La mécanique des dessous at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs is an entertaining journey through the undergarments that have supported the more outlandish historical trends. Think ruffs, bustles and faux culs (‘fake bums’).
The light is kept dim to protect the fragile clothes on display but also lends a vaguely S&M ambiance to the show which reveals the various cages and corsets that look stark and painful without the layers of rich fabrics with which they are usually covered.
The female form is the main victim of ridiculous contortions, from whale-boned dress fronts paired with excessive panniers, to crinolines and the lesser known fin-de-siècle “monobosom”. Male attire was not immune to the whimsy of fashion either. As well as some amusing codpieces in the early section, there are padded vests and jackets to make men look more rounded or puffy-chested as fashion dictated. 19th century dandies where even known to wear figure-enhancing corsets (a proto-metrosexual?).
After some more tame-looking push up bras the show ends with haute couture pieces from Vivienne Westwood, Alexander Mcqueen and Christian Lacroix – amongst others – that incorporate historical shapes into their contemporary creations. A mannequin line-up also shows how fashion is as tied to the shapes created – the architecture of the figure – as it is to fabrics.
La mécanique des dessous is on at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs until 24/11/13