Fashion historian Olivier Saillard talks “Eternity Dress” and re-collaborating with Tilda Swinton
Passing trends, fast retailing, collaborations, cruise collections, pre-collections... Today’s fashion industry has become so fast-paced that craft and creativity are often lost in the quest for novelty and quantity. But for Olivier Saillard, fashion historian and director of the Musée Galliéra in Paris, it’s all about the gesture, the trial and error and the gradual (and often arduous) stages of making a garment. Eternity Dress, his second performance for the Festival d’Automne (after The Impossible Wardrobe in 2012) which premiered on Tuesday at the Beaux-Arts de Paris, is thus a celebration of the savoir-faire, the petites mains, the couturierès and the ateliers that defined fashion in our era, from Paul Poiret to Jean-Paul Gaultier.
Alongside Tilda Swinton, Saillard mimicked the process of creating a dress (“only one elementary, intentionally modest dress, a shadow that could be claimed by all the couturiers of the past and the designers of tomorrow”). From measurements, a mathematical yet poetic exercise as Swinton voiced the different parts of the feminine anatomy – tour de taille, tour de hanches, tour de petites hanches – to patternmaking, draping and sewing, each step was completed in a ceremonious, almost ritualistic way. Different types of collars, sleeves and fabrics were proposed by Saillard and dismissed by Swinton from her (physical and metaphorical) pedestal. With the simplest possible details, in black crêpe, the dress was finished, condensing, in a fleeting moment, the history of fashion.
After the performance, Dazed met Olivier Saillard backstage to briefly discuss the ideas behind Eternity Dress.
Dazed Digital: Last year you collaborated with Tilda in The Impossible Wardrobe. What made you want to work with her again?
Olivier Saillard: While creating The Impossible Wardrobe, Tilda and I became such good friends that we were sad to see the project end. Collaborating again seemed like the natural thing to do... The Festival d’Automne asked for three performances, so hopefully next year we’ll be working together too. What I like about Tilda is the fact that she doesn’t work in the fashion industry, so she has a very fresh view: she can as easily become sculptural or comical, a woman or a man, she can be 18 or 75... She brings the performance to a whole new level.
DD: Is the process of making a dress more beautiful than the finished dress?
Olivier Saillard: There is a moving kind of beauty to the working process that’s not very different from performance rehearsals: in both cases, work feels like a bubble separated from the outside world, almost meditative in a way. As Tilda and I rehearsed, we realized how much we were enjoying the practice... I guess it’s the same in fashion. Seeking might be more beautiful than finding, after all.
DD: As fashion becomes an increasingly global business, is it important to celebrate its Parisian roots?
Olivier Saillard: Parisian fashion – created by French, but also American, English, Belgian and Japanese designers – has always been at the helm of creativity, and that’s something to celebrate. However, we must not be lulled into complacency. Traditionally, it has been Paris’s work to push the boundaries of fashion; it’s important to keep doing that.
DD: Is the speed of fashion in the 21st century making us forget the importance ofsavoir-faire?
Olivier Saillard: In a way, we are forgetting what is really essential to fashion – sewing, for instance. During the performance, as I witnessed Tilda sewing the dress in complete silence, I became conscious of the beauty of this archaic gesture that we tend to forget. Making a dress with care, with one’s own hands, is an incredibly tender act. We should always remember that.
Eternity Dress, at the Beaux-Arts de Paris, runs through November 24.