History Of Contemporary Fashion Exhibition - 70s/80s (Paris, France)

With the end of Paris Fashion Week looming, and everyone eager for all that is FW11, it's sometimes nice to take a step back... or almost literally step back in time. One of my favorite museums, the 'Musée des Arts Décoratifs', which had previously hosted terrific exhibitions dedicated to Madeleine Vionnet and Sonia Rykiel, recently decided to present a complete history of fashion spanning the four decades between 1970-2010. Titled 'Histoire idéale de la mode contemporaine' ('an idealized history of contemporary fashion') curator Oliver Saillard, who has also published a book under the same name, decided to showcase long forgotten works by some of today's finest couturiers. Split in two parts, the first exhibition, which covers the 70s and 80s, ended last year, but if you're in Paris now, I strongly urge you to check out part two (90s and 00s) which will be featured on this blog soon.

The first looks at the entrance displayed early YSL and Jean-Paul Gaultier.

Though the 70s and 80s, don't necessarily trigger fond memories in the eyes of fashion critics, it was the more controversial works of Yves Saint Laurent (and his infamous 1971 collection) as well as Jean-Paul Gaultier's tattoo and cone-shaped bust pieces at the end of the 80s, that inspired Saillard to examine how modern couture sought to provoke and became ingrained with celebrity. Other highlights of the more low-key kind include Karl Lagerfeld's stint at Chloé and his first collections for Chanel, as well as the rising popularity of Japanese designers Yohji Yamamoto, Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons, Kenzo and Issey Miyake. Couturiers that ruled the 80s, such as Thierry Mugler, Christian Lacroix and Azzedine Alaïa were represented as well.

Arranged on two levels (each decade presented on a different floor), the exhibition was very well laid out, while the actual pieces were stunning to behold. The pictures I took are only meant to provide you with a glimpse of my impressions but hardly reflect how incredible and timeless most of these gowns still look to this day. If you're not in Paris anytime soon or want to see more/better images and read the accompanying text, I recommend you pick up Saillard's book, which can be ordered here.

Don't forget to check out more pictures (which include Chanel and Gaultier) after the jump.

Madame Grès

The feminine draping of Madame Grès, a favorite of Grace Kelly (1978).

Sonia Rykiel / Cacharel

More for the ladies, including Rykiel's soft knits (1974-1977) and Cacharel's Liberty prints (FW 75/76).

Chloé par Karl Lagerfeld

Hard to believe these are the works of Kaiser Karl (early to mid 70s).

Issey Miyake / Jean-Charles de Castelbajac / Ter et Bantine / Kenzo

Top left: Jean-Charles de Castelbajac (1974). Lower left: Ter et Bantine par Chantal Thomass (1972). Center: Issey Miyake (1974). Right: Kenzo (1971-1978).

Yves Saint Laurent

YSL's 70s art-inspired collection.

Claude Montana

Structured and leather pieces by Claude Montana (1978).

Thierry Mugler

Starting the 80s portion of the exhibition, the Mugler pieces were definitely the biggest draw and kept me coming back. Lady Gaga can prance around in Nicola Formichetti's creations all she wants, but nothing beats the 80s originals.

Beyond gorgeous, the ballerina dress dating back to 1986 decorated the stairwell, while the shiny 'angel' gowns (FW 84/85) had a group of schoolgirls (and me) literally glued to the glass cases. The winged gown on the left is the same one used for the exhibition's poster shot (top of the post).

Even the black dresses were eye-catchers, especially the one in the center adorned with headlights.

Jean-Charles de Castelbajac

The wonderful crazy world of Castelbajac including coats made of toy animals and dresses featuring giant prints (1983/84).

Popy Moreni

The most beautiful chiffon gowns...

Yohji Yamamoto / Issey Miyake / Comme des Garçons

Clean lines, structural shapes and colorful draping courtesy of Yamamoto (top left, bottom right, 1987/88), Rei Kawakubo (lower left, 1983-1989) and Miyake (center, top right, 1980).

Christian Lacroix / Roméo Gigli / Sybilla

'It's Lacroix darling!'... Lacroix (top right, lower center), Roméo Gigli (left) and Sybilla (lower right) - 1987-1988.

Jean-Paul Gaultier

The sailor look and more importantly, the cone-shaped madness made famous during Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour (1989-1990).

Chanel par Karl Lagerfeld

Kaiser Karl is back, but this time with tweed, pearls and luxe materials. Haute Couture SS83.

Azzedine Alaïa

Timeless shapes from Alaïa (1990).


  1. Oh the pain of living in sunny southern california ... this is such an interesting period, laying down the tracks for future rap artists and very, very large bank accounts.

    Your photos are wonderful but it seems that the heart of some of the designers there is missing, just including the label and missing something.

    So hard to have The Pieces in retrospectives such as this.

    The Montana suede jackets with the fabulous embroidered eagle - a few male buyers were robbed on a buying trip, just the jacket please.

    It was an insane large time with boutiques the winners because the clothes were very demanding: the all black savage beauty of the Japanese collections startled the world as much as Montana's shoulders.

    It was rather demanding.

  2. what a thorough review! love the grecian draping on a lot of these dresses.


  3. Oh my...to have had the opportunity to visit that amazing exhibition...Wow!

  4. i just talked a bit about the queen of knit, haha. love lagerfeld's for chloe back then. i thought montana's leather jackets are decidedly representative of the 80s.

  5. it is so nostalgic to see the fashion back in time, especially for the period that seems so far away yet still within reach for our generation. Madame Grès is truly an artist, and i wish to be inspired more often with designers in recent memories. Speaking of terry mugler, the recent show w/ gaga seems to finally put the label back to the fashion map again! bravo, xx

  6. @In New York Paris Tomorrow: I think it's always tricky to source the key pieces of any time period and deciding which they are is entirely subjective as well. Coming from a French curator, I'm not surprised for instance, that certain American or British designers were completely omitted. And I would venture a guess that sourcing original garments isn't easy either.

    I should probably mention that I did leave out many other photos I took. For example, The Tuxedo (YSL) was represented, as were early 70s Miyake pieces, but there's no way I could have posted the over 200 pieces in the exhibition.

  7. I think your pictures are beautiful and, certainly give me a great insight through your eyes. I, of course, would love to be there to see it myself to see the energy and to witness evolution of each designer through this retrospective. It is funny, but I have recognized the hand of all desgners before I read the names. Thank you for the wonderful report from the exhibition and sending many beautiful wishes your way!

  8. Oh wow. This exhibition looks really incredible. I love seeing the history of fashion: it's so much fun. The clothes all look really pretty.

  9. Wow! I have to say, I could do without some of these designs EVER making a comeback! However, the black dress in the Madame Grès collection can make a comeback any day! It's stunning!

  10. What an amazing exhibit!
    Thanks for sharing these pics!


  11. Hi my dear-oh my gosh, what a stunning and beautiful collection, just adore the designer works, especially YSL, but all so gorgeous and uniquely wonderful-thanks for sharing in this lovely post xx

  12. What a race through fashion times... It's great to see the old Thierry Mugler and Montana dresses - and the wonderful drapes of Mme Gres. The exhibition is on my list!

  13. Such divine fabrics!! A very luxurious mix ;)

  14. I loved the draped dresses from Madame Grès! So happy you shared this with us.=)

  15. Oh I so wish I were in Paris right now! The draping of the Madame Grès dresses blows my mind! :) xoxo

  16. Holy crap! Every piece was better than the last. Now THIS is fashion!

  17. WOW what an amazing exhibit! The Mugler section is just plain fantastic.


  18. thanks again for another wonderful suggestion. i will definitely be marking this museum for my future trip to paris. i feel like fashion moves too quickly these days, i've barely registered a season when everyone is looking to the next already. it's nice to have an archive to look back on and see the influences in the collections today. that one madam gres dress brings me to the last versace collection and chuckled out loud to myself upon seeing Kaiser Karl's early work. i wish i wish Christian Lacroix will be revived. hopefully we can see some american designers in the museum one day!


  19. @Maddy: I believe many of these designs already made a comeback in some form or another...

    @I'm Eggy: Part 2 of this exhibition does include Tom Ford, but the focus is definitely on Europe and Japan. I'm with you on Lacroix.

  20. Ooh, what a fantastic exhibit. I so adore the Thierry Mugler - gorgeous!! :)

  21. Amazing exhibit, stunning dresses!

  22. Mighty Mugler... If only I could prance around town in one of those!

  23. This sounds like an amazing exhibit! As someone with a lot of interest in history, as well as fashion, I know I'd really love a chance to check this out! Love the photos you have here.

  24. Wow, what a great exhibit. I love your review and pictures. So amazing.

  25. so many fabulous things to see here! SO MANY!!!!!!!!! so jealous that i could not see the exhibition in person, but your post brings it so close to me that i should not complain!

  26. those YSL shirts are neat!! though not sure if it's wearable here in ottawa cuz ppl are conservative like that, but def a cool runway item! let me know what you think of The Adjustment Bureau :)

  27. Wow, even on a computer screen, I can see it's going to such a wonderful experience to be around these collections! I love that you can tell which designer is which because they have created their own memorable signature styles! xoxoxoo

  28. Even on computer screen, I can tell what a wonderful experience it must be to be surrounded by these collections! I love the dresses! It's so cool that you can see which designer is which because they all created their own memorable signature styles :-) xoxoxo

  29. Ughh, i would die to get my hands on a dress from the Karl Lagerfeld for Chloe era, but they're so rare/expensive that it doesn't look like it'll happen unless i get extremely lucky!

  30. I decided I would stop by to let you know I have posted my tak on the story ith John Galliano and would, very much appreciate your thoughts on it as well. Wishing you wonderful weekend. As for me, I will be working all weekend again which I do not mind because the weather in New York has nothing t do with Spring!:-)

  31. Wow that's so cool! Look at those dresses!

  32. I adore this post!! I have never really seen any couture dresses from the 70s and 80s, so I really enjoyed seeing these photos! The style is a lot more fabulous than I would have imagined. And it's interesting how some of those flowing 70s gowns are so hippie and yet in the 80s, they seem sort of space age. How quick the jump!

  33. the Grecian inspired dresses are my favorite!

    Eternally yours,

  34. What a wonderful Exhibition and many thanks for showing us.
    I enjoyed seeing the Fashion from the 70's and 80's and really it did not seem that long ago.
    Loved them all especially the Lacroix ( which made me think of the Ab Fab Ladies and also love the smart YSL blazer - I had one similar which my daughter wears today.

    Happy weekend

  35. Oh.. I just wanted to touch those beautiful fabrics.
    They are so luxurious.
    Kenzo are just incredible
    Lee x

  36. An amazing exhibition. It's like heaven, or at least what i imagine it should look like!
    That coned gaultier dress and gigli (?) coat are beyond words.

  37. Gorgeous images & displays; absolutely love the Madame Grès ones!

  38. cute!!!

    xoxo from rome

  39. what a fantastic post. these magnificent pieces- wish i could go to that exhibition. it looks amazing!
    thanks for sharing. hope you're having a great weekend

  40. I just read about this exhibit, and I would give anything to be there!

  41. Wow. What a great place. I should have visited during my time in Paris but was so busy with fashion week running around from show to show.

  42. these garments are amazing. thank you for making it possible for us (who are not in Paris) to see it. i'd love to see these in person

  43. how much i'd love to see this exhibit! it must be amazing!!!

  44. wow, the thierry mugler items look amazing!


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