Watch Laurent Cotta, head of graphic arts at the Palais Galliera, and Dr. Valerie Steele engage in an exciting conversation at The Museum at FIT’s 16th fashion symposium, Proust’s Muse, held on Thursday, October 20, 2016.

The day-long symposium was organized in conjunction with the exhibition Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe. Researchers from the United States and Europe discussed the connections between fashion, patronage, literature, and the arts in turn of the century France.

Stay tuned as more recordings from the symposium are made available on our YouTube Channel.

Photo by Eileen Costa. © 2016 The Museum at FIT

Photo by Eileen Costa. © 2016 The Museum at FIT

Photograph © Zach Hilty/BFA.com

Photograph © Zach Hilty/BFA.com

When Rick Owens told me that La Mode retrouvée was “one of my all-time favorite museum shows since I’ve lived in Paris,” I asked him to lend one of his own dresses to Proust’s Muse and to explain why he was so attracted to an exhibition of the dresses of the Countess Greffulhe. He explained, “I have long been a fan of Count Robert de Montesquiou, but it wasn’t until I saw this show that I was aware of his relationship with the Countess Greffulhe. They both shared a taste for the exquisite and the discipline to pursue perfection to an intense degree.”
~ Valerie Steele


Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe runs through January 7, 2016 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.


Rick Owens
Ensemble, fall/winter 2015
Wool, nylon, cotton, viscose, silk, leather
Lent by Rick Owens

palais-galliera-logos-sm

This exhibition was developed by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.
The Museum at FIT's: opening party for Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe
Photographs © Zach Hilty/BFA.com

Photographs © Zach Hilty/BFA.com

“Women who dare to wear clothes that are strikingly original and about three seasons ahead of the style naturally gravitate to Louiseboulanger,” observed one guidebook. That would certainly describe the Countess Greffulhe, who was always a connoisseur of high fashion.

Louiseboulanger
Evening gown, late 1930s
Rayon crepe “Aziza,” velvet
GAL1964.20.29, gift of the Gramont family to the Palais Galliera
Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe runs through January 7, 2016 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

palais-galliera-logos-sm

This exhibition was developed by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.
L: © Zach Hilty/BFA.com© Julien Vidal / Galliera / Roger-Viollet

L: © Zach Hilty/BFA.com
R: © Julien Vidal / Galliera / Roger-Viollet

Even as an older woman, the Countess Greffulhe always sought to attract the gaze of observers. In an early draft of Sodom and Gomorah, Proust attributed an anecdote told of her to the fictional Princesse de Guermantes, who says, “I shall know I’ve lost my beauty when people stop turning to stare at me” to which another character replies, “Never fear, my dear, so long as you dress as you do, people will always turn and stare.”

Left: Nina Ricci
Evening ensemble, dress and cape, circa 1937
Silk crepe, silk muslin, ostrich feathers
GAL1964.20.41ABC, gift of the Gramont family to the Palais Galliera


Right: Nina Ricci
Bolero, circa 1937
Silk crepe, silk muslin, ostrich feathers
GAL1964.20.41ABC, gift of the Gramont family to the Palais Galliera

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe runs through January 7, 2016 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

palais-galliera-logos-sm

This exhibition was developed by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.
L: Photograph © Zach Hilty/BFA.com R: Photo by Eileen Costa. © 2016 The Museum at FIT

L: Photograph © Zach Hilty/BFA.com
R: Photo by Eileen Costa. © 2016 The Museum at FIT

The Countess Greffulhe clearly appreciated the sophisticated subtlety of Jeanne Lanvin, one of the greatest fashion designers of her era, whose work reached its height in the 1930s. Even in her seventies, the Countess continued to adopt advanced fashions, such as the coat on the right with almost Surrealist effects.


Left: Jeanne Lanvin
Evening gown, summer 1937
Tulle and crepe
GAL1964.20.38AB, gift of the Gramont family to the Palais Galliera


Right: Jeanne Lanvin
Day coat, 1936
Silk satin, wool, metal, fur
GAL1964.20.31, gift of the Gramont family to the Palais Galliera

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe runs through January 7, 2016 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

palais-galliera-logos-sm

This exhibition was developed by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.
© Galliera / Roger-Viollet

© Galliera / Roger-Viollet

Like all fashionable women of her era, the Countess Greffulhe never went outside without wearing a hat. Her archive includes a sheet of paper headed “Traveling 1900,” on which she made a careful list of accessories she would require, including: “Large hat necessary – light and halo-like. Summer veils . . . We need 2 black hats, 1 navy blue, 1 cream, 1 fancy, 1 fur hat for traveling.” Her contemporaries often mentioned her hats, and Proust also alluded repeatedly to the hats of the Duchesse de Guermantes.


Wide-brimmed hat, circa 1935
Velvet, feathers, tulle, paste (jewelry)
GAL1964.20.44, gift of the Gramont family to the Palais Galliera

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe runs through January 7, 2016 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

palais-galliera-logos-sm

This exhibition was developed by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.
L: Photograph © Zach Hilty/BFA.com // R: Photo by Eileen Costa. © 2016 The Museum at FIT

L: Photograph © Zach Hilty/BFA.com
R: Photo by Eileen Costa. © 2016 The Museum at FIT

The period between the wars has been called “the golden age of the couturière.” On the evidence of her existing wardrobe, it appears that the Countess Greffulhe patronized many celebrated female designers, including Maggy Rouff, who was the daughter of the head designer at the House of Drécoll.

Élisabeth Greffulhe often wore black. Robert de Montesquiou described how “She appeared with the elegant energy and refined majesty of a gazelle that had encountered a length of black velvet, which she trailed behind her with infinite grace.”


Left: Maggie Rouff
Evening dress, circa 1930
Silk velvet
GAL1964.20.30, gift of the Gramont family to the Palais Galliera


Right: Jenny
Evening gown, circa 1935
Black viscose jersey and satin
GAL1964.20.37, gift of the Gramont family to the Palais Galliera
Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe runs through January 7, 2016 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

palais-galliera-logos-sm

This exhibition was developed by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.
Photographs © Zach Hilty/BFA.com

Photographs © Zach Hilty/BFA.com

Photographs © Zach Hilty/BFA.com

Photographs © Zach Hilty/BFA.com

This iridescent blue and silver evening coat with Orientalist motifs (rocks, trees, pagodas, figures) demonstrates how the Countess Greffulhe continued to be attracted to the glittering exoticism of the pre-war years.

Evening coat (no label), circa 1925
Gold lamé, embroidery, and sequins
GAL1964.20.24, gift of the Gramont family to the Palais Galliera
Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe runs through January 7, 2016 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

palais-galliera-logos-sm

This exhibition was developed by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.
The Museum at FIT's: opening party for Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe
Photographs © Zach Hilty/BFA.com

Photographs © Zach Hilty/BFA.com

Marcel Proust was inspired by the Countess Greffulhe when he created the character of the Duchesse de Guermantes. But he also drew on elements of her style for another character, the Princesse de Guermantes. In one scene in The Guermantes Way, he placed the two women together: the former “typically French” in her “exquisite refinement,” the latter more “poetic” and “dressed up.” This evening ensemble, with its motif of hieroglyphics inspired by the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, seems more in accordance with the style of the Princesse de Guermantes.
Evening ensemble (no label), circa 1925
Bolero: gold and green lame, metallic lace, pink silk crepe de chine lining
Dress: gold and silver metallic lace, silk tulle embroidered with metallic threads
Foundation: Gold and green lamé
GAL1964.20.23ABC, gift of the Gramont family to the Palais Galliera

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe runs through January 7, 2016 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.

palais-galliera-logos-sm

This exhibition was developed by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.
Photograph © Zach Hilty/BFA.com

Photograph © Zach Hilty/BFA.com

The frocks of the 1920s were a far cry from the elaborate evening gowns in which Élisabeth Greffulhe had once astonished Parisian society. Yet memories of fashions past inevitably occur. For example, Proust once described the Duchesse de Guermantes wearing a gown ornamented with “innumerable spangles.” He wrote, “I did not believe that any other woman could usurp that spangled bodice, any more than the flashing aegis of Minerva.”
Evening dress (no label), circa 1925
Ivory tulle, embroidered with beads and sequins, silk muslin
GAL1964.20.20, gift of the Gramont family to the Palais Galliera
Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe runs through January 7, 2016 at The Museum at FIT in NYC.
palais-galliera-logos-sm

This exhibition was developed by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.