Unbutton the fashion world – Déboutonner la mode

Unbutton the fashion world – Déboutonner la mode

Alberto Giacometti for Elsa Schiaparelli, gilt bronze, early 1930s , photo Jean Tholance
Alberto Giacometti for Elsa Schiaparelli, gilt bronze, early 1930s, photo Jean Tholance

Where in the world could you imagine seeing an exhibition consecrated to buttons? An exhibition that is exclusively about buttons presenting more than 3000 of them from four centuries? A collection of buttons so extensive that it is considered an “oeuvre d’interêt patrimonial majeur”? Why in Paris of course!

Here is your chance to discover one of the most fabulous and interesting button collections in the world at the exhibition Déboutonner la Mode or Unbuttoning the fashion world at Les Art décoratifs. You’ll be able to see 3000 different buttons and 100 clothing items with buttons and accessories with buttons from emblematic couturiers dating from the 17th to 20th centuries.

Despite their small size, a button is a unique creation often made from priceless material and using specialized skills making each one a full-fledged objets d’art. They have been manufactured by silversmiths, glassmakers, ceramicists and jewellers and designed by renowned painters and sculptors such as Jean Arp, Maurice de Vlaminck, Sonia Delaunay and Alberto Giacometti. For this exhibition  they are displayed in a darkened room of glass cases with lovely lighting which enhances their jewel-like qualities.

Hellstern & Sons, circa 1920-1925, kid, Musée International de la Chaussure
Hellstern & Sons, circa 1920-1925, kid, Musée International de la Chaussure

This collection, which is exemplary for it’s eclecticism, variety and richness, and size was gathered by Loïc Allio. The most exceptional pieces include a woman’s portrait on ivory attributed to Fragonard, a trio of silver buttons depicting la Fontaine’s fables, and a set of eight birds painted on porcelain. There is one button that is an optical illusion showing two faces in one and others that display patriotism, or have French expressions or rebus.

The exhibition is structured chronologically and reveals the history of the button and fashion. It was for example only in 1780 that buttons appeared on French women’s clothing, inspired by English fashions. Previously they were only used on men’s clothing as status symbols. Buttons quite extraodinarily reflect the creativity and humour of a given period and the status of the wearer.

My only disappointment was the lack of buttons for purchase in the museum shop. There were just one set of two button and they were quite pricey. But the shop is full of other lovely gift ideas!

Guided visits are available in French – Reserve online. And visits for groups can be planned in German or English on request. The exhibition runs until 19 July.

Les Arts Décoratifs
107, rue de Rivoli 75001 Paris

Tél. : +33 (0)1 44 55 57 50
Métro : Palais-Royal, Pyramides ou Tuileries

Detailed information

PS: If you love buttons and would like some buttons with Paris on them for your next project do a search for “boutons paris” on http://www.alittlemercerie.com/. You won’t be disappointed. They have “Paris” ribbon too!

All images copyright: Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris.

Wax on painted metal, late 18th century photo Jean Tholance
Wax on painted metal, late 18th century
photo Jean Tholance
Bouton, Maison Lepant, vers 1925. Galalithe gravé et peint, argent
Bouton, Maison Lepant, vers 1925. Galalithe gravé et peint, argent, photo Patrick Gries
Attributed to Fragonard, late 18th century, miniature on ivory, photo Jean Tholance
Attributed to Fragonard, late 18th century, miniature on ivory, photo Jean Tholance
Found button, circa 1780, mother-of-pearl photo Jean Tholance
Found button, circa 1780, mother-of-pearl, photo Jean Tholance