts Décos YSLYves Saint Laurent

Unbutton Fashion is on show at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs until July 19th.

Difficile de ne pas se laisser séduire par l’élégance du bouton après cette exposition que vous pouvez voir jusqu’au 19 juillet.

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Art and luxury: a necessary relationship?

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Last week I attended a conference organized by my school on the relationship between luxury and art. The people around the table included Jennifer Flay, director of the FIAC art fair, and Lorenz Bäumer, a Place Vendôme high-jewelry designer who collaborated with Chanel for nearly 20 years. I found the discussion fascinating as it touched upon how our need to connect with art is used by brands as a marketing strategy. It is a debate that could go on and on but I just wanted to sum up the few points that were raised and elaborate a bit on them. And of course I would love to hear your opinion on the matter!

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Let’s start by a few definitions to see what separates luxury from art.

Luxury is an industry that creates objects that we use and wear with profitability goals in mind, hence for example the importance of it-bags in brand strategies.

Art by comparison questions and upsets. Art pieces are unique and have a meaning that is different to every one of us depending on our personal history. It can also be controversial. Lorenz Bäumer gave the example of Paul McCarthy’s Tree which was set up on Place Vendôme in October 2014. It sparked outrage and was damaged by protestors. After the terrorist attacks of January 2015, he felt people became more lenient towards art as they realized that freedom of speech should be protected. Broadly speaking, art has become more necessary than ever as an emotional relief when people find it harder to believe in formerly trustworthy values like politics and work.

What luxury and art do have in common is excellence and aesthetic, as well as bringing out a sense of comfort. The separation between them can be thin. There is this concept in Japan of “Living National Treasures”, craftsmen whose work is recognized as art for its level of excellence. And let’s not forget that designers are creatives too. Jennifer Flay talked about how fashion exhibitions were no different to her than art exhibitions. Indeed, I find it hard myself not to consider some haute-couture gowns as works of art. Not to mention that fashion can have a critical dimension. Yves Saint Laurent gave power to women with his Smoking; the tuxedo was controversial as women wearing pants were not allowed entrance in “good” restaurants and hotels in the 1970s. Later on, Jean Paul Gaultier challenged traditional gender roles with his collections. And there is a thin line between “designer” and “artist”. What do you make of designers who create costumes for art performances? I have in mind Riccardo Tisci who collaborated with the Paris Opera Ballet a couple of years ago.

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How do collaborations benefit luxury and art?

Collaborations between luxury and art can take many forms: sponsorships, commissions, creation of museums and performances to name a few. Not to mention that art can simply be a source of inspiration, as Yves Saint Laurent could testify with his Mondrian dresses.

One speaker pointed out that designers never call themselves “artists”: they are aware that they work on products, not works of art. Generally speaking, they have a great respect for art and collaborations often stem from the designers’ own passion. Marc Jacobs for example is known to be an avid collector and Louis Vuitton fashion flourished with partnerships during his time there. Collaborations could then be a means for luxury to get closer to a goal of emotional and aesthetical heights that only art can claim.

If we dig a little deeper, we can also see artistic collaborations as part of brands’ strategies to not lose their credibility. With globalization, partnerships with cheaper brands like H&M and the rise of social media, luxury has become widespread and no longer a precious rarity, thus losing its aura. Artistic partnerships allow brands to regain a touch of exclusivity. They create publicity for both parties and give access to different customers. Not that this is enough. Louis Vuitton is now considered too popular among luxury customers in the huge market that is China. Some of them go as far as to call it “a brand for secretaries”. Will initiatives such as the newly-opened Fondation Vuitton play a part in changing the brand’s image?

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That said, art benefits from luxury as well. The industry has been a long-time sponsor of artistic events and businessmen like François Pinault are known for supporting the arts.

As such, art is a marketing argument that mass brands have started to take advantage of as well. For example, H&M recently featured a Jeff Koons Balloon Dog on a bag. Absolut Vodka is active in the art world. Such collaborations give the illusion that the brand is more high-end than it is. This is the next step after partnerships with luxury brands and designers, in which Karl Lagerfeld played a big part with H&M and Coca-Cola. If art becomes more widespread among mass retailers, luxury brands might better refocus and advertize on what they do best: high-quality and exclusive products. Think Hermès.

Image sources 1 2 3 4

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