In an age where the influence of the high fashion designers filters down to the street, with not much more than the slashed-knee look or the hacked off jeans legs, it is hard to grasp what an overpowering influence Art Deco had on every aspect of life. Designers liberated women from the wasp-waisted, corseted straight-jackets and gave them loose clothing and flowing lines.
This enormous and wide-ranging exhibition at Den Haag’s Gemeentemuseum is truly a tour de force. It focuses largely on Paul Poiret, the charismatic and multi-talented Paris designer who surrounded himself with the great artists of the time – his ambition was to create an all-encompassing life-style and culture. Although women of modest means could only dream of his gowns heaving with lavish ornamentation, the low-slung, wrap-around coats and flapper cloche hats, revived by Biba’s in London in the 1960s, were within reach of the purses of the ‘midinettes’, the young shop girls. Poiret, a veritable power house, inspired not only clothes but also the costumes for Diaghelev’s Ballet Russe, elaborate perfume bottles, fans, pottery and glass design.
There are countless dresses, dripping with exotic embroidery, sublime multi-coloured jewellery, many pieces inspired by the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun around that time. Coco Chanel also tiptoed onto the scene with her ‘garçonne’ haircuts and understated school girl style designs. Paul Poiret, who dubbed himself the King of Fashion, said of Chanel, ‘We ought to have been on guard against that boyish head.’ There are fascinating projections of fashion footage. Models in fabulous gowns promenade in parks, lounge on divans or give a slow twirl, and not a size 0 in sight. But it is films of High Society parties given by Poiret that really show just what went on in the Parisien ‘Années Folles’. I loved this exhibition. Astrid Burchardt October 2017
ART DECO, PARIS at Gemeentemuseum, Den Haag continues until 4th March 2018