”Underwear Mechanisms,an indiscreet history of Undergarments” at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs,Paris

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A very interesting exhibition is taking place at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, exploring the ‘underworld’ of female and male undergarments such as the fly, the pannier, the corset, the crinoline, the bustle, the pouf, the stomach belt, the bra and other vestimentary devices fashioning the body by means of whalebones, hoops and cushions according to the changing dictates of fashion. Modelling the body sometimes to extremes, these “mechanical garments” enabled the wearer to artificially attain the ideal of beauty of the time. This exploration is full of surprising discoveries since, contrary to common belief, these artifices were by no means a 19th-century speciality. Recourse to these concealed architectures has been constant since at least since the 14th century until the present day. Illustrating the diversity of artifices and their mechanics with museum pieces rarely shown to the public, this exhibition – the first of its kind – takes us ‘backstage’, into another, behind-the-scenes history of clothing and fashion.

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Its interesting to bear in mind that silhouette shaping was a common place as early as thw 14th century,with rinolines, paniers, bustles, corsets and girdles widely used especially amongst the ”high society’,reaching the beginning of the 20th century.The ”fashion revolution” that followed dealt widely with the idea of ”body freedom of movement’,with pioneers such as designers Nicole Groult and Madeleine Vionnet popularized hourglass setting the female form free of restraints making way for the overall ”Coco Chanel” approach of female needs and aesthetics,free of literal (and social) restraints.

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In modern fashion,designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier played with the idea of underwear as outerwear pieces,fully understanding their mechanism and using this historic knowledge into elegant,avant-garde designs such as the Iconic conical bra that was exclusive designed for Madonna or the JPG famous ”cage” wedding dress part of Fall/Winter 2008-2009 ”Les Cages” collection.

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(La mécanique des dessous at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, until November 24.)

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