Saturday, 18 July 2015

Yves St Laurent - Style is Eternal Exhibition at The Bowes Museum

Yves Saint Laurent Style is Eternal

I've lived in the North East of England for 28 years now, yet I'd never visited the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle although it is only 90 minutes away.

The museum was purpose built by John (1811 - 1885) and Joséphine (Coffin Chevalier, 1825 - 1874) Bowes as a public museum and was stocked by them with artefacts they had collected over a period of many years in Paris; the museum took 30 years to build and during that time they broadened their scope. The family is Bowes as in Bowes-Lyon with all its royal connections. The collection includes textiles, antique tapestries, furnishings textiles and needlework, with later additions of dress and accessories, quilts made in north-east England and the Blackborne lace collection. The information about the fashion and textiles collection points out that it is something of a paradox that they have many items from the wardrobe of the Empress Eugénie of France, a contemporary of Joséphine, yet no costume belonging to the museum's founder; they have only dress bills and fashion magazines. This may be because she predeceased her husband.

I missed the Feathers exhibition held there a few weeks ago but was determined not to miss the YSL exhibition, the first retrospective in the UK. Demand for tickets was going to be high, so I bought early.  The exhibition started last Saturday and is on until October.  

I booked for 10 am, opening time, and we had to be there 15 minutes before that. Barnard Castle isn't far but rush hour traffic can extend the journey time by a lot, so DH and I drove down early this morning, taking more minor roads across the moors, as recommended by friends, avoiding rush hour traffic. The views would have been terrific and were when we could see them, but the weather was awful; the roads are very narrow, windy and hilly and we decided we would return home by more major routes. We made it to the museum in good time.

The museum is very impressive from the outside, in the style of a French chateau (Joséphine was French). It also has acres of ground with walks.

In 2010 the museum opened a new permanent gallery for Fashion and Textiles.  Five of YSL's creations/collections were placed among the items in the gallery, establishing a dialogue between the historic pieces and those of YSL.

The themes for the exhibition were

Haute couture - linking a 1932 Elsa Schiaparelli bias cut gown with YSL's 'Broken Mirror' surrealism-inspired evening ensemble from 1978.

Masculin/Féminin - YSL's first trouser suit from 1967 is placed with tailored skirt suits from 1916/1919
Model: Viveke Knudsen. Photo by Helmut Newton from catalogue
First trouser suit: Spring-Summer Hate Couture Collection 1967

Transparence - YSL had many daring designs and one from 1970 was shown alongside the lace which inspired the theme; from their Blackborne collection and from leave when by the Empress Eugénie of France in the mid 19th century.
from catalogue (my picture poor)

Art - YSL was influenced by many artists. One of his dresses inspired by a Picasso painting was paired with a 19th century patchwork quilt and an 18th century lozenge print dress. YSL liked using patchwork fabrics. He designed a patchwork print blouse and an evening skirt for the Duchess of Windsor in 1969.

Spectaculaire - YSL's flamboyant wedding gown tribute to William Shakespeare was paired with rich gold and silver embroideries and woven brocades of the 17th and 18th century.

The fascinating thing was how well YSL's pieces integrated with the historical pieces.

Each of the themes also had a linked collection, including the famous Mondrian inspired dresses in the art/pop art section.  

I might not add the heart, but I loved the design
Each of the collections also had collections of the croquis, atelier's specification sheet, collection board and fabric swatches.

In addition, there were videos of fashion shows, interviews with YSL and Pierre Bergé, and YSL's way of working. This last was truly fascinating; YSL would sit down to draw, without knowing what he was going to draw and a design would flow from his pen. So quick too! Early in the exhibition, there was a collection of hats, hat bases and pictures. I hadn’t previously associated him with hats.

My husband is very interested in photography and of course there were many photographs of YSL’s work by famous photographers, ones that DH knew well. He felt, however, that some of those famous photographers were producing photos very relevant to them rather than to the garment being photographed - in other words, someone could look at it and say ‘oh that’s a so-n-so’s photo’ rather than ‘what a great dress’. I knew what he meant. I was reminded of a blog post a few weeks ago from Peter Lappin, where he posted as episode of his ‘name that pattern’. In one two little girls look like characters from a horror movie (I forget the name - the one with loads of children). I assume this wasn’t recognised at the time as presumably the designer was trying to sell play clothes for normal children.

One of the photographers was Helmut Newton. DH and I went to visit his permanent gallery in Berlin a few years back. I rather like his fashion photography, which is striking and bold, but not his later work; perhaps I’m a prude.

His clothes are very accessible. Of course, his input more or less set off the ready to wear revolution. He valued the female body and his garments show that; he wanted to empower women. The garments on display were all beautifully made. He was a perfectionist and would have a garment remade for even a slight imperfection.

We were permitted to take photographs provided we didn’t use flash. The garments in the earlier part of the exhibition (where they were being twinned with historic garments) were in glass cases and the light wasn’t that good, so my photography attempts haven’t come out well; one of my favourite dresses was black and that simply hasn’t come out.

One of the things I was fascinated by was that his toiles were made up with buttons cut from calico, with stitching lines drawn on, and belts likewise with buckles drawn on.

It was also fascinating to see that from being an adolescent, he used paper models cut out of his mother's magazines and put paper clothes onto them - just like we used to get in the Bunty or Judy. Some of these were on display but my photos haven't come out well.

I feel I gleaned a better understanding of his work and its place in history.

I loved these items, and others which didn't come out:

The exhibition was smaller than that of Alexander McQueen that I went to a couple of weeks ago. This meant that afterwards we had a chance to look around the rest of the museum. We had lunch there and were able to view the historic mechanical musical silver swan which is only operated once a day. It cost £200 in 1872 - it is made of silver and is probably priceless now. The swan is life-sized and controlled by three separate clockwork mechanisms (one for the music, one for the swan's movements and one for the water). When started, the swan preens itself, then bends its neck to take a fish from the moving water with moving silver fish, (the fish is actually concealed in the swan's beak).

All in all, if you can get to the exhibition I recommend it.

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