In 18 rooms decorated by nearly 200 hundred items (including a fantastically blood-red floor runner created by Christian Lacroix himself) at Florence’s Galleria del Costume of Palazzo Pitti, Olivier Saillard challenges the concept of what a museum is. Through his new show, “The Ephemeral Museum of Fashion,” which opened just last week during the trade show Pitti Uomo, the historian and Document contributor presents an transportative experience inside the venue’s Renaissance context, subverting the etiquettes and expectations of the concept of exhibition itself.
“I tried to forget everything I’ve known and learned about museums,” Saillard says of the eight month period he had to comb through the vaults of the Galleria del Costume and his home institute, the Palais Galliera, (both museums opened their archives in cooperation) to build a body of work that spanned not only generations but also theories of fashion.
The outcome is a dizzying effect of non-chronological assemblage: an 18th century dress coat is presented beside a pleated Issey Miyake cocktail skirt; an Elsa Schiaparelli original is sprawled atop an armchair while a younger Gucci number overlooks it in a nearby glass cage. “I permitted myself to present the clothes as they never have been before, especially in museums,” explains the curator, who mentions the resistence of time as an underlining fascination.
“I wanted the visitors to understand that a fashion exhibition does not only have to occur in a museum—it can be in a home, too. Every day you are creating your own private fashion exhibition: a jacket on a chair, a shirt on a hanger. The wardrobe is a small kind of exhibition that you create yourself.”
Indeed, the experience—very much an internal performance on the part of the viewer—while random at times, is disarming. Pieces, some perfect in glaring cellophane, others destroyed, are shown in their most vulnerable conditions as well as their best—a sense of “work of progress” that is typically shrouded to visitors and left behind the confines of the curatorial wall.
Near the end of Saillard’s museum-inside-a-museum lies a feathery gown—no doubt from one of the world’s most prestigious dressmakers—anchored to the table below it by tiny paperweights, each no larger than the palm of one’s hand. It is part of the painstakingly delicate restoration process, explains Saillard, which takes upwards of hours to flatten even a single ridge. “Many of the pieces here are so fragile that they are being shown here for the first time and many for their last time,” he says. “Fashion is always appearing and disappearing, I wanted to present it in this way, where you can only see it here and now.”
Olivier Saillard’s “The Ephemeral Museum of Fashion,” is on view at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence from now until October 22, 2017.