Parisiennes have long known that the key to leaving a good lasting impression is how fabulous you look as you walk out the door. This was the city in which the bustle was invented, after all.
Dos à la Mode (Back in Fashion), a new exhibition at the Musée Bourdelle, the atelier museum of late-nineteenth-century sculptor Antoine Bourdelle, explores the theme of fashion from behind.
It’s an inspired subject, but also location. Bourdelle began as an assistant to Auguste Rodin and paid it forward by teaching the likes of Henri Matisse and Aristide Maillol. He himself was a key player in the transition towards modern sculpture.
Whether his surfaces were rippled and muscular or sinuously smooth, there was always a certain exaggeration of form or features. And perhaps that’s why his work so beautifully complements sculptural fashion; this museum has also been the setting for exhibitions on Balenciaga, he of gravity-defying couture, and Madame Grès, whose pleated gowns transformed women into living goddesses.
The current exhibition looks at various ways in which the back has been treated in fashion, going back to the eighteenth century.
Think dresses that trail trains, like this exquisite design by Balenciaga:
There are also dresses in which the back has been ‘forgotten’ or, at the other extreme, overloaded; some are as gloriously ‘winged’ as the accompanying Bourdelle plaster of Hannibal as a boy with an eagle; and some have been constrained, while others exposed (cue an Yves Saint Laurent lace-backed LBD).
Other designs yet serve as walking billboards, the back’s flatness of surface creating prime opportunity for statement-making fashion (such as the ‘I Really Don’t Care’ Zara jacket Melania Trump so notoriously wore).
The exhibition continues through various museum spaces. In the sculptor’s old atelier, designs from Rei Kawakubo for Comme des Garçons’ 1997 body-remodelling collection are displayed alongside various busts, and an imposingly muscular centaur.
There’s also photography by Jeanloup Sieff, whose back fetish gave us some now-iconic imagery, as well as a selection of back-baring cinematic scenes, such as Mireille Darc in 1972’s Le Grand Blond Avec une Chaussure Noire, wearing a design by Guy Laroche with a dramatically (and some might say indecently!) inverted décolletage.
Dos à la Mode offers an entertaining and enlightening new way to view fashion, as much as Antoine Bourdelle himself.
Details: 18, Rue Antoine Bourdelle 75015; on until November 17; see Musée Bourdelle for opening hours.