Montreal Museums and la Mode

Hi everyone! It has been quite a while since I last posted on this blog, but I’ve decided it’s time to revive it because I have so many exciting things to write about (and photos of course!) For those of you who don’t know, I currently live in New York City and I am about to start my final semester in a masters program at the Fashion Institute of Technology called “Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice.” It has been an interesting year and a half in New York with many ups and downs, and I am excited to graduate and enter a new field that I love! For this post, though, I’m going to go back to why I started this blog in the first place – France! Unfortunately I haven’t made it back to France since my amazing stay as a language teaching assistant in Le Puy-en-Velay, but I did recently visit the next best thing – Montreal! Igor and I took a trip for my birthday, and it was so wonderful to be in another francophone city. Montreal has such an active and diverse cultural life, and I was happy to find that two different fashion exhibitions were on view while we were there, one at the McCord Museum and one at the Musée du Costume et du Textile du Québec. Today I’ll talk about “Chic et Choc,” presented by MCTQ.

image from

image from

The theme of this exhibition is embellishment – stones, beads, sequins gold threads… At first, this can seem like a kind of obvious or unoriginal theme – let’s put a bunch of glittery flashy stuff on display!  But I actually really enjoyed the way MCTQ curated this show, from the choice of objects to how they were displayed, and especially the accompanying labels that made you think about more than just our attraction to all that is glitter and gold.  I like this quote from the introductory text: “The CHIC & CHOC exhibition explores this glittering, fascinating world of dazzling garments and accessories.  It also sheds light on the raw materials involved and the element of inconvenience: fabric quality and maintenance, material sourcing and use, craft or industrial production.  The impacts and implications of this taste for luxury are exposed: this is the CHOC.”


The exhibition started with some beautiful accessories


I thought this purse from 1910-1929 was particularly impressive because of the beautiful pattern and the teeny tiny metal beads. Beads like that would never be produced today!

The exhibition was divided into sections, and in each section elements of “CHIC” and “CHOC” were discussed, along with symbols resembling the care instructions on a garment label, which I thought was a clever little addition.  I particularly liked that several sections touched on conservation issues, like the discussion of dresses from the 1920s that are of lightweight fabric embroidered with (literally) heavy beading and embroidery.  Over time, the fabric rips from the weight of the embellishment and the poor dresses are often falling apart after almost 100 years.  Many museums have these incredibly beautiful dresses housed in flat storage because they have ripped shoulders and cannot be hung.  It is a bit sad, like a fashion morgue or something, but then I think of the spirit in which these dresses were probably made.  They were not made to last; they were made to be worn to a few parties, where I like to think that the free spirited, fun loving wearer danced the night away and enjoyed some cocktails, her dress glittering with every move.  Then the dress was tossed aside when the wearer (who, let’s face it, was probably filthy rich) decided she wanted a new one.  Isn’t that the life?  Anyway, I thought it was great that the exhibition brought up this issue that I think most people don’t really think about. The label below also touches on other issues embellishments have – sequins used to be made of gelatin, which is water-soluble (so be careful when washing vintage pieces with sequins!), and metal can rust, glass can break, etc.


As this was in Quebec, all of the labels were in French and English – take note, learners of French! This is a great way to practice and learn new words!

I was so happy that the museum chose to display these dresses even though they are too fragile to be put on a mannequin. I wish more museums would display items flat so that the public can see them, instead of leaving these beauties in storage for only a lucky few to see.

I was so happy that the museum chose to display these dresses even though they are too fragile to be put on a mannequin. I wish more museums would display objects flat for public viewing instead of leaving these beauties in storage for only a lucky few to see.



The exhibition space was small, but I love how they divided sections with these slightly sheer black fabric panels. It gave you direction but didn’t make the space feel smaller. (Aaaand these are the things that you only really think about when you are in school for museum studies, right?)

The exhibition spanned the entire twentieth century, and included a mix of both designer pieces and pieces not attributed to a designer.  I liked that the focus was on the garments themselves and what went into making them, rather than highlighting only pieces made by famous names.  As someone who loves making clothes and learning about historical construction techniques and materials, this was totally up my alley.  There was also a video that featured interviews of artisans who discussed how the industry of embellished materials has changed, and how it is difficult now to make a living doing work by hand.  They explained that while machine embellishment is cheaper, hand sewn beading is much more durable and long-lasting.


Confession: I secretly have a thing for giant paillettes. I’m loving the top on the right, although I’m not sure if I could pull of wearing something like that in public!

One of the major highlights of the exhibition was a costume that Celine Dion wore on stage (fitting for this museum, since she is from Québec!).  They even displayed the original pattern for the pants, which were hand beaded with Swarovski crystals.



kind of cheesy and 90s, but that’s 1999 for ya.

complete with mic pack!

complete with mic pack!

Overall, I found the exhibition really enjoyable!  I wish Montreal was closer so that I could visit more often.  It is such a great city with wonderful museums, food, tons of festivals, and just a really unique feel with how diverse and multilingual it is. (Although there are a few too many underground malls.  Like, way too many… don’t get out on the “St Catherine Street” side of the subway station because you will get stuck in blocks and blocks of underground malls.)

One last thing from MCTQ that I would like to share – these incredible paper garments were displayed in the Marché Bonsecours where the museum is located.  Aren’t they great?  They trace the fashionable silhouette from the 1880s to the 1920s.


This mini exhibition was put on by the Bibliothèque et Archives Nationales du Québec

DSCN5418 DSCN5428Well, that’s all for now.  Thank you for reading, and I look forward to sharing more of my fun fashion- and museum-related adventures!  Stay tuned for a post about the McCord Museum’s exhibition Love in Fine Fashion: Wedding Dresses from the McCord Museum.


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