Femininities : story by Guy Bourdin and Chloé

Last week, I participated in a very intimate tour of the ‘Femininities by Guy Bourdin’ exhibition at the freshly inaugurated Maison Chloé creative space at Rue de la Baume, which is exclusively dedicated to cultivating the cultural dimension of the brand. This exhibition explores creative connections between the legendary French brand, founded in 1952 by Gaby Aghion, and just as equally famous fashion photographer Guy Bourdin, who captured a vast majority of Chloé’s collections from 1956 to 1986. Let me take you on this unforgettable journey together with me!

You know you’re entering a brand new place when the archives of the fashion brand start with a quote by a designer who hasn’t even showed her debut collection for Chloé yet: “I want to create fashion that enhances the personality of the woman who wears it, fashion that crates a character and an attitude, without ever imposing a look”. This is the first statement by Natacha Ramsay-Levi, who’s now responsible for assuring the creative direction of the brand after the news of Clare Waight Keller’s departure.

For those who’re not delving into fashion archives very often, the name of Chloé must be linked very closely with the lovely nonchalance that Claire Waight Keller has blessed the brand’s image with: even though #chloegirls have always been brave and a little bit irreverent (this is definitely the main idea of an exhibition and the strongest thread connecting Chloé’s creations and Guy Bourdin’s work), the look that the British designer had been cultivating for six years resonates particularly well with the current fashion landscape. Fluid fabrics, delicious color schemes, nostalgic references, hints of intellectual bohemian lifestyle, oversized, but always feminine shapes – Claire understood the brand’s French essence oh, so well. Having this image in mind, visiting Chloé’s archives, taking a look at the it-bag collection, running though the sketches that now have a real historical value, is a very interesting venture.

Talking about Guy Bourdin, I remember the very first time I saw his photographs. Even up until today, it feels like a very personal and mystical experience. Of course, I saw it in Vogue Paris – a magazine for which he extensively worked during his legendary career. His pictures immediately captured my attention for their unexplainably attractive, eye-pleasing, surprising aesthetics. They were so sultry and glossy I was under the impression that photos themselves had a texture. Guy explicitly engaged in fashion magazine photography in quest to portray the ephemeral nature of fashion. His goal to captivate and create desire (or even lust) with his photos was fulfilled to 110% – Bourdin’s photographs represent glamour of the highest degree, one that couldn’t ever exist in the real life, for it is the most expensive and the most extravagant, lush, desirable fantasy. His photos were so… feminine, whatever the definition of that is. Just like Chloé’s designs. This is why the two met at the crossroads back in the ‘50s and their creative collaboration is one of the most captivating legacies of all times.

Guy Bourdin’s and Chloé’s vocabularies share very similar foundations. Let’s borrow the Chloé’s founder’s Gaby Aghion idea to name her collections in alphabetical order (this tradition continued until the end of Karl Lagerfeld’s creative direction) and try to class the keywords in the same manner. Here’s the audacity for photographing enviably elegant ladies in metro stations associated with working classes; bravery for portraying little girls doing their makeup and dressing in adult dresses; contrast between the fashionable models and the prison next to which they’re running; drama of storytelling (the image of a man drowned in a pond is at odds with two well-dressed fatal women, observing the scene); exquisiteness of colors and fabrics, freedom of women to cultivate their desires, their sexuality, their very own image (a virtue explicitly expressed both by Gaby Aghion and Guy Bourdin); nonchalance in the way girls wearing Chloé seem to lead their life; playfulness and provocation; elements of seduction, because before seducing anyone else, the Chloé girl has to seduce herself: Karl Lagerfeld once said “My clothes are for women who are not satisfied with what’s evident. Their goal is to transform the daily life into a fairytale, create an atmosphere in every moment”; lots of troubling twists (how else would you describe audacity to put two luxuriously dressed models in stripes next to jail workers on the railway?); last, but not the least, there’s undeniable sex-appeal, so inseparable from Guy’s work and so evident in the fluidity of Chloé’s clothes.

The possibility to enjoy the photographs while seeing the same clothes from them on display ignites the imagination and transports to the other times. However, Natacha’s words echo the philosophy that rings true ever since the beginnings of the brand. Character and attitude are two Chloé’s tropes that have always been present in its collections throughout the years. Here are pompous Karl Lagerfeld’s dresses, hallucinating swathes of luxurious materials and exquisite decorations that instantly dominate the display. One particular dress, called “Nerveuse” – a purple one with multiple layers of delicate ruffles from the sheer and silky organdi material, immediately captures my eye. These are the clothes with a cinematographic quality to them and Guy Bourdin obviously appreciated this as well: he never intended to show clothes just like objects; he always used them as a tool to create a special story around them, where every little detail – from the surroundings to the models’ makeup – was just as equally important.

The curator of exhibition Judith Clark managed to heighten the sensation with her clever organization of space. Every photograph, every piece of cloth, every small detail is closely connected to others – even with that, there’s so much place left for imagination and interpretation. In a world where femininity is so intensively questioned, seeing an exhibition like this is really refreshing and inspiring.

Thank you Chloé for this experience! 

 You can book the tour by clicking on this link here

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