A Take on Fashion: Miren Arzalluz

January 27, 2021

After an extensive renovations project that has lasted two years, the Palais Galliera, City of Paris Fashion Museum, reopened in  October 2020 with spacious new galleries through the lower level and an ambitious retrospective on the revolutionary work of Gabrielle Chanel. Just one month and 40.000 visitors later, the museum was forced to close in accordance with the government-mandated lockdown. Arranged both chronologically and by theme, the sumptuous exhibition was co-curated by Miren Arzalluz who was appointed director of the Palais Galliera in 2018. Born in Bilbao, Arzalluz studied history at the University of Deusto and Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics before specializing in the history of dress and fashion at the Courtauld Institute of Art where she earned her Master’s. After working in various British museums, such as the V&A and Kensington Palace, she became curator and head of collections at the Balenciaga Foundation in 2007. Her research covers the history of fashionable dress in the 20th century with particular emphasis on the life and work of the Spanish couturier Cristóbal Balenciaga.

What is a trend or item that reflects haute couture at this point in time?

What I find most remarkable about haute couture in these troubling times is its firm resolve to endure, its unequivocal commitment to creativity and craftsmanship. The digital presentations that were conceived in July fell short of conveying the artisanal excellence and the artistic achievement that haute couture represents, but they were also an affirmation of the need for such a space in fashion, in the industry. The role of haute couture as a creative laboratory could be more relevant than ever today on the face of crisis, so long as it avoids escapism.

How can fashion as a form of individual and free expression play a role in our changing societies?

Fashion is a very powerful tool of identity construction and individual and collective expression and, as such, it has historically had an undeniable role in any social or political change of any given period. Beyond our own individual experience and personal development, the current crisis has intensified the way we use fashion and the sartorial choices we make as a means to voice our opinions about sustainability, diversity, inclusion or social justice. Brands affirm to have acknowledged and understood these concerns and demands. It will be up to the industry to implement transformative structural changes to face the challenges ahead.

How does the current crisis impact people’s relationship with clothing and fashion?

Our clothes function as a second skin, as the interface between us as individuals and others in society. The current crisis has deprived us precisely from interacting with people, from presenting and expressing ourselves to others, which is very often how we define ourselves. This is why fashion, dressing, seems to be a solitary experience these days, devoid of any motivation or incentive other than wrapping ourselves in functional clothes. However, decorating ourselves, making ourselves special seems to be inherent to human nature and it can also constitute a way of resisting, a form of resilience. No crisis, war or revolution has ever defeated the need for fashion, on the contrary they have always seemed to accelerate changes and ruptures that were already underway.  

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