Haute Couture at Quebec's Musée National des Beaux Arts

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Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Balanciaga's evenng dress

In its new definition, a Museum function is to promote creations of humanity even in fields that had not been regarded before as «fine art».  As a result of this, major museums all over the world have diversified their collections to include design, decorative arts, and fashion. Yes fashion!


Esther Trépanier the lively director of the Musée National des beaux Arts de Quebec, points out that  fashion designers work very much like old masters with their assistants and pupils.  In deed, the sketches drawn by the designer are just the first step of a long creative process ending not in an exhibition as we know them in museums but on the runway.  Besides, fashion and art have had excellent rapports for centuries.   Paintings have described fashions of their time and designers have often been inspired by works of art.   In more recent years, photography, becoming an art from in its own right, has developed an particular interest for the world of fashion, making it accessible to a wide audience through magazines like Vogue, Harper’s Bazar… Actually, some fashion photographs have become icons.   Richard Avedon’s Dovima, dressed by Dior and photographed with elephants of the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris, is one of them.


But, don’t go thinking the exhibition going on now at the Musée is about photographs of dresses.  You get to see the real thing, dresses for all occasions, dresses by world renowned French designers like Christian Dior, Cristobal Balanciaga … and British designers like Norman Hartwell, Victor Steible….  These dresses have been worn, some by royalties and most are from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum of London. But more than just seeing dresses and accessories, you get to relive a part of history, for the history of fashion, like the history of art itself, tells a lot about the evolution of social-economic issues and aesthetic concerns throughout the years. The period covered by this show is the decade following the restrictions imposed by World War II.


There was a time when fashion was promoted through traveling exhibitions of high fashion dolls, which later created the 1959 Barbie phenomenon that we all know and that can be viewed as the beginning of the democratisation of fashion that followed in the 1960’s, with clothes more fitted to the baby boomer’s taste.   The great couture houses have survived however and their name was kept in the public’s mind through their annual fashion shows and also through the perfumes they created or the custom jewellery that bears the name of these masters who made the glorious days of the Haute Couture.

  One last word, the visit of the exhibition is made more informative by a little guide that you can get at the door of the gallery, free of charge, but that you can purchase if you wish to keep it.