Published September 24. 2012 4:00AM
Paris fashion week will soon open in style, with an exhibit that puts impressionist art down the runway - literally.
The exhibit, "Impressionism and Fashion," opens Tuesday at the storied Musee d'Orsay and explores how the late 19th-century Impressionists made Parisian fashion one of the great painting themes.
The exhibit travels to the New York Metropolitan in February.
It's well known that Impressionist artists such as Renoir, Monet and Degas tried to capture passing moments or "impressions" through painting. Less known is that dramatic changes in 1860s Parisian fashion played into the Impressionists' hands.
Rigid crinolines - the metal undercages that fanned out skirts - were abandoned in favor of a freer-flowing silhouette with layers of different materials and soft textures.
"The Impressionists used these new flowing fashions to capture the fleeting impressions of modern life," said co-curator Philippe Thiebaut. "Not only were they living, moving women now, but also the fashion trends themselves were changeable. It was the ultimate Impressionist subject."
Indeed, the blurred woman in a flowing, textured black dress in Edouard Manet's 1975 masterpiece "The Parisienne" looks almost as lifelike and real as many of the 60 actual dresses that make up the exhibit.
"We wanted to show how lifelike and modern all the Impressionist fashions were," said Robert Carsen, the famed Canadian set designer who designed the exhibit.
The colorful and varied collection also features some 80 oil paintings, which sprawl across nine rooms of the museum, and a converted turn-of-the-century train station. The station's original foyer was opened up for this exhibit for the first time in the museum's history.
In a spectacular touch, in two rooms Carsen has recreated modern runways - with a small dash of artistic license. Instead of models on the mirrored catwalks, hang oil paintings by masters such as Manet and Monet.
"I wanted to link the fashions of then to the fashions of today. Not much has changed in some ways. I discovered that the same chairs used in Paris catwalks today are the one we see in the Impressionists' paintings."
With perfect attention to detail, all the chairs are labeled appropriately in the mood of the time. Each seat has a 19th-century figure such as poet Charles Baudelaire.
"It's over a century now," said Carsen. "But some things don't change. We're still as obsessed with fashion now as we were then."