About the Exhibition

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe features extraordinary fashions from the legendary wardrobe of Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe (1860–1952). A famous beauty celebrated for her “aristocratic and artistic elegance,” the countess was a fashion icon comparable to Daphne Guinness today. View the exhibition brochure.

Due to loan restrictions, photography is not allowed in this exhibition.
You may download installation images from our Flickr Album

Proust’s Muse is based on La Mode retrouvée: Les robes trésors de la comtesse Greffulhe, an exhibition organized in Paris by Olivier Saillard, director of the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, which is the repository of the countess’s wardrobe. Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, has organized the exhibition in New York in collaboration with Saillard. She also contributed an essay, “The Aristocrat as a Work of Art,” to the French catalog. View the La Mode retrouvée: Les robes trésors de la comtesse Greffulhe catalog.

“The Countess Greffulhe believed in the artistic significance of fashion,” says Steele. “And although she patronized the greatest couturiers of her time, her style was very much her own. Today, when fashion is increasingly regarded as an art form, her attitude is especially relevant.”

When Marcel Proust wrote his novel In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu), the Countess Greffulhe inspired his immortal character, Oriane, the Duchess de Guermantes, of whom he wrote, “Each of her dresses seemed like…the projection of a particular aspect of her soul.”

In addition to the 28 garments on display, there are a dozen accessories—shoes, hats, fans, gloves, and stockings—including a pair of red velvet high-heeled shoes that evoke one of the most famous scenes in Proust’s novel. A selection of photographs depict the Countess Greffulhe and important contemporaries, including Robert de Montesquiou and Marcel Proust. Finally, there is an ensemble inspired by the Countess Greffulhe and created by the contemporary fashion designer Rick Owens.

A symposium in the Katie Murphy Amphitheatre at FIT on October 20 features more than a dozen speakers, including Laurent Cotta, deputy in charge of the department of graphic arts at the Palais Galliera; Laure Hillerin, the countess’s biographer; art and fashion historian Françoise Tetart-Vittu; and Philippe Thiebaut, curator and scientific advisor at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (INHA). Subjects to be discussed include fashion and literature; fashion in Impressionist art; and fashion, sex and gender. These and other public programs are, as always, free to the public. There is a catalog in French published by the Palais Galliera, titled La Mode retrouvée, with essays by Saillard, Steele, and others. An English-language brochure by Steele is available in the gallery.

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe is the first of several exhibitions focusing on French fashion to be held at The Museum at FIT. It will be followed by Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 (February–April 2017), curated by Colleen Hill, and Paris, Capital of Fashion (September 2019–January 2020), curated by Dr. Valerie Steele.

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe is part of Tandem Paris NYC.

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the Couture Council with additional support from The Coby Foundation, Ltd.
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This exhibition was developed by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.

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