Pamela Golbin Brought the Louvre's Couture to the Wolfsonian

Last night at the Wolfsonian, we arrived fashionably early to hear a book talk by Pamela Golbin, the Louvre's very own chief curator of Fashion and Textiles. She was in town to discuss her book Madeline Vionnet. The talk began 30 minutes late -- thanks in large part to President Obama's arrival in Miami Beach yesterday. The crowd was a pleasant mix of Louboutin's, gladiator flats, and kitten heels, with a few men's brogues thrown in for good measure.

Golbin, dressed in a white Azzedine Alaïa dress with hoop skirt shaping, started by mentioning that each book she's written has accompanied an exhibit she's put together for one of the largest and most well known museums in the world. But these exhibits weren't merely just clothing hung up on mannequins. They were portrayals of the power of art and design.

She then cataloged each step in her career, from writing for French

publications like Jalouse and Beaux Arts to designing her own handbag

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and organizing fashion talks in New York City. Golbin demonstrated how

she became an expert in contemporary fashion, and now organizes several

hundred thousand pieces in a collection that is housed in 45,000 square

feet of storage space -- about the same as the Victoria and Albert

Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The hour-long talk had the feel of a fashion seminar with the perk of

personality. Her stories of how she interacted with legendary designers

like Lagerfeld, Valentino, and Galiano really brought them to life.  She

presented images of the exhibits themselves -- a lot of them

breathtaking, even if you don't know the slightest thing about fashion.

Valentino and Balenciaga were displayed, and the themed exhibit L'Homme

Pare ("The Male Peacock") showcased how men have worn outlandish

clothing throughout the centuries, the oldest piece being a 15th century

coat of armor.

Golbin showed us the first major fashion exhibit in Brazil, which she

curated in São Paulo. At the same time, she was also curating an exhibit

in Beijing (in Tiananmen Square, at the National Museum of China) and

one in Paris. She then spoke of Elsa Schiaparelli, the first

artistic director in fashion, and the first to have themes with each

collection. Schiaparelli worked closely with Salvador Dali and

surrealist painters for some of her collections, adding more oomph to

fashion in the 1920's.

The Americans in the room were taken aback when she showed the

Jacqueline Kennedy exhibit via image slides. It was encompassed in two

floors, the first being entirely filled with the wardrobe of the late

First Lady, the second with '60s Parisian designers that Kennedy wore


Golbin said many people feel that fashion was entirely French until the

'70s, and Jacqueline Kennedy was able to convey so much through her

clothing choices. She wore two very separate wardrobes: One personal,

comprised entirely of French designers, the other "official," filled

with knock-offs of said designers. Kennedy was dressing for the world

and for when her next picture was taken, and "Haute Couture is too

detailed for photographs, the message gets blurred." Her wardrobe

selections "conveyed the youth of democracy."

Before going on to mention the subject of her new book, Madeline

Vionnet, she made us realize how important the French designer really

was to fashion. "In the 19th century, fashionable women had to change

their entire outfits at least five times a day."

The Louvre's Vionnet exhibit was the first showcase of the designer ever

displayed, and was comprised of Vionnet's entire archives, which she

donated to the museum in 1952. She designed everything on a doll just 80

centimeters high, Golbin tells us, allowing for proper experimentation

with all designs. All of Vionnet's designs were one of three shapes:

square, rectangle, or circle. This allowed for less seams in her

designs, because "the body is seamless, and her goal was to have the

least amount of lines while following the body's natural curves."

Pamela Golbin Brought the Louvre's Couture to the Wolfsonian
Photo by Christine Borges

Quite the modern woman for her time, Vionnet moved back to Paris in

1905. She left 14,000 images, as she took front, back, and profile shots

of every dress she ever designed. She signed each dress label by hand

and added her thumb print for a personal touch, and 1,200 seamstresses

worked for her house until 1939. There were 150 dresses in the exhibit,

which are showcased in the book, and each is so modern, it can still be

worn today.

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