The Impossible Wardrobe

There are models and there are actors ... and then there is the inimitable Tilda Swinton. At The Palais de Tokyo, she was the star of The Impossible Wardrobe, concept by Olivier Saillard, director of musée Galliera. In fashion exhibitions, clothes are almost always shown on mannequins, frozen in time. You rarely get an idea of what they might have looked like in motion, their sleeves inhabited by human flesh, their hems slapping against knees, or the sense of just how much that human body types have changed over the course of the 20th century.

Wearing a plain white robe, the kind once worn by the models in the couture salon of Yves Saint Laurent, Tilda Swinton walked back and forth, holding -“ but never actually wearing -“ articles of clothing from the historic archives of the Galliera, the Paris museum of fashion. Amazingly, each time was different as she created a sort of dialogue with the former owner of each garment, using specific gestures conceived by Axelle Doue, a model who was once the muse to designers like Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana who has collaborated with Saillard on previous performances.
“The clothes told me what I have to do, Doue said. “Without the gesture, a coat or shoes or a dress cannot live.”


Swinton thrust her arms the wrong way through the short sleeves of a small, plain navy dress, holding it aloft, making the dress, whose provenance was the wardrobe of the Duchess of Windsor, appear to fly. She pinched a coat with military filigree, which belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte, at the shoulders, looking down on it. Back and forth, 56 times.


She held a pair of silk stockings as if they were entrails. She carried two Chanel tweed suits still on their hangers, a jacket, a blouse and a skirt against each of her sides, creating the impression of a bustle skirt. She pressed a chain-mail minidress to her chest, stopping every few feet to thrust her hip. It was a Paco Rabanne dress once worn by Brigitte Bardot.


Separately, a film created by artist Katerina Jebb, showing Swinton interacting with the clothing, was playing in a neighbouring gallery during performances throughout the weekend as part of the Autumn Festival in Paris. The show, which concluded on Monday, was called The Impossible Wardrobe.

In a way, Swinton’s performance gave these objects new life, even emotions. Saillard said he chose her because of that ability, and because her appearance -“ her white skin and hair -“ while striking, can also, at times, be as plain as beige, like the edifice of a museum.
“She is like a pedestal for our collection,- he said.


She walked each piece down the catwalk, each time with a different gesture; hugging them to her, stretching them high above her head, draping them over one arm, sniffing them, showing them to members of the audience and nodding as if to say “Yes, look how magnificent”. There were 57 items in total.
ID commented,

Alber Elbaz’s comment: “It brought me back to the love of fashion” was poignant. And for those reasons, this was not just a show, it was a moment of realisation, and appreciation for the makers, the wearers and the craft.



Jacket worn by dancer Cléo de Mérode, circa 1900


Schiaparelli evening coat, circa 1953.


Evening collar, designer unknown, circa 1898.


Unknown designer, circa 1885.


Postillion jacket, designer unknown, circa 1860.


Schiaparelli claw gloves, 1936.


More photos on

This performance is subject of a film realised by Katerina Jebb
Production, Première Heure, Psycho, Paris

Saturday, October 06, 2012 · Categories: Art and PhotographyFashion
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