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“Lingerie Française” Exhibition: the other side of a not so glamorous industry

The “Lingerie Française” exhibition opened its doors in Paris before moving to foreign cities. This nice little review has forgotten its history lesson and turns into a small family meeting that forgets its older sisters…

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The French lingerie shows off in Paris, unveils its charms, blah, blah, blah… Such were the terms in which most Parisian medias were announcing the Lingerie Française Exhibition at L’Espace Pierre Cardin. Terms simply taken from the press kit – as is often the case – the same with images: the pictures shown in the medias are from the book sold at the end of the exhibition and do not illustrate the exhibition in the least. So be it.
Who did visit it, by the way?

The room is all black. On the left, two big “walls” of lingerie items, very simply exhibited on transparent hangers, behind a black veil (to shield them from sputters?). These items are fragile. Exposing these fabrics to light and air is risky.

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The construction is quite chronological. It begins with a former corset by Chantelle, then bras and briefs, to end up with today’s lingerie. In the end, few items really crossed the Century.

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At the far end, a screen broadcasts a slide show of advertisements up to the 70’s. A second screen is dedicated to advertisements from the 70’s to nowadays.

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On the right, at the far end, a small lounge allows the visitor to sit and watch the projection of a film dedicated to know-how (a film without any comments on Lise Charmel’s workshops, among other things).

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On the other side, the main attraction: “a “transhistoric-holographic strip-tease” will depict, in the space of a few minutes and on a life-like scale, the evolution of the feminine silhouette which French Lingerie has always sought to enhance » says the press kit. A large screen shows a stage where a holographic woman appears wearing lingerie. She disappears in the corner of the stage behind a real wooden folding screen to change underwear and comes back on stage with lingerie of the following decade on.

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You can also find a space designed like new “bars” in shops, the « tactylodrome lycra »: with a few magnifying glasses to see few threads, and some fabrics…

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Throughout this small exhibition, kakemonos very briefly recount the history of lingerie (its great technical and societal stages).

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All this was however conceived with the backing of Catherine Örmen, the fashion historian, who actually signed “Histoire de la lingerie” with Chantal Thomass, a probably restrained historian, not for simplicity and public appeal reasons, but apparently for political reasons, as the exhibition is organized by Lingerie Française, also called “Promincor – Lingerie Française” – Association pour la Promotion des Industries de la Corseterie. It is funny to notice that only the brands linked to the association, Chantelle first of all, are presented in this exhibition that soon gives it a trade unionist, lobbyist likeness. Funny and sad at the same time, because, doing so, the exhibition deprives its public of essential parts of one century’s history of this lingerie. Yet, this history does not deal with creation only. It also deals with great societal upheavals and changes in the corseterie field, faced with great difficulties in France today. This exhibition that will be shown in London, Dubaï and Shangaï – key-centers of lingerie today – and that should promote French luxury and know-how is desperately short of partiality. Quite frankly, what can we say about the INCREDIBLY IRREVERENT OVERSIGHT of the two great French brands: Cadolle and Chantal Thomass (though now in Chantelle’s group)?
Come on! Let’s remember that the first bra pattern ever (the corselet-gorge, in 1889) comes from Herminie Cadolle; that the basque is once again an invention of the Cadolle House, that without Chantal Thomass, we would all wear “Coeur Croisé” or the elasticated pants of Calvin Klein, and that the famous seduction of the French lingerie would have been pushed into the background of cabaret and French Cancan memories.

Espace Pierre Cardin
1-3 avenue Gabriel
75008 Paris

5th to 26th July 2012

Exhibition photos : SB

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