From Paris, with love

By Julia Gall

Boston will get a taste of the high-end world of French couture when the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) debuts its latest exhibition, “Fashion Show: Paris Collections 2006” Nov. 12.

Free for Northeastern students, the exhibition features pieces from the collections of 10 premiere fashion houses. Chanel, Dior, Valentino, Christian Lacroix, Rochas, Yohji Yamamoto, Viktor ‘ Rolf, Azzedine Alaia, Hussein Chalayan and Maison Martin Margiela are the featured designers. Each has its own designated section, where the clothing is set up on mannequins with the same lighting and arrangement with which they were first shown in Paris.

Pamela Parmal, head of the Textile and Fashion Arts department at the MFA, said she went to Paris to compile the exhibit by consulting with each house and handpicking each piece.

“This is the first U.S.-exhibition to focus on the look of the past year and focus on so much of one collection, which is why the houses agreed to do it,” she said.

Along with the featured designers, Parmal worked with Didier Grumbach, the president of the French Fashion Federation, who spoke highly of Parmal’s eye for art in fashion.

“At this level it is top creation, and she was right to bring it to Boston,” Grumbach said.

Each designer offered a different perspective and provided a wide variety of styles and fashions. Hailing from all over the globe, these designers found a common thread in the fact that they all had a show in Paris.

“They represent the range of international talent on the runways,” Grumbach said.

The exhibition opens with Yohji Yamamoto’s Fall/Winter 2006-07 Ready-to-Wear collection, which displays models draped in oversized and exaggerated styles in dark colors, featuring suits, hoods and hats. The models, faced forward in a line, forcing the viewer to reach the end of the line in order to see the front of each outfit, replicating a runway.

“Each runway collection is represented as it was on the runway. It is of our vision on the runway, like it was in Paris,” said Sarah Brown, public relations assistant for Yohji Yamamato. “Lines are very important to Yohji and so were the [mannequins] he brought his own in.”

Viktor ‘ Rolf’s ready-to-wear motif for Fall/Winter 2006-07 was an emphasis on introversion and “untouchability,” which featured doll-like models in updated ’50s style trench coats and A-line dresses.

“[The line is about] being an introvert and [being] more yourself, being more secluded and focusing on a more rigid beauty,” said spokeswoman Braum Claaseen. “The season before was all about being extroverted and extremes so [Viktor ‘ Rolf] wanted to go back to the basics.”

While doing so, they mixed the traditional with the contemporary. This included a cocktail dress that was “silverized,” giving a metallic look, after the fabric went through many chemical processes.

Claaseen said this was inspired by the tradition of preserving baby shoes in silver.

“We wanted to silverize things, they wanted to preserve fashion. It was the idea of creating an heirloom,” she said.

The inspiration for Valentino’s Spring/Summer of 2006 Couture collection was the Sahara Desert. The gowns varied from pale earth and pastel tones to the vibrant hue of Valentino’s signature “Valentino Red.” And while the designs also included floral accents, with an emphasis on beading, the inspiration was a place where flowers do not normally grow.

“Just like couture is very detail- oriented, the inspiration is very detail-oriented,” said Olivia Esham, a representative for Valentino. Esham said the different colors, like red, were pulled from different elements on the desert, including the setting sun on the horizon.

John Galliano for Dior’s Spring/Summer 2006 Couture collection featured voluminous designs under red light, revealing gothic inspiration and seductive femininity.

Among the other collections showcased were Chanel and designer Karl Lagerfeld’s youthful twist on traditional Chanel tweed. Christian Lacroix’s Couture collection featured mixtures of textures and fabrics displaying elegance and femininity. Maison Martin Margiela’s collection used “found objects” such as playing cards and silk flowers used as garments, which included a jacket made of strands of beads. The price tag: $3,000.

Claaseen acknowledged that students won’t find these designs in a department store because couture clothing is considered an art.

“For us this is an expression,” she said. “We used couture pieces to explain what is in the collection. It’s expressing yourself in the purest form.”

The exhibit runs until March 18, 2007.

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