Maison Chloé

When Gaby Aghion founded Chloé, she started with the alphabet, using it to identify her garments in lieu of the industry standard of numbers. She believed letters imparted more inspiration and narrative onto her collections, breathing life into each piece. Her alphabet also gave women – and fashion journalists – the freedom to form their own tangential associations with the clothing.

The new Maison Chloé celebrates the fashion house’s legacy of storytelling, beginning with the iconic Chloé Alphabet. On the first floor, a small exhibition room brings together some of those inspirations – for instance, “C” for cheval (meaning “horse”), and “B” for banane (“banana”). Underlying all of the Chloé collections is a sense of whimsy, if not full-frontal surrealism – a mood that sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition, which focuses on Guy Bourdin’s photographs for the fashion house.

Dresses by Stella McCartney from the iconic 2001 “Wild Horses” collection are on display at Maison Chloé. Of the collection, McCartney remarked, “For the Chloé woman, the horse is a kindred spirit – like her, it runs wild and free.” Photo my own.

The 2001 “Wild Horses” collection, photographed by Juergen Schabes for Archivist, a beautiful and timeless print publication that showcases designer archives. The book is available for purchase at Maison Chloé or on the Archivist website.

Guy Bourdin’s ongoing collaboration with Chloé during Karl Lagerfeld’s reign as creative director is chronicled on four floors of the museum. Bourdin’s bizarre photographs play off of Lagerfeld’s imaginative, almost Dadaist designs, particularly the tromp l’oeil dresses that were his cheeky signature. A dress from 1983, for instance, has two sequin water faucets spilling embellishments down the shoulder blades and train of the dress, while on the opposite wall hangs a photograph within a photograph. Our tour guide remarked that Bourdin’s strange, confounding photographs called into question the stories of the women in the pictures.

For as long as fashion photography has been an art, Bourdin’s photos have been so widely disseminated, and so often imitated, that walking through the exhibition feels like déjà vu. We’ve seen all of it already. But the original maquettes of his Chloé lookbooks and magazine spreads, juxtaposed with the original Chloé pieces, give us a tangible sense of the ideological and formal sources of his photography. For example, the verticality of book or magazine spines – a motif Bourdin used habitually in his compositions, providing both visual and conceptual play. (See the far right image below, in which a woman’s legs open “like a book.”)

One of my favorite Guy Bourdin photographs from the collection, from Vogue Paris, 1979.

Many of Bourdin’s collaborations with Chloé involved the French shoe house, Charles Jourdan. This particular photograph was from a 1972 campaign.

Another Charles Jourdan advertisement, from 1978. Our tour guide described this photo as, “her legs opening like the book she holds.”
The Maison Chloé space itself is alone worth the visit. Originally owned by a woman in the early 20th century, 28 rue de La Baume lends its own history to that of Chloé’s: both are women-owned houses. In fact, throughout most of its history, Chloé has been almost exclusively run by female designers and directors, among whom are counted Phoebe Philo and Stella McCartney. Upon founding the very first prêt-à-porter house in history, Gaby Aghion liberated women from the stiff, difficult-to-wear couture that dominated the fashion market. Following her lead, other couturiers like Madame Carven began to produce prêt-à-porter lines. Since the beginning of the label, Chloé has always been about the stories women live in their clothing.

And in the foyer of the classic Haussman building, an emerging artist has been included in the Chloé legacy. Curated by Chloé’s current creative director Natacha Ramsay-Levi, Marion Verboom’s quiet art installation, titled Achronies, is tucked just behind the main lobby. Appropriately, Verboom’s Brancusi-esque sculptures – in chunks both abstract and figurative – echo the Dadaist spontaneity of Chloé.

“…What should I do?
Did you kiss him on the mouth?
Yes. Then he gave me a brooch.
Then try to be with him.”
– J, Jewelry, from
Archivist Issue 3

Banner image is property of Chloé.

Currently an installation titled Achronies by Marion Verboom is on display in the foyer of the Maison Chloé, adding a touch of modernity to the classic Haussmann building. Photo my own.