Not every brand gets to celebrate its diamond jubilee with an retrospective in the hallowed corridors of the Palais de Tokyo, Paris. But then again, Chloé – spiritual home of the French ingénue – isn’t most brands.
In 1952, Egyptian-born Gaby Aghion debuted the line in legendary Left Bank and favoured boho hang-out Le Café de Flore, pioneering the idea of ready-to-wear with it. Since then, the eponymous French label’s become a magnet for the world’s top design talent, working with illustrious names such as Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney and current creative director Claire Waight Keller. Here, Wonderland raises a celebratory glass with Judith Clark, curator of the Chloé Attitudes exhibition, and looks back through the line’s glorious archive.
The exhibition features just 70 pieces from the Chloé archives – how did you go about picking these? How many did you go through altogether?
It is always difficult to decide which pieces to show, of course. The number has crept up to 80 as so many are difficult to let go. There are assumptions about a Chloé diaphanous look, there are obvious iconic pieces that no Chloé show could do without – like the violin dress, the shower dress, or the pineapple swimsuit – but I am also showing how diverse Chloe has always been, how whimsical, and that needs to come through, even if it comes through with an 80s hair-do. It is about resisting what is appealing only to today's eyes.
After going through the archives, how would you characterize the story of Chloé over the years as it has developed as a brand?
It is an amazing archive as it does not have a liner trajectory at all. It has very early examples of freelance designers coming in (often foreign) and giving it an experimental, young, feel. Every drawing in the archive feels somehow fresh – you feel it could be remade now. It seems to have resisted what one might define as the development of a brand and this is what needs to be preserved with such growth.
What resonance do you think the attitude offered by Chloé when it first started in the 50s has with today's climate and fashion industry?
I have had the privilege of speaking to the founder Gaby Aghion and she communicates a lightness of touch. She is not earnest about her achievement, she is amused. She had the sense not to pull in the reigns and so she let the different designers produce a huge breadth of styles under the umbrella of Chloé – all incredibly feminine. You have everywoman in the archive – and she is invited to be a little daring.
How have you gone about preparing and designing the exhibition space to reflect the items on display?
I always look at the space and the objects simultaneously so the late Deco building that will contain the show – the Palais de Tokyo – is very important. When looking at the archive I also look for shapes, patterns, ideas that can be translated into the scenography – so for example a dress decorated with tumbling blocks (the trompe l'oeil pattern) that no longer survives, is instead translated into a marquetry floor. The space has a long line of windows which I have used – playing on the pun of light (bright) and light (opposite of heavy or serious). The exhibition has been made the first in a series of exhibition events at the Palais which is great – it means that it has had to integrate into their arts programming and inevitably become more conceptual.
Do you have any particular favourite pieces in the exhibition?
I have more by the day. I love so many of the drawings – from the early 1970s, and the trompe l'oeil embroidered collections in the early 1980s. I have really loved looking at the footage of the shows and the sets (from glowing fans to constructivist revolutionary podiums). There is so much unpublished material, it has been extraordinary to see so much of it for the first time.
Chloé Attitudes runs until November 18 at Palais De Tokyo, Paris. palaisdetokyo.com/chloe-attitudes