À la mode. The Art of Appearance in the 18th Century

By exhibiting both period paintings and garments, the exhibition À la mode. The Art of Appearance in the 18th Century reveals for the first time the interplay of influences between Enlightenment painters and fashion designers.

In the 18th century, the birth of fashion was primarily associated with new skills and specialist publications and was an indicator of fast-growing change in society. Painters and fashion producers were vying with each other to reach new heights of creativity, weavers excelled, and French elegance showcased by the aristocracy and the upper echelons of the urban bourgeoisie extended its reach to all the courts and cities of Europe. This marked the birth of fashion as we know it today.

During this period, painting was the only available medium for having one’s portrait made and as much thought went into presentation and garments as to one’s pose. Paintings were used to showcase oneself to others in a form of 18th century Instagram.

The exhibition brings together in a modern and stylishly designed setting some 200 outstanding works and objects from major museums. The Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de Paris has lent incredible and rare period garments to the Musée d’arts, the Palace of Versailles has loaned masterpieces usually exhibited at the Petit Trianon or in rooms at the Palace, and the Château, d’Écouen has contributed precious gloves, lace, boxes, and bottles.

The exhibition tour will be divided into four distinct sections:

  1. Fashion phenomena: The first section of the exhibition focuses on showing how fashion phenomena gained momentum in painting and garments alike.
  2. Painters and fashioning fashion: Section Two shows painters as players in fashioning fashion and as true ancestors of couturiers and fashion designers.
  3. Artists’ fantasies: Section Three explores the connections between imaginary pictorial worlds and the iconic garments which they inspired.
  4. A history of the “négligé-déshabillé” style: The last section takes an innovative look at the growing trend for informality in male and female garments.


Chief curator:
Sophie Lévy, Director and Curator of the Musée d’arts de Nantes.

Scientific curators:
Adeline Collange-Perugi, Curator of early art collections, Musée d’arts de Nantes. Pascale Gorguet Ballesteros, Chief curator, 18th Century Fashion and Dolls Department, Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. Sandrine Champion-Balan, Chief curator, Collections Development Centre manager, Collections manager, head of modern collections for the curatorial team of the exhibition at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon.

- Robe à l'anglaise et jupe, vers 1780-1785, Satin de soie rose, Paris, Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris. CCØ Paris Musées / Palais Galliera

From 26 November 2021 to 6 March 2022


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