Ever wondered how all the famous fashion houses incorporate feathers in their wonderful designs? This spring the Fashion Museum in Antwerp hosts an elegant exhibition on the use of plumes and feathers in fashion and haute couture. From Alexander McQueen to Cristóbal Balenciaga, you will all find them in the “Birds of Paradise” exposition. With a mixture of couture dresses, garments and historical accessories, the elegant and refined character of the feather is the shining star in the museum.
The concept of “Birds of Paradise” started about a year and a half ago, a time the Fashion Museum usually takes to create a new exhibition. It starts with an idea from one of the members of the exhibition department, such as director Kaat Debo, curator Karen van Godtsenhoven or conservator Wim Mertens. This idea is then worked out in different themes and during several meetings the exhibition gets more structure and shape. One of the most struggling parts of creating an new exhibition is getting the pieces and art works you really want and that will fit the theme. For a small museum as the Fashion Museum Antwerp this usually takes up most of the time, another reason why the concept development starts quite early. It can take weeks before there is any form of communication between the museum and a potential loan giver, which can be frustrating at times. Fortunately, during the past few years the MoMu created a trusted name for itself in the art and fashion world, which leads to successful collaborations with other museums and influential fashion houses.
The exhibition covers the different associations you may have with plumes and feathers. The dark romance of the black feathers, the luxurious feeling of evening gowns covered in white feathers and the sophistication of the colorful, yet refined 19th century fans made with plumes from exotic birds.
The craft of the plumassier is highlighted in some of the designs of Dior, Chanel and Givenchy in collaboration with the renowned Maison Lemarié, known for their numerous techniques of feather embroidery. The British artist Kate MccGwire was asked to showcase some of her works in the exhibition. She primarily works with pigeon and crow feathers and creates engaging and otherworldly organic art pieces. Her large feather sculptures forces the viewer to look at pigeons and crows in a new light and create new connotations with these everyday birds. Next to that, a couple of contemporary designers are featured in this exhibition, such as the Belgian designers Ann Demeulemeester and Dries van Noten, who both are huge fans of the use of feathers in their designs.
But the crown jewel of “Birds of Paradise” is the iconic swan’s down coat, worn and owned by Marlene Dietrich. The feathers of over 300 swans were needed to make the coat, which is 360 centimeter long from collar to tail. The gown almost looks like it was made out of fuzzy fur, which enhances the glamorous feeling of this luxury piece.
“Birds of Paradise” sheds a new light on every winged animal which is out here and makes you want to wear your peacock printed dress which was hanging in the back of your closet for way too long. Though, the truly successful factor in this exhibition is the versatility in the beautiful clothes and themes. Every theme focusses on different use of feathers, which makes this exhibition playful and well-rounded from the beginning to the end. So, let yourself be amazed by tropical birds and elegant doves and visit the Fashion Museum Antwerp for a feathery experience in fashion history.
Featuring Chanel, Cristóbal Balenciaga, Givenchy, Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, Nina Ricci, Louis Vuitton, Thierry Mugler, Giambatista Valli, Yves Saint Laurent and Ann Demeulemeester.