A step back into French fashion history

“French Fashion, Women, and the First World War” has opened at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in Manhattan.

New York’s journey into French fashion continues.

We recently featured “Paris, Capital of Fashion,” which continues through Jan. 4 at The Museum at FIT.

Now, we turn the spotlight on “French Fashion, Women, and the First World War,” which has opened at the Bard Graduate Center Gallery in Manhattan.

The exhibition is an expansive – and informative – three-floor exploration into examining, as press materials share, “the dynamic relationship between fashion, war, and gender politics in France during World War I.”

We visited earlier this week and were captivated by the wealth of materials, from Jeanne Lanvin garments to vintage fashion illustrations, postcards to posters, magazines to photographs.

All come together to trace the story of how wartime proved pivotal in both women’s fashion and emancipation. There are examples of both social attire (you will drool over the fancy dress) and uniforms, which reflect women’s changing roles during the war. The business of fashion – essential to France’s wartime economy – is also examined, with its couture, we learn, the only luxury industry that was allowed to function during the war years without being closed down by the government.

As a quote from a May 1917 edition of Women’s Wear Daily (emblazoned on one wall) notes, “Even when she is crippled through the war, French couture continued to dictate fashion for the entire world.”

We see changing materials, silhouettes and more, all reflecting the wartime realities for both women and the role of fashion itself throughout the 1914-1918 period. In a most poignant section, we also see the attire of mourning, an element of war no matter the time period.

The exhibition, curated by Maude Bass-Krueger (PhD, Bard Graduate Center; postdoctoral fellow, Leiden University), and Sophie Kurkdjian (PhD, Université Paris I, Panthéon-Sorbonne, research associate, Institut d’Histoire du Temps Présent CNRS), is glamorous and thoughtful, in the end creating an informative journey into this earlier time.

“French Fashion, Women, and the First World War” continues through Jan. 5, with a number of programs, tours and special events scheduled throughout the run.

The Bard Graduate Center Gallery is at 18 W. 86th St.

For more, visit bgc.bard.edu.

Mary Shustack

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