Reinventing and redesigning through fashion Palazzo Pitti's top floor Galleria del Costume e della Moda (The Costume and Fashion Gallery) - this may be a grand idea, but it is more or less the main aim of the exhibition "Il Museo Effimero della Moda" (The Ephemeral Museum of Fashion).
The event - curated by previous Parisian Musée Galliera director Olivier Saillard with the help of in-house Curator Caterina Chiarelli - opened in June during the Pitti Uomo trade show and will continue until October 22nd, 2017.
The exhibition is a long journey divided in 18 rooms displaying around 200 garments and accessories from the 19th and 20th centuries.
"The Ephemeral Museum" is a sort of visual dialogue between the collections of Musée Galliera and the archives of Palazzo Pitti, as the pieces on display were borrowed from both the places, hence the mix of Rosa Genoni, Schuberth, Roberto Capucci, Maison Vionnet, Jole Veneziani, Biki, Gucci, Margiela, Bless, Fendi, Galliano and Lanvin (just to mention a few ones...).
Saillard opted to display them in unusual ways and, while some designs are modelled by wood dummies, others are arranged in vitrines and glass cabinets, they are abandoned on chairs or neatly composed on hangers.
The event opens with a room in which feathers take centre stage with an albatross and swan plumes fan by E. Cléray and a Lanvin evening gown.
A sheet of plastic also poetically wraps a Christian Lacroix pink and ivory taffeta Haute Couture number: the first one made by the Lacroix atelier, the gown was actually a wedding dress from 1987 for Pia de Brantes.
There is more to explore and discover in other rooms such as "Cast-off Clothing", "Makeup and Illusion", "The Blues of the Sky", "The Threat of Light" and "Ephemeral Green".
In the "Cast-off Clothing" room a hat, jacket, and skirt in military gabardine, silk chiffon, and feathers from John Galliano's for Dior Spring/Summer 2003 collecion is juxtaposed to a French-made dress à la Polonaise in blue muslin from the 1880s; Bernhard Willhelm 2013 men's jacket and trousers lie instead on the floor.
Dark designs by Versace, Issey Miyake and Madame Grès point at fabric's sensitivity to light and create contrasts with a light-filled space with eavily embellished designs with a religious twist by Dolce & Gabbana, Yves Saint Laurent and Chanel.
An evening gown in embroidered silk by Balenciaga Haute Couture (Autumn/Winter 1957-58) seems to be the star instead of the display analysing the intensities of shades of blue.
Fashionistas and historians will easily spot Mariano Fortuny gowns in soft pastels, Schiaparelli's iconic shoe hat and a Junya Watanabe's design from the S/S 2015 collection characterised by circular shapes in leatherette and PVC, matched with a plastic headdress.
Surprisingly, the most recent designs such as a dress by Prada (S/S 2014 collection) and a trompe l'oeil design by Alessandro Michele for Gucci look rather boring compared to the contents of other rooms, maybe because we have been overexposed to them on the Internet (yet the exhibition makes a connection between Michele's designs and Roberta di Camerino's).
Other highlights of the exhibition include "The Republic of Clothes Without Labels", introducing fascinating clothes that have lost their labels, and "Dust, Color, Time," including a 1966 couture wedding dress by Madame Grès destroyed by dust but once worn in the William Klein's Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?
Accessories look equally fascinating: they include wigs and headpieces, bags, shoes and sandals by anonymous designers or by famous houses like Salvatore Ferragamo's.
There is at times an excess of poetry and romanticism in some of these rooms: in the "Clothes, Hanging, Waiting" space (showcasing also a 1990 cage jacket by Jean Paul Gaultier) a 1913 overcoat in velvet and wool twill and silk satin by Carette & Philipponnat and a 1964 coat in checked wool twill by Evangelista almost hug each other in a friendly and supportive way on a hanger, giving the visitors the impression they may be trespassing on somebody's bedroom or semi-abandoned house, and they may be spying at their possessions, revealing secret rituals.
Yet such touches are part of Saillard's modus operandi, they are expedients to tell a story, revolutionise the concept of classic fashion exhibition and break certain time boundaries as well.
It is worth remembering that the exhiibition doesn't indeed develop in a strictly chronological way, so you may be looking at costumes from the 1800s and suddenly realise that the painting in the background is not a work of art but a dress from Viktor & Rolf's A/W 2015 Haute Couture collection.
"The Ephemeral Museum" could be interpreted also as a way to remind visitors that, while there is a museum of costume and textiles in Venice, there is no proper fashion museum in Italy (though, when you think about it, it is better this way as you can just imagine it would become monopolised by one or two local curators who would look at everything from an unnecessarily nationalistic point of view...), so this is an attempt at creating at least a temporary one.
The main point of the exhibition remains the fact that the bodies who inhabited these clothes are not longer here, but they are lost in the folds of time.
So the final meaning of these 18 rooms full of beautiful and unique gowns is prompting people to think about the fleetingness of life, the importance of time and the fact that we live in a fast way and too often we don't even realise how, by scattering our own clothes in our bedroom, we may be creating small "ephemeral museums" representing our life and our style.
Last but not least, "The Ephemeral Museum" is also a way to embody the transient nature of fashion and ponder about the fact that some designs seem to have become timeless or have assumed an eternal value.
There are a few designs showcased in wooden vitrines or large white boxes that look like coffins from a distance and the event offers the chance to see the final public appearance of a 1933 silk gown by Madeleine Vionnet.
The ivory design has become too fragile to be restored and, after this exhibition, it will go into perennial retirement in a proper fashion archive, finally reaching eternity.