Alexandre Samson, the brilliant 33-year-old haute couture curator of Paris’ fashion museum, the Palais Galliera, has done it again. Following his success with the world’s first retrospective of Martin Margiela, and the stunning Backside / Dos à la Mode at the Musée Bourdelle, Samson now focuses his gaze on the year 1997 for his latest exhibition. 

As the 20th century drew to a close, the stars aligned to reveal unforgettable talent that continues to shape fashion as we know it today. 

Cool Britannia was at its peak and British designers were at the forefront of fashion. Nicolas Ghesquière was the only French artistic director appointed that year at Balenciaga. 

The 10-year-old LVMH made two controversial artistic director appointments. John Galliano debuted at Christian Dior, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the House with fifty models wearing fifty haute couture ensembles. Stella McCartney, took over from Karl Lagerfeld at the helm of Chloé, whilst Alexander McQueen debuted at Givenchy. 

Jean Paul Gaultier turned down Christian Dior and Givenchy to launch his own haute couture label.

Predicably, McQueen’s first collection was badly received, the press accusing him of designing costumes, not couture. 

The first collection was for [Givenchy]. This one, I’m doing it for me,” McQueen announced to introduce his second, more introspective collection, Eclect Dissect. 

It combined the McQueen clan’s red and black tartan with 19th century references, with horns, talons and skulls of birds of prey. The designer revered Givenchy’s haute couture artisans and seamstresses, and learned from their savoir faire to perfect his experiments for his own label. 

Designers including Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo and Martin Margiela explored the intersection of fashion and art. 

Rei Kawakubo’s radically distorted silhouettes for her Comme des Garçons Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body was adopted by abstract dance pioneer Merce Cunningham.  

Gianni Versace produced a stunning collection featuring full length satin gowns encrusted with Byzantine crosses. It was his final collection, he was assassinated nine days later outside his Miami home. Princess Diana attended his funeral. Six and a half weeks later, she met her death in a Paris car accident.

In 1997, the Musée de la Mode et du Costume de la Ville de Paris at the Palais Galliera deleted the word « costume» from its title, claiming that fashion merited its place in museums, not only because of its artistry, but also because of its relevance as a cultural phenomenon, and a spearhead of experimentation and technical innovation in a leading creative industry. 

The ground-breaking legacy of 1997 continues to inspire, beautifully presented in this meticulously curated exhibition, 1997 Fashion Big Bang.

By: Jean Grogan

7 March 2023 – 16 July 2023 


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