Modes ! À la ville, à la scène

Centre national du costume de scène

Worth, Poiret, Lanvin, Chanel, Balmain, Balenciaga, Saint Laurent, Lacroix... so many great names have influenced the history of both fashion and theater. Featuring more than 130 costumes from fashion museums and the collections of the National Center for Stage Costume (Centre National du Costume de Scène, CNCS), this exhibition retraces the golden ages of fashion and stage costumes from the 18th century through to theater icons such as Sarah Bernhardt, Cléo de Mérode, Madeleine Renaud, and Isabelle Huppert.

Salon d'honneur
The "salon d’honneur" at the CNCS offers an educational space with costumes to try on, a glossary of costume terminology, and distorting mirrors that turn stage costumes into everyday fashion and vice versa.
Room 1: introduction of the exhibition
It begins with five costumes that illustrate the mirror effect between fashion and the stage. There are screens in each room, which are lavishly illustrated with prints and drawings (originals and reproductions) that can be linked to the costumes in the display cabinets. The stage is influenced by everyday fashion, just as fashion is influenced by the stage.
Room 2: le XVIIIe siècle d’hier à aujourd’hui, rêveries exotiques
Theater reigned supreme in the 18th century, both in public auditoriums and private homes. The latter were not castles or hotels with rooms converted for performances, so the roles in comedies were often played by the hosts. This further strengthened the link between stage costumes and fashion: the devoted theater audiences were also creators of fashion, and the outrageously expensive costumes were the most important part of the staging. In this display case, you can see a dress known as a "robe volante," also depicted by Antoine Watteau (print of "The Shop Sign of Gersaint"). Adapted from a nightgown, the robe volante was popular among wealthy women and actresses alike. It was from this that the very popular pannier skirt was born.
Room 3: du règne de Louis XVI au Consulat (1770-1804)
Until 1837, the performers at the Théâtre Français wore contemporary clothing for the works in their repertoire (Molière, Racine, etc.). For some comic roles, however, 17th-century styles were worn so that a certain cacophony reigned on stage. Plays with a contemporary theme placed great emphasis on the use of a dressing gown worn with a waistcoat—an elegant way of dressing that was fashionable among gentlemen. At the end of the 1770s, with the influence of neoclassicism, stage costumes moved away from fashion and increasingly became an expression of the roles they represented.Pour les pièces du répertoire (Molière, Racine…) et cela jusqu’en 1837, les comédiens du Théâtre Français s’habillent en vêtements contemporains. Pour certains rôles, dits comiques, se maintient au contraire la typologie du XVIIe siècle de sorte que sur scène règne une certaine cacophonie. Les pièces à sujet contemporain font la part belle à la robe de chambre accompagnée de son gilet, tenue élégante, appréciée à la ville par les messieurs. A la fin des années 1770, devenant progressivement l’expression du rôle, le costume de scène, sous l’influence du néoclassicisme, s’éloigne de celui de la ville.
Room 4: l’époque romantique : une affaire de manches
The "slashed sleeves" used in theater from 1812—as worn by Miss Mars as Célimène in "The Misanthrope"—reappeared on women's dresses and spencers (short jackets) during the Bourbon Restoration. "Beret sleeves," with slightly flattened puffs, appeared on the stage and in fashion in 1823. Around 1818, sheer sleeves became fashionable among the stylish, who would slide them either under or over their puffed sleeves. Actresses adopted this style, with the sleeves becoming increasingly voluminous. It is likely that the so-called "leg-of-mutton sleeve" developed from placing a sheer sleeve over a puffed sleeve. The large, puffed sleeves that were popular with fashionable women after 1829 were copied from the theater.
Salle 5 : entre historicisme et nouveautés, Sarah Bernhardt, créatrice de mode à la fin du XIXe siècle
A famous caricature of Sarah Bernhardt, drawn by Cappiello in 1903, emphasizes the actress' S-shaped figure. Following a stomach problem, from 1884 the actress began to wear a peascod belly with an empty pouch below her bust. Even if Sarah Bernhardt did not invent this lively, remarkable interplay of curves and counter-curves often found in the decorative arts, it could certainly be argued that she familiarized her audiences with its use in fashion around the 1900s. The divine Sarah reintroduced the peascod belly characteristic of evening wear, which was quickly adapted by every fashion designer.
Room 6: entre historicisme et nouveautés, Sarah Bernhardt, créatrice de mode à la fin du XIXe siècle 
The obsession with authenticity became so great in the second half of the 19th century that theater directors would acquire antique costumes for their actors. Women soon began to imitate this, transforming costumes from the late 18th century, often worn by the chorus, into waistcoats and jackets. These would have been found in attics or at a second-hand clothes store.
Rooms 7 & 8 : actrices, presse et haute couture...
"Cléopâtre-Diane de Mérode, known as Cléo de Mérode, was a dancer and beauty icon of the Belle Époque who became famous through photography. Her photographs, taken by two well-known names, Nadar and Reutlinger, were exported abroad. The end of the 19th century marked a rapid expansion of the press, fashion magazines, and advertising created by artists. Celebrities agreed to pose to represent brands of hair products, hats, corsets, and even toothpaste. To thank them, suppliers would present them with gifts, such as the truly beautiful outfit on display in this room, which was given to Cléo de Mérode on behalf of the French Federation of Lace. "
Room 9: bal, théâtre et ville : aller-retour
During the Belle Époque, fashion designers made their mark on the theater, but not the opera. At first, they limited themselves to the contemporary repertoire. Then, at the end of the 1890s, they lent their names to historical costumes. Producing fashionable costumes was very good publicity for the fashion houses, who were able to showcase all of their new creations. Each great actress had her own fashion designer, but she could change them at will. Marie-Thérèse Pierrat, for example, stayed faithful to the designer Redfern, unlike Cécile Sorel, who followed the evolution of fashion by regularly choosing a new label. Up until the end of the 1930s, there was no overarching coherence in the costumes for a particular performance, as there were very few designers who were able to create costumes for the entire production. The dressmakers' power was such that they could sometimes demand that the playwright include adverts in the script. During the interwar years, costume production followed a complicated process. While the costumes may have been designed by fashion designers, they were not necessarily sewn by them. This task fell to the theater's dressmakers or to specialists. On the other hand, Charles Bétout, the wardrobe master for the Comédie-Française theater between 1919 and 1939, sketched costume designs that were then created by the actresses' chosen fashion house.
Room 10: Opéras et Ballets russes et la mode
The revolution of Russian ballets and operas performed between 1908 and 1927 on the initiative of Sergei Diaghilev resonated with the creations of fashion designers such as Paul Poiret and Jeanne Lanvin. Poiret had probably seen "Ivan the Terrible" before he bought the tablecloths, on his travels in Russia, that he later transformed into summer dresses (dress from Palais Galliera). The cuts, patterns, and techniques had a profound influence on Jeanne Lanvin, who was a great theater lover. The "robe de style" design that she spent a lot of time exploring was likely inspired by the "tonnelet" skirts worn by the dancers in the Ballets Russes.
Room 11: bal, théâtre et ville : aller-retour  
Three costume designers became fashion designers between 1890 and 1925. Charles Bianchini, costume designer in a number of Parisian theaters at the end of the 19th century, opened a fashion house in 1892 (cape, Palais Galliera). The other two were costume designers for the Ballets Russes. Léon Bakst became a temporary stylist for Paquin but only produced sketches. Natalia Gontcharova, on the other hand, designed and created clothing for the Myrbor fashion house in Paris from 1922 to 1925 (coat, Palais Galliera).
Room 12: couturiers-costumiers : 1950–2000
In the 1950s, the public looked less to the theater to discover the most fashionable designers, and more to the dream world of cinema and Hollywood stars, walking the line between real life and fantasy. In the textile industry, tergal, wrinkle-free fabrics, and nylon contributed to the democratization of fashion with the development of the clothing industry. These advances were a godsend for the costume workshops, which used them to create convincing visual effects that were less costly than traditional finishes, including glosses, pastes, and synthetic materials imitating silk, leather, or fur. They also ensured comfort and freedom of movement for the performers, and were easy to maintain. Each designer continued to leave their mark on the costumes and each stage creation took its own risks, giving a nod to both standardization and cultural innovation.
Room 13: Costumes de scène, un autre inventaire de la mode
The set design in this last exhibition room plunges you into a very different world, evoking an active and benevolent reclamation of stage costumes from the CNCS stores, illustrated with placards and stools on the floor. In the center of the room, you can see nine haute-couture designer outfits, worn by Isabelle Huppert at the Théâtre de l’Odéon. This actress embodies fashion in the theater, and the mirror effect between the stage and fashion that is the subject of this exhibition.
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