If you’ll be in Paris prior to November 17, 2019, I highly recommend that you visit the exhibit Backside / Dos à la mode at the musée Bourdelle. Located near the hulking and hideous Tour Montparnasse (oops, my bias is showing), this little museum was the atelier of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. A few times in recent years, it has housed fashion exhibits in conjunction with the Palais Galliera, the museum dedicated just to fashion. I think this is the most successful collaboration to date, as the juxtaposition of couture items seen from the back alongside sculptures presented in the same way creates an interesting dialogue.
And it isn’t just pretty dresses. Did you realize that, apart from a straitjacket, men’s clothes always open at the front, whereas women’s have frequently opened at the back? I never thought about how this one simple fact kept women dependant upon others to get dressed or undressed. We teach children early in their lives how to dress themselves, but women did not have this simple independence.
The back can also be used as a canvas to write messages, explicitly or implicitly. Remember the furor caused by the writing on the back of Melania Trump’s coat when she was on a humanitarian mission? A look-alike of that “just a coat” is in the exhibition. Some gowns demonstrated Puritanical modesty from the front while saving all the show for the back. From clothes that made news in recent years to a court train from the 18th century, this exhibit covers the whole gamut. Which of these gowns would you choose for yourself?