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 mctq.org

image from mctq.org

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.”

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The exhibition started with some beautiful accessories

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Dinan et St Malo: Aventures en Bretagne

Dinan

After Nantes, we headed north to the Atlantic coast in Bretagne.  We spent two nights in a little medeival town called Dinan, which is about an hour south of the shore (by train, so probably closer by car).  I didn’t really know what to expect other than it’s in Bretagne, which has a reputation for cold rainy weather and celtic influences, since it’s right across from England.  A teacher at the school I worked at said she went there and loved it, and it’s slightly less touristy than the coastal towns (but still quite a few tourists when we went there), so we decided to go there.  It turned out to be a really good choice!  It did rain one day, but if it had to rain during our vacation, I’m glad that it was in Bretagne since that seems to be the natural states of things there.  It only rained 2 days during our whole month of vacation, and in Bretagne the rain is kind of romantic anyway.

on the ramparts in the rain

When you go to the tourist office and ask what to do in Dinan, they give you a map and just say follow the line that gives you a tour around the town, and then walk around the ramparts.  So that is what we did.  You can basically see the whole town in a few hours, but it is so cute and there are so many delicious things to eat that we definitely didn’t get bored.  There’s also a little port on a river with a view of a pretty aqueduct, and lots of artisan shops and restaurants.  I kind of felt like I was in a real-life renaissance festival.  All the little shops and all the good food and the cute little houses and the cobblestone… It’s super adorable!  It actually kind of reminded us of Le Puy, being a small medieval town.  We’re used to that now, which is strange.  It wasn’t surprising to see houses from the 15th century, it was more comforting because we were in an environment that we recognized.  Funny how things change like that… I think I’ll be afraid of big roads and cars now in the US.

they had a harp museum!

artisan shops

purple!

view of the ramparts

On our way down to the river, we stumbled upon some really good looking seafood restaurants and we realized just how close to the ocean we were!  There was so much seafood, and it was so cheap!  We unknowingly picked probably the best restaurant in town; we were only seated because we were eating abnormally early (6:30), and by the time we left all the table were full with people who had reservations.  It turned out to be one of the best meals of the trip!

For my first course, I had prawns and some big shell creatures served on a silver platter with ice. So fancy!

Igor had oysters for the first time, and I’m pretty sure the waitress thought it was hilarious when he asked how to eat them. She said that the shallot-infused vinegar makes it taste better and also helps to kill it. Apparently the oysters are so fresh that they’re still alive, and you have to detach them from the shell! (I think most places in the US serve them already detached)

Fisherman’s pot. Sea creatures are really hard to de-shell when they’re in a soup! Good thing I don’t mind getting messy and playing with my food!

Igor’s main course was a fish that they brought out raw and grilled on the fireplace in the dining room, right before our eyes! Can’t get any fresher than that.

On our second day in Dinan, we had another great meal when we went for breakfast at a tea salon.  The special that day was Irish breakfast, and there was an actual Irish woman cooking it for us!  She made us unlimited pancakes, and they were probably the best pancakes I have ever had in my life.  So light and fluffy!  Then, despite the rain, we walked around the city and the ramparts and made sure we didn’t miss any of the sites.  Here they are:

the castle

the clock tower

Some of the oldest buildings in Dinan, I think they are from the 13th century

Basilique Saint Sauveur

view from the ramparts

a drawbridge! view from inside the castle

view from the top of the castle

In the dungeons of the castle there were a bunch of tombstones of knights. This one is Rolland de Dinan, who died in 1186. The tombstone wasn’t carved until 1230 or 1240 though (weird). It’s remarkably well preserved, as you can still see the chainmail detail. Pretty cool!

Our last night in Dinan was quite a success.  We found an awesome pub with really good live jazz, and they even had Sam Adams!  Igor was really excited, and so was the bartender.  Apparently he had been trying to get Sam Adams in the bar for over a year, and he had just gotten it in the day before!

St Malo

Our next stop was St Malo on the Atlantic coast.  Seeing the Atlantic was amazing; it was so nice to be back on our home ocean!  The Mediterranean is beautiful and bright and sunny, but the Atlantic at St Malo is a strong, stormy, powerful ocean.  For the first time, I really understood the difference between a sea and an ocean.  St Malo seems like the type of place where a poet could hole himself up in a house on a cliff with a view of the ocean, and he could get all the inspiration he needed.  It’s the kind of ocean that is even more beautiful in the rain, and the tide is absolutely incredible.  When we first arrived, it was pouring rain, so we just took a short walk to the beach to see the view:

There were people parasailing in cold, rainy weather! The people of St Malo must be really hardy, because it rains all the time, and yet everyone there was so nice and smiling all the time. They were the most open people we met on our whole trip!

A few hours later it stopped raining, so we decided to walk to the old walled city and walk around the ramparts.  Here is the view of the same spot on the beach:

The tide was insane!  There was a walled walkway by the beach, and we had to be careful where we walked because the waves were so strong that they were going over the wall!

beware of the man-eating waves!

first view of the walled city

The flag of Bretagne flying high!

St Malo was another city filled with beautiful sights and great food.  Bretagne is probably my favorite region for food specialties, especially sweets.  Crêpes, Galettes, cider, salted butter caramel (on/in everything!)… SO GOOD!  We also discovered our new favorite pastry, a Breton specialty called the ‘Kouign Amann’.  It’s like a little butter pastry/caramel roll thingy, and it is amazing.  Then there is the seafood, of course.  We had another incredible meal, this time with a view of the ocean right outside our window (yay for making reservations!).  There can’t be anything better than sharing a great meal with a view the waves rolling in just feet away from you, and a beautiful sunset.  I will never forget it.

Kouign Amann. This one has apples in it!

first course: seafood platter with crab, langoustine, tiny shell creatures, giant shell creatures, and oysters. SO GOOD! (further research has shown me that these unknown shell creatures whose names I didn’t recognize in French and didn’t know in English are actually whelks and winkles, or small and large edible sea snails. They are delicious.)

mmm oysters!

the view at the beginning of dinner

Igor was very proud when he finally was able to get one of the tiny sea creatures out of its shell. We wondered for a while if they were actually just garnishes because it was so much work sticking a tiny pick into a tiny shell to get such a tiny piece of meat. But they were so good!

For the main course, Igor got a 3-fish sauerkraut, and I got my new favorite meat, duck.

Dessert was a millefeuille made with speculoos, and a crème brulée for Igor

By dessert, the sun was an amazing orange and the waves had risen to just below the window. We watched the sun slip below the horizon.

Our last day in St Malo, we got lucky with some sunny weather (although still very windy and a bit chilly!) and we did a short tour of the old town, including lunch at a Crêperie on the ramparts, which used to be a military post.

The first time we saw this view, the beach was totally covered with water. Now, at low tide, people can walk to the fort!

My last gallette in Bretagne.  For dessert I had a flaming crêpe with Grand Marnier!

Last Kouign Amann, complete with the Breton flag!

The port of St Malo

Needless to say, we will miss Bretagne.  It is a region of culinary delights, tumultuous ocean waves, a rich, unique history, and friendly people.  For now, I will have to survive with fond memories and photos, but I like to think that we will meet again someday!  Goodbye, my new favorite region!

L’Elephant!

Special delivery from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris:  as promised, the video of the elephant!

 

I’ll be back in Boston tonight, but I’ll continue going through my pictures and writing new posts about vacation after I’ve slept of my jet lag.  Can’t wait to see everyone!

Nantes and l’Eléphant

Our next stop on our big trip around France was Nantes, a city that is technically in the Pays de la Loire region (and it is on the Loire river) but strongly identifies with Bretagne (Brittany).  It’s a city that I hadn’t heard much about until this year, when we met two other assistants who had studied there and loved it.  I was lucky enough to get some insider tips from my friend Shayna, and Igor and I had a really awesome time there!  Knowing that it was a university town, I was expecting something similar to Grenoble but obviously with some regional differences, but Nantes is much bigger than I thought.  It also doesn’t have the typical ‘old town’ small touristy city center; it looks pretty modern and has more of a big city organization with several plazas and big roads.  It’s a really lively city with lots of places to eat, hang out, and sights to see.  Also there was a lot more Breton influence than I thought there would be, which was cool.  In Nantes we started what would become a week-long feast of Breton specialties, most notably crêpes and their savory counterparts made with buckwheat flour, galettes!  My new favorite dessert crêpe is one with salted butter caramel, made in Bretagne!

me and my long awaited seafood galette!

Some of Nante’s highlights are several gorgeous churches, the Château des Ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany), the Jardin des Plantes, the Loire river, several unique bars and restaurants, and Les Machines de l’Île (more on that later).  Here’s what we saw:

the beautiful St Paul’s Cathedral, which took over four centuries to build! (1434 – 1891)

the façade is incredibly detailed

tiny people around the door frame

awesome skeleton gargoyle

inside the cathedral

there were a ton of bible stories sculpted into the pillars inside the church. They were really amazing (and so small!) but some of the people were missing their heads!

there were a bunch of different styles of stained glass windows. Some of them looked like 1980s wind breakers

we were lucky enough to walk in on an impromptu organ concert (I think someone was practicing). It sounded amazing!

Nantes had the best and largest Jardin des Plantes (botanical garden) that we have seen in France! (and we’ve seen a lot!)

we got to watch these awesome little guys as we were eating breakfast in the garden. The one on the left looks so cool!

Château des Ducs de Bretagne – royal fortress and residence of the famous Duchess Anne de Bretagne and the Dukes of Bretagne from the 13th to 16th century

there was even a moat!

La Cigale is a really gorgeous restaurant that was built in the 1900s

the Passage Pommeraye is a super fancy shopping center that was built in the 1840s

another pretty church (we saw at least 4!)

La Maison is a bar that our friend told us about. Each room is decorated like a different room of a house from the 70s. There’s a bathroom, a kitchen, a bedroom, and a living room

we decided to enjoy our drinks while chillin in the bathtub

we also found a 1920s style speakeasy that had live jazz piano! The cocktails were pretty good, too

Nantes part II: Les Machines de l’Île

During our last day in Nantes, we dedicated a good amount of time to Les Machines de l’Île, an attraction like no other in the world.  It’s basically a project to create machine animals that eventually become parts of larger projects like carousels or a giant machine tree with caterpillars, flying herons, ants, etc.  There is a ‘machine gallery’ where you can see prototypes for machines and where they test them out by taking people for rides in the heron or the caterpillar or whatever, and then there is the other big attraction, the giant elephant.  The elephant is humongous, and you can ride it!  It walks (with the help of an added machine with wheels) and also sprays people and blinks and moves its head and trunk and ears.  It’s pretty awesome!

super cool carousel

this is a small-scale model of the tree project that they’re working on. All the machines in the gallery would be part of this giant tree

the heron in flight!

this caterpillar works with air power.  We saw a little boy ride it and control it with the two handles by the seat

venus fly traps!

we took a ride on the elephant!

view from the side balcony of the elephant

it even sprays people and makes noise!

hi Igor!

we saw them working on this really awesome 3-story carousel that opens this July. I really want to go back and ride it!

I really wanted to add a video of the elephant, but unfortunately my internet connection is making it take forever to upload.  Look forward to a really cool elephant video next time!

From Trop Chaud to Châteaux!

Our second stop on our trip was Nîmes, a city in the south east corner of the  Languedoc region, but it is more associated with Provence.  It’s in southern France but not on the Mediterranean, and it’s known for its roman architecture and the best preserved roman amphitheater in the world!  One of our French friends told us that it’s the hottest city in France, and we definitely felt it.  It was hot hot hot!  We went from weather in the 70s and a pleasant coastal breeze in Nice to that kind of 85-degree weather that makes you want to wear as few clothes as possible.  Yay for dresses!

the arena in Nîmes at night

The super hot weather didn’t stop us from having a great time, though!  We toured the arena and learned that Nîmes was conquered by Julius Caesar and became a Roman colony, named Colonia Augustus Nemausus after Julius Caesar’s son Emperor Augustus and Nemausus who was Gallic.  The city was an example of the fusion of Gallic and Roman cultures.  It was a pretty important center for the Romans, and the amphitheater (built around 100AD) had a lot of events like animal fights (man vs. animal), gladiator fights, and the executions of those condemned to death, which was done by either throwing them unarmed to wild animals to be ripped to shreds, or forcing the condemned to kill each other.  Gross.  Apparently ‘arena’ means ‘sand’ in latin, and the sand in the arena was necessary for a few reasons: to soften the falls of the gladiators and fighters, to deafen the hoof sounds of the animals, and to soak up blood.  The sand was turned often because of the blood.  This arena is one of the 20 largest in existence and is the best preserved.  It is still used for events today (but I don’t think they kill anyone there anymore).

We also saw the Maison Carré, the Tour Magne, and the ruins of Diana’s Temple.

Maison Carré

Diana’s Temple

inside Diana’s Temple

the gardens

The Tour Magne. You can go up the stairs inside and have a nice view of the city from the top!

Maison Carré at night

We spent one of our days in Nîmes at the Pont du Gard, an hour bus ride away from the city.  The Pont du Gard is the largest Roman aqueduct in the world!  I was there during my first trip to France when I was 16, but I wanted Igor to see it, too.  We had a nice picnic and I dipped my feet in the water in the river below it.  It was nice, especially since it was so hot!

Despite the strong Roman influence, we actually found Nîmes to have more of a Spanish flavor than an Italian one.  There were lots of tapas restaurants with sangria and we had two really delicious dinners there!  It’s also a pretty small city, and it seems like tourist season hadn’t really started yet (or maybe it’s just less of a tourist destination in general).  It was really nice to be somewhere calm and not crowded, and feel a little bit more like a local instead of eating at restaurants filled with other tourists like on the Côte d’Azur.  There were plenty of young people and a good amount of places to eat and hang out at night, and even a movie theater that had movies in original English version! (We saw Dark Shadows.)  The city was also really clean and in general visually pleasing with a great mix of Roman architecture and beautiful modern influences too (like cool straw roof thingys in the park).  We really liked the feel of Nîmes!

our exceptionally delicious meal of tapas (chorizo, ham, sheep cheese, calamari, chicken, salad, sausage, sardines, shrimp, gazpacho, samosas) and sangria!

vineyards are everywhere in Provence! We saw a lot from the bus on the way to the Pont du Gard

After two days in Nîmes, we headed north to the Loire Valley to visit some châteaux!  We stayed in Tours, one of the larger cities in the Loire Valley, which has a lovely old town with cool buildings from the 15th and 16th centuries, and lots of nice green spaces and pretty fountains.  It is also known as the ‘town of 30 markets’, and there are multiple markets every day throughout the city.  We went to one and got some amazing bread with olives and chorizo in it, a bottle of homemade pear juice, exceptionally good pain au chocolat, and my favorite cheese ever, Valençay.  After the market, we spent the afternoon exploring the city.  Here are some highlights:

Place Plumereau in the old town

The cathedral in Tours was beautiful!

inside the cathedral

Balzac was inspired by this house

I especially like the little grumpy snail man on the top right

me and my favorite cheese!

The Tour Charlemagne – this tower used to be part of Saint Martin’s Basilica, which originally took up two blocks of what is now modern day Tours. The only other remaining part is the clock tower down the street. Now it’s a street with shops and businesses, and there’s a new basilica across the street that was built in the 19th century

Hôtel de Ville

even the post office door in Tours has castles on it!

I got pork’s knee for dinner. The couple sitting next to us was impressed because they thought Americans only eat hamburgers and hot dogs

Tours at night

Our second day in Tours was dedicated to château viewing.  We signed up for a tour in a minibus (since it’s hard to get to most of the castles without a car) and saw four châteaux in one day – Azay le Rideau, Villandry, Chambord, and Chenonceau.  My favorite was definitely Villandry because the gardens were incredible.  We didn’t even go in the château because there is so much to see in just the gardens!  The one hour the tour allowed us wasn’t enough.  Oh well, I guess we’ll just have to go back to the Loire Valley someday.  There are worse things.

Azay-le-Rideau

The château was built in the Italian style during the 16th century by Gilles Berthelot, the Treasurer-General of Finances during the reign of François I

inside the château

I think this is hilarious

Château de Villandry

The gardens were huge! They had flowers, cabbages, herbs, even hedges shaped like hearts. Also there was a giant forest with walking paths, some greenhouses, and a labyrinth!

This was my favorite garden within the gardens, the ‘Sun Garden’

I love poppies and bumblebees!

Château de Chambord, the biggest renaissance château in the Loire Valley

The famous double helix staircase

sign of King François I

the queen’s bedroom

I’m pretty sure these are original 16th century bed hangings. Crazy.

the roof was probably the most beautiful part of this castle

last but definitely not least, Château de Chenonceau!  This château was really well kept up and every room was decorated and furnished, partly because it’s privately owned (which means no free entry for us, but it was totally worth the entrance price!).  It’s called the ‘Château des Dames’, or ladies’ château, because it was residence of Diane de Poitiers, Henry II’s favorite mistress, and later Catherine de Medici who kicked Diane out when her husband died.  Centuries later it belonged to a few other ladies who renovated it and even ran a hospital out of it during the first World War

There were also gardens, created by Diane de Poitiers, which were super modern during her time (mid 16th century)

The fireplace is engraved with H and C for Henri and Catherine, which when intertwined form D for Diane. This is in Diane de Poitier’s bedroom

mermaids! in François I’s drawing room

The castle was filled with notable works of art by Tintoretto, Veronese, Van Dyck, Rubens, etc. I like this one of the Three Graces

Louis XIV’s drawing room

I want this bed

One of the crests on the ceiling of the ‘Five Queens’ Bedroom.’ There was one crest for each of Catherine de Medici’s five daughters or daughters-in-law

This entire room smelled heavenly because all of those lilies are real!

Overall, I’d say it was a pretty good day!  Next stop: Nantes!

Côte d’Azur

It has now been about 2 months since I last posted, and I have had so much to write about these past few months!  At least this time my lack of writing isn’t due to cold weather-induced lethargy; it’s actually because it finally got nice out and I was able to do fun things outside, and then it was april break, and then it was my last week of classes in Le Puy, and packing the apartment, etc etc… So to update quickly, in February I went to London, Madrid, and Porto, which I will finish writing about soon (I have a lot of blog posts half finished, it just takes so long to sort through all the pictures!), then in April we took a trip to Belgium and Amsterdam with a stop in Paris for Igor’s GRE in English Lit test (lots to say about that trip, too!).  After April break, we had a week and a half in Le Puy before we set off for our month-long voyage throughout France.  In the end, I will actually really miss Le Puy, despite the difficult winter months.  It was during the last 2 months of our stay that we really got to know some wonderful people and had the chance to get to know the region a bit more (there are a bunch of castles near Le Puy, who knew?!) and go out to concerts and events.  Our students also wrote us really sweet goodbye messages, and there are at least a few students that I will try to keep in touch with.  I know my blog makes it seem like I was on vacation all the time, but the teaching part was obviously a big part of our life in France.  I’ll definitely talk more about that later.

Igor and I have been traveling for 10 days now and here is the itinerary: Le Puy – Grenoble – Nice – Nimes – Tours – Nantes – Dinan – Saint Malo/Mont St Michel – Reims – Strasbourg/Colmar – Le Puy – Boston!  The whole trip will take a month, and we just got to Tours last night.  Here’s a post about our first real vacation destination this trip, the Côte d’Azur:

We spent 5 nights in Nice, and it was such a wonderful place to start our vacation! (Not including Grenoble, because that was more like a homecoming than a vacation.  We saw both our host families, Marie-Eve, and Vince!)  Seeing the Mediterranean was amazing, and the warm weather was refreshing and definitely needed.  It was a huge change of scenery, especially going from the Alps to the sea in the same day!  The buildings were warm yellows and pinks, the food fresh and local (and so completely different from Auvergne food), and the sea was actually azure.  We didn’t spend the whole time relaxing on the beach, though, because there are so many other places to see on the coast!  We took short trips to Monaco (twice, because we had to see it lit up at night!), Eze Village, Villefranche-sur-Mer, and Antibes.  Every place we went had stunning views and almost constant sunshine.  The weathermen predicted that it was going to rain our whole time there, and we only got one morning of light showers!  We got to try some local specialties (pissaladière, socca, octopus salad, crazy awesome ice cream in every flavor imaginable, even absinthe), swim in the sea, go to the market, see exotic gardens… Also everywhere we went it smelled like honeysuckle or roses.  It was awesome.

watching the waves in Nice

the port near the Prince’s Palace in Monaco

I had fun taking lots of pictures of bees in Monaco

There were lots of sexy cars in front of the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo. Mazeratis, Lamorghinis, etc… Mercedes was the least impressive of them. Crazy.

There were a few beautiful old cars, too!

in the gardens behind the casino

Fennochio’s in Nice had the best and craziest ice cream ever! Weirdest flavors: tomato basil, beer, thyme, vanilla pepper rose, poppy (and many other flowers). My favorites: cactus, honey pine nut. Avocado wasn’t too bad, either.

When we got back to Nice after visiting Monaco we found out that Francois Hollande had won the presidential election! The communist party decided to put a flag in this statue’s hand in celebration. Shortly after I took this picture, someone hung a life-sized puppet of Sarkozy between the statue’s legs… awkward…

chillin at the beach in Villefranche-sur-Mer

at the exotic garden in Eze Village

the view from Eze Village

the market in Nice’s old town

flower market!

there were even kumquat trees!

Monte Carlo Grand Casino at night

the gardens

I wonder how many places in the world you can see a lit-up forest of palm trees?

our view during lunch in Antibes

So our trip got off to a pretty amazing start.  Next post, Nîmes and then Tours and the Loire Valley Châteaux!

Musées continued – Fashion as Art

As promised, here is a continued discussion of museums!  A while ago,  I talked about three very different museums in Paris and what I liked about each one.  This time I’m going to talk about another type of museum experience that is becoming really popular right now – fashion exhibits.  This topic is really important to me because I hope to work in that field; researching, designing, and presenting exhibits that will share my view of the many different things clothing can be (fashion is only part of it) and why it is important historically, culturally, and artistically.  I am specifically interested in ‘Clothing as Art,’ which is a pretty controversial idea (you would think that if it’s in an art museum it would be considered art, but then there’s the definition of ‘art’, etc etc…), and I hope to study and create what I consider to be ‘clothing as art’ in the future.

The number of fashion exhibits in museums has been growing rapidly over the past few years, and this article from the Daily Mail credits the McQueen exhibit at the MET, which I mentioned before, for starting this trend.  The MET’s Costume Institute has been doing fashion exhibits for a long time; I remember seeing the ‘AngloMania’ exhibit my first time in New York back in 2006, ‘Models as Muse’ a few years later, and then of course McQueen.  Another notable museum for fashion exhibits is the Museum of Fabric and Decorative Arts in Lyon, France, where I saw one of the most amazing fashion exhibits I have ever seen (Franck Sorbier, 2009).  There are also museums at design schools like FIT and RISD… So fashion exhibits were not non-existent until now, but I guess they are starting to spread to a lot more museums that were perhaps previously too conservative to host a fashion exhibit (although I wouldn’t credit the McQueen exhibit.  It just reiterated that fashion exhibits can be successful, as it had record numbers of visitors).  I’ve found a lot of lists of international fashion exhibits online.  I saw a fashion exhibit in Montreal in November 2010, and the next year the design team Rodarte created the first fashion collection made specifically for a museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).  The MFA in Boston had a big year of fashion exhibits in 2010, with the Avedon fashion photography exhibit, then the Scaasi exhibit (which I found disappointing.  One room? seriously?).  They had a big First Fridays event to celebrate ‘Fashion Month’ at the MFA, complete with a Saks Fifth Avenue fashion show.  I don’t know if ‘Fashion Month’ was the MFA’s biggest success, but that event was definitely important for me, since I met the Costume Shop Manager from the American Repertory Theather there, and it led to my first ever sewing job (shout out to the A.R.T!  I miss you guys!).  Basically, fashion exhibits are having a big moment right now, and I really hope it lasts because I really want to be part of it!

I should note that there are museums with fashion and accessory items on display alongside paintings, sculptures, and furniture, like the The new American wing of the MFA and Decorative Arts museums like the V&A, but this is different because the pieces are valued for historical significance rather than the designs, and the pieces are part of the museum’s collection.

Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris

The most exciting thing about the fashion exhibit we saw in Paris (other than the fact that it was in Paris) was that for me, it really represented the idea of ‘clothing as art.’  Most of the well-known, well-publicized fashion exhibits are, as that article says, ‘couture collection as gallery exhibit,’ or a celebration of a specific designer’s legacy or some theme represented by multiple big-name designers.  Some also center around famous photographers or models, but in general they include famous designers who make fashion for the runway, ultimately for (rich) people to buy and wear, even if some of the couture pieces on display are not particularly wearable.  The Rodarte exhibit is an interesting exception, since the clothes were designed specifically for museum display, which I think is awesome (too bad I missed it!).  This is not to say that the exhibits were bad or not ‘artsy’.  Alexander McQueen was definitely an artist, even more than most designers, because his fashion shows were exceptionally innovative, he often used unconventional materials and shapes in his designs, and he definitely used his work to express different abstract themes.  I have also seen some off-beat fashion exhibits that definitely showed how artistic fashion can be, not just in a physical workmanship kind of way, but also in expressing an idea or a message. What made the Hussein Chalayan exhibit at Les Arts Décoratifs unique was that it blatantly presented the idea of fashion as art.  The exhibit was accompanied by a booklet with a paragraph or sometimes even page about each collection, discussing Chalayan’s inspiration and the message he wanted to represent.  I appreciated that it gave viewers the tools to understand the ideas behind the clothes, it hinted at Chalayan’s artistic process, and it made it ok for clothing to not be wearable (in real life, at least.  Most of the pieces were able to make it down a runway).  The wearability of a piece of clothing is I think the most obvious measure of distinguishing what is fashion and what is art; however, I think that wearable fashion could also be considered art if it was presented like art.

parachute dresses

This exhibit was a great way to get people to think differently about clothing, and see how it can be different things.  Not just something to wear, but a form of expression, either of the wearer or of the designer.  The exhibit also included quite a few videos, both of fashion shows and also creative short films created by Chalayan to accompany the display of certain garments.  Some of the films didn’t even feature the clothes, so it was clear that he was presenting an idea through several mediums, rather than just displaying some cool clothes.  The mannequins in the exhibit were often displayed in certain settings, like a garden or a room that looked like it was under construction.  In one case, the setting was the clothing, because the chairs and table of a room actually became clothing for the models to wear!  Other items on display included Chalayan’s technical sketches and notes, a nice peek into the mind of the creator.

Hussein Chalayan is known for being on the forefront of technology and fashion, and one of the most impressive parts of the exhibition was a video of his Spring/Summer 2007 fashion show, which included dresses that transformed from one design into another to show how styles have changed throughout history and also how they can overlap.  Here’s a little sample (there’s a video of the full show on Chalayan’s website):

The table dress was also pretty awesome:

photo from megastyle.ph/posts/state of the art

Other crazy technologically advanced fashions included the first ever LED dress, dresses with lasers coming out of them, and a dress that floated on the model.  The clothing that was not electronic or glowing was equally as impressive, and it all sent a strong message (even if it was often necessary to read the pamphlet to understand exactly what the message was).

LED dress

Unfortunately, the Chalayan exhibit was pretty strict about not taking photos, and the exhibition book was 65 euros, so it’s not as well documented as I would have liked.  But, to make up for it, here is the aforementioned eye candy from Harrod’s in London!  I definitely have a great interest and respect for clothing as art, but commercial fashion is also beautiful, especially when displayed so creatively.  Harrod’s might as well be a museum.  Just think of all the interior designers, lighting technicians, painters, and stylists that went into each of these displays.  It’s amazing!

Harrod's can make even kitchen utensils look fashionable