This fall our fashion students, together with the professor Marco Pecorari (who also heads the new MA in Fashion Studies), visited the offsite archives of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, a partner institution of Parsons Paris. The course called Curatorial Practices in Contemporary Fashion explores fashion curating from a museological perspective, investigating the history of fashion in museums, different types of fashion exhibitions, the role of the curator, the archive, and other collateral practices. This visit was a unique chance to see the Les Arts Décoratifs archive, which is usually inaccessible, and also their laboratory of conservation and mannequinage.
Here are some impressions from the students about this unique experience:
“Upon walking into the gated Archives of Les Arts Decoratifs one could already get a sense of how the rest of the visit would plan out. The guards watching from a grey box, whom each of us had to sign in by giving a piece of identity, ensuring they knew exactly who had access to the archives. Continuing on into this big structured building another security section was met. Through the blue doors, we stepped into a big white space with one elevator. Clinical looking, an air of orderliness was enhanced by such minimalist interior decor. Arriving on the third floor the same basic white space was presented. Yet when the door was unlocked this vast maze came into a view. A curious artists dream one could say, with rows upon rows of old artifacts from various countries representing numerous cultures. Rows upon rows of fashion from Jean Paul Gaultier’s collections, to Asian inspired kimonos, to past Louvre exhibitions. A room of curiosities one could call it; it was breathtaking, the whole time resisting the urge to touch everything or to restrain from lifting papers up to see what lay beneath. However within this maze of chaos, order and precision was not of absence.” –Rachel D Cunningham
“The Musée des Arts Décoratifs is one of the most prestigious museums of decorative arts in Paris, housing a collection of some of the most valuable artefacts of past centuries ranging from decorative objects to fashion and textiles showcasing the designs of its time. While the collections on sight for the public to see are vast, it is incomparable with the amount of the collection that is stored in its archives. Unavailable for regular visits by the public, it is very rare to gain access to the archives as a guest. Therefore, it’s a fantastic opportunity to go if one gets the chance. (…) [I]magine the experience as being exciting, surprising, overwhelming, fascinating and … well, freezing.” –Barbora Krídlová
“The archive of “Les Arts Decoratifs” is a place full of contrasts. The suburban building does not implies in any way about the content or use of it – a home for some of the most valuable and precious artefacts owned by the museum. Inside the industrial space the temperature is low, the walls are grey, and the artificial lighting is somewhat depressing, no windows or sunlight coming in. Almost every corridor looks the same; white containers, white drawers, white tables, packed with boxes on shelves. In a strange way is almost reminds you of a morgue. But then discovering the treasure this place hold is exciting. From Delaunay to Vionnet, 18th century to 21st, the archive contains various outfits, dresses, coats and almost every form of accessory, tapestry and fabric you can imagine, in different size storage units. Each one is different, colorful and carries a unique story.“ – Lior Fisher
Since the archives have restricted access, the only way of having an idea of the scope of the museum’s collection is by accessing their online archive of previous exhibitions or visiting the museum itself, located in 107 Rue de Rivoli, 75001.
Words by MA History of Design & Curatorial Studies student Julia Resende.