The beautiful musée Galliera has been closed to the public since 2009 for renovations, but its staff has kept busy presenting exhibits hors-les-murs (or lay mewr), or “outside the walls.” Last year, I saw the terrific Madame Grès exhibit, held at the musée Bourdelle. This year, Galliera’s focus is on Spanish designer Cristobal Balenciaga as a tribute to mark the 40th anniversary of his death. The exhibit is being held at the new, ultra-modern Docks – cité de la Mode et du Design until October 7, 2012. The Docks is a weird building (OK, I don’t like modern architecture and should probably look for a kinder word than “weird”) sandwiched between two train stations, the Gare d’Austerlitz and the Gare de Lyon, that looks rather like an enormous green plastic lizard basking beside the Seine. There’s a café space on the roof (it reminded me of ship’s deck) tucked under a carpet of wildflowers.

The display space was as modern as the newly opened building. It was as coldly clinical as an operating room. Last year’s exhibit was really enhanced by the juxtaposition of the sculptural dresses among actual sculptures, but this dialogue was missing from the Balengiaga show. Juxtaposition was still present, but among the pieces in the show only. The exhibit drew on Balenciaga’s personal collection of antique and folkloric garments from which many of his own works were inspired. A dress from the 1950s would be placed next to the textile fragment or garment from the 1750s that had inspired it, for instance. There are about 110 items on display, 70 from the 17th to 19th centuries, and 40 from the House of Balenciaga from 1937 to 1968, when Balenciaga retired. The designer’s respect for traditional, hand-crafted fabrics, such as lace or embroidery, was clearly evident.

I loved his 1950s suits with cinched-in waists. So chic! I was struck by the Balenciaga evening dress with the queue de paon (kuh duh pohn), or peacock’s tail that was short at the front and curved down to the floor at back. It’s the same shape at the “new” hemline this spring that I thought was so cute and original. There really is nothing new, is there?

Well, maybe there is. Next door to the Balenciaga exhibit, and free with the admission to the main show, was the entire Spring-Summer 2012 collection from Comme des Garçons. The all-white collection was presented in huge plastic bubbles. It was pretty kooky, unless you’re a big fan of wearing an outfit like a cocoon that entirely covers you from head to foot with giant 3D flowers. I’ll stick with vintage Balenciaga.


About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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8 Responses to Hors-les-murs

  1. Interesting that the odd hemline is “back”. I think it’s very unattractive so have avoided every garment featuring it.

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