Pop music: iconic singers and their stage costumes

Centre national du costume de scène

Inside the wardrobe of the world’s greatest singers

The exhibition begins with an introductory space displaying posters of pop stars collected by fans, and different objects used for listening to music. This cabinet of curiosities is a reminder, at the threshold of the exhibition, of the power that songs and pop music have to fascinate us.

The Most Symbolic Cult Objects in French Song
This room invites you to discover the most symbolic cult objects in French song. Accessories are sometimes just as important as the costume, and can even be a hallmark of an artist’s identify all on their own. Take, for example, Maurice Chevalier's boater hat, Antoine's floral shirt, Renaud's bandanna, or even Patrick Hernandez's cane. From humble, ordinary origins, the object gains cult status and becomes a cultural object over the course of the artist's career.

Following the example set by Serge Gainsbourg, Matthieu Chedid adopted the famous laced “Zizi” leather brogues made by Repetto. These shoes add the finishing touch to the singer's look.

Created in the 1880s, the boater hat was very popular until the beginning of the 20th century. It then became Gabrielle (“Coco”) Chanel's signature hat. She began wearing it early on in response to the elaborate headgear worn by women at the time.

Anello & Davide blue leather boots, worn by Renaud.

A modest square of cotton fabric, the bandanna was made popular by cowboys who wore it folded in a triangle over their nose. In France, the bandanna is inextricably associated with a particular color—red—and one singer—Renaud. A symbol of his political involvement, this neckerchief, which he wore around his neck, first appeared on the cover of his fourth album, “Marche à l'ombre” (Walk in Shadow), released in 1980.

The Most Beautiful Costumes of the Great Music Hall Stars
This room displays some of the costumes worn by the great Music Hall stars, from Josephine Baker and Line Renaud to Mistinguett. Originating in England in the late 19th century, this new type of show spread across Europe, becoming a form of entertainment enjoyed by all social classes up until the Second World War. Music Hall’s great novelty was the prominence given to women, who became the central, named lead performers in the reviews. The kinds of stage costumes they wore first began to appear in Music Halls, and were covered in sequins, rhinestones, and feathers. Adorned with curtains and some of the steps from the famous—and feared—grand staircase, this display showcases three generations of artists, the cut and material of their costumes changing with each era.

Gold, sequined sheath dress decorated with rhinestones and a white feathered headdress.

Red muslin ensemble embroidered with colored beads and sequins, and decorated with red feathers.

From Music Hall to Cabaret
The 1950s saw the decline of Music Hall when its popularity was threatened by cinema and radio. Performers abandoned the ambience of the pre-war shows in favor of a new repertoire of songs, and a new, more realistic and refined style of dress. Large halls gave way to more intimate cabarets where the performer was close to their audience.

The dancer Renée Jeanmaire, known as “Zizi,” revolutionized the Music Hall genre with her husband, choreographer, and mentor Roland Petit. Switching point shoes for high heels, and the boards of the Paris Opera for the staircase of the Casino de Paris, she successfully made the leap from ballet to Music Hall. She wore costumes made by the great fashion designers, such as this Versace jersey sheath dress, which is completely covered in beads, shifting gradually from red to black, with an appliqué of embroidered, three-dimensional flowers.

Hervé Léger short, one-piece suit in black jersey and gray silk muslin, embroidered with silver tubes and transparent sequins.

Carven “peacock” dress in blue satin, embroidered with iridescent beads and a paneled tulle skirt graded from blue to gray.

Long Carven dress in pearl-gray satin, embroidered with beads and glass tubes.

Opera Revisited through Pop Songs
This room is the only one devoted to an opera performed by pop stars. In 2012, the director of the Théâtre du Châtelet took the somewhat wild gamble of revisiting Monteverdi's opera “The Coronation of Poppea” in pop songs, which included costumes designed by Nicola Formichetti and live-streamed video clips.

Jacket with lapels and reinforced pants in distressed red leather with a red fur collar, jagged-edged cloak, and boots with gold chains and studs.

Long dress with a satin bodice and green swan skirt, domino cloak in two-tone green muslin and taffeta, headpiece, and green rhinestones.

Haute Couture Stage Costumes
Stars of the singing world increasingly call on fashion designers to create their stage outfits, but they also become one-off models—the designer's muse. This fusion of fashion and music began in the 1960s with Françoise Hardy and Sylvie Vartan. Today, international stars like Lady Gaga and Madonna also grace the French catwalks. The latter has collaborated with Jean Paul Gaultier for more than 30 years, wearing his legendary corset. Some fashion designers choose artists who have appeared in the news, such as the 2014 Eurovision winner, Conchita Wurst, who closed Jean Paul Gaultier's Fall/Winter show that year.

Sometimes stars ask fashion designers if they can use an outfit from their catwalks for a promotional event. Rihanna chose two ensembles from Pascal Millet's 2015 Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer collections. Here, we can see the pink woolen jacket and pants, and fur stole.

In 2011, the fashion house On Aura Tout Vu asked Lady Gaga to close their show in a jersey bodysuit with beads, rhinestones, and studs, with a cloak and headdress in ivory lamé jersey adorned with rhinestones and swan feathers.

Thierry Mugler reinvented the corset in gold lamé, embroidered with beads and sequins, for Beyoncé. The singer wore it in a music video, accessorizing it to her taste for the occasion. Made by corset specialist, Mr Pearl.

Fan attitude
This room is dedicated to “fan attitude,” and Claude François in particular. Here, you can admire two robes the artist used after his concerts, and a few torn scraps of a shirt—sacred relics for the people who kept them.
Putting the Exposed Body on Show
Experiments with nudity have punctuated the history of popular music, where the art of dressing yourself is equaled only by the art of undressing. The preference is for clothing and accessories that force the body out of its comfort zone and into the fray, and men and women are sartorial equals in this arena. Costumes can accentuate masculine and feminine traits provocatively to the point of caricature, but they can also blur the lines between genders. Singers opt for accessories that are deliberately inflammatory. The exposed body is displayed and put on show.

For punk rock singer Mademoiselle K, the stylist Laurène Stein experiments with materials over the artist's torso, revealing certain parts of her body while leather pants with a painted effect cover her legs. Here, we see a fishnet top, cockerel feather shoulders, necklaces made of leather, laces, metal chains, and beads, and aged vinyl pants.

Legends in Gold
On stage, a gold ensemble embodies the ideal “suit of lights.” Singers don golden outfits in order to shine on stage in the style of The King, Elvis Presley, who was the first to start the process of idolization through gilding with his gold lamé suit. This room displays artists’ costumes that use this color in different ways, demonstrating the endless possibilities it offers.

In France, the celebrity most likely to dare to wear this solar—even divine—color was the singer who, in 1964, sang that she would be “la plus belle pour aller danser” (the most beautiful woman on the dancefloor). The career of Sylvie Vartan was, in fact, punctuated by flashes of gold orchestrated with the help of fashion designers. An example of this was at The Olympia in 1968, where she transformed into a headline performer, molded in a backless Yves Saint Laurent jumpsuit covered in gold sequins and rhinestones.

Gucci ensemble of a bronze silk shirt and black pants in dipped lambskin, with floral motifs in gold thread.

Alexis Mabille asymmetric, gold lamé dresses with beaded flower and rhinestones on the shoulder.

Camps de Luca silver lamé and rhinestone suit with bodysuit shirt in white satin.

Yves Saint Laurent suit in gold lamé brocade with black satin collar and black shirt.

Black is Black
Black has long been the outfit of choice for generations of artists, and it symbolizes many things. In the 1950s, singers such as Piaf, Barbara, and Gréco chose entirely black wardrobes. A symbol of elegance for some, others chose it as a sign of protest or rebellion, including male artists at the end of the 1950s, when the “Blousons Noirs” (Black Jackets) subculture emerged. The new generation also gave it a more sensual, even sexy, role.

From the leather jacket to the dandy suit, Alain Bashung has showcased all of the merits of the color black over the course of his exciting career. Here, we have a black jacket with sequin and leather appliqué, a black shirt, black reptile cowboy boots, and black felt hat.

This tailored leather jacket with torn-off sleeves was like a second skin to Renaud and had his daughter's name, “Lolita,” on the back in studs.

Ensemble in the fluid, timeless style of Mine Barral Vergès, made from black velvet and embroidered with jet beads, highlighting Barbara's fine, slender silhouette.

Franck Sorbier ensemble of metallic leather embroidered with metal beads and cannetille, and pants with silk and jacquard Julien Faure ribbons, evocative of the military jacket worn by Jimi Hendrix.

Glamorama: When Costumes Hypnotize the Audience.
These two rooms evoke French glamour across several generations. Glamour comes from the Scottish word “glamarye” which means “magic.” Can a performer's costume cast a spell on the audience? What power does it have? During the Music Hall era, the star performers' outfits were already having a big impact on the audience. Costumes of any era can make people dream, and inspire trends. This first display case shows you the new generation of singers with simplified but psychedelic costumes that mesmerize the audience.

Renata Morales' black unitard and colored laces.

Léonard ensemble. Cotton jacket and pants with silk satin waistcoat, all in a black and white zebra print.

Fifi Chachnil jersey jumpsuit printed in colorful patterns.

Glamorama: When Costumes are Glamour Incarnate.
The second display further illustrates the traditional image of glamour introduced by Hollywood actresses of the 1950s. Several singers, such as Dalida, embodied this glamour in France with dresses that showed off their figures, accentuated by their hair and makeup. Other examples include Sheila in a futuristic jumpsuit designed by Azzaro, or even Dick Rivers in a jacket with floral embroidery inspired by the United States.

Loris Azzaro jumpsuit in silver lamé, satin, and rhinestone.

Black, sequined Chanel dress embroidered with rhinestones.

The sky-blue dress created by Maison Réal was an iconic outfit for the singer Sylvie Vartan. In fact, she wore it during a concert at The Olympia in 1964 alongside The Beatles. She would later choose the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent to create her stage outfits.

Jean Dessès red velvet, strapless dress with petticoat.

Magician's costume consisting of a black velvet dress coat and pants with white star and trim.

Black jacket decorated with floral embroidery and rhinestones.

Matthieu Chedid: Souvenirs of the Future
The final room recreates the universe of Matthieu Chedid for the entire duration of the exhibition. The singer deploys all of the facets of his on-stage world through the multiple incarnations of his character, “-M-.” A plethora of costumes, glasses, shoes, wigs, guitars, and other personal objects are reunited in a composition that is both spectacular and poetic, celebrating the 20-year career of this preeminent “funkistador.” On the right, you are invited to a private concert by the artist, with a podium displaying the most iconic of his costumes from his youth up to now.

The very first costume worn by “-M-” comprises blue, pinstripe pants, an embroidered t-shirt, and a Brandebourg vest in distressed orange velvet with a fake fur trim. Bought at a flea market, this last item is evocative of the jacket worn on the cover of The Beatles' album “Sergent Pepper.”

Frock coat and pants in braided white crepe with a blue satin scarf and white felt hat.

Suit by Macha Makeïeff. White satin jacket and pants with black trim, and collar and cuffs embroidered with black beads, with a silk shirt. White feathered headdress by Gérald Portenart.

Suit by Laure Berger. Long, red crepe tunic with gold trim, large gold collar and epaulets, and belt with gold insignia.

Suit by agnès b. Frock coat, pants, and shirt in pink cotton and linen.

Suit and glasses by James Thierrée. “Rock” is the word for this short black and red jacket of sequins over black gauze, with a trimmed collar and PVC glasses that light up. Black, feathered, mongolian sheepskin hat and black jeans with black sequined edging.

Credits: Story

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