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1997 Fashion Big Bang exhibition Comme des Garçons
Comme des Garçons

Big Bang: the 365 explosive days that changed fashion forever

Bringing together Rei Kawakubo’s Lumps and Bumps, Alexander McQueen’s scandalous Givenchy debut, Tom Ford’s skimpy Gucci thong, and loads more, a new Paris exhibition explores 1997 – the year fashion span off its axis

Fashion’s had plenty of pivotal movements across its history, from Mary Quant hoicking up hemlines in the 1960s, to Vivienne Westwood and her entourage of anarchists ushering in the punk era of the late 1970s. But with its new exhibition, Paris’s Palais Galliera is narrowing things down to just one explosive year. 

The brainchild of curator Alexandre Samson, 1997 Fashion Big Bang brings together some of the most monumental garments and collections of this hyper-specific 365-day timeframe, with iconic looks from Rei Kawakubo, Alexander McQueen, Raf Simons, and Jean Paul Gaultier all on the line-up. And despite their mammoth impact on fashion as we now know it, plenty of the pieces have rarely, if ever, been made available for public viewing since landing on the runway 25 years ago. 

As the exhibition throws open its doors, we break down why it’s a must-visit for any fashion fans lucky enough to find themselves in Paris across the next few months.


Where were you in 1997? There’s a high chance if you’re reading this that at that point you were still a mere sparkle in your parents eyes, and even if you were born, it’s unlikely you were sat front row at New York, London, Milan, or Paris Fashion Week, seeing the extraordinary, game-changing looks showcased as part of the Big Bang come down the catwalk firsthand. Exciting then, that you’ll get to stand and gawp at items like Tom Ford’s Gucci G-string (on loan from AnOther fashion-phile Alexander Fury), Rei Kawakubo’s brilliantly uncomfortable Lumps and Bumps collection, and Jean Paul Gaultier’s legendary costumes for cult Luc Besson flick The Fifth Element (including Leeloo’s white bondage-inspired number) up close and personal for the first time ever.


The last few years of the 90s gave way to a movement which saw couture shaken to its core, as the stuffy, age-old institution was infiltrated by upstart British designers Alexander McQueen and John Galliano

Landing at Givenchy in 1997, McQueen turned out what would become a landmark, career-defining collection in Search for the Golden Fleece. And though he bolshily told Le Figaro shortly before he made his debut he had “no respect for Hubert de Givenchy”, he did seemingly have a modicum of reverence for the art of couture – evidenced in the intricate gold feathers, sculpted gold corset, and wildly fabulous headpieces once worn by Shalom Harlow and Debra Shaw, and now on show as part of the exhibition. 

Alongside looks from McQueen’s Givenchy offering are pieces from wild child Galliano’s first Dior outing, and Jean Paul Gaultier’s debut couture collection – the OG enfant terrible of French Fashion was practically a household name after dressing Madonna’s Blonde Ambition tour and fronting madcap late-night sleazefest Eurotrash, but only made the leap into ‘high-sewing’ by the time 1997 rolled around. 


In 2023 we’re used to the instant gratification of consuming fashion at the touch of a button, whether that’s logging on to livestreams on Instagram, or rifling through Vogue Runway pics uploaded just minutes after shows have finished, but back in the olden days of 1997 it was a very different story. As part of Big Bang, the moment things change is mapped out in a video of Helmut Lang’s AW98 outing. Making the move from Paris to New York, the Belgian designer’s presentation was the first fashion show to be streamed on the world wide web, with the fashion crowd later sent CD-ROMs of the collection. Also charting the shift from IRL to dot com is an installation dedicated to game-changing Parisian concept store Colette (RIP, still wanna run to you), which was one of the first high fashion retailers to really balance bricks and mortar with a big online selection. 


We’re living through an era of wild nostalgia across culture as a whole, and plenty of the garments Samson has gathered together have in recent years been resurrected for a new generation of fashion fanatics across social media. Among them is the aforementioned double-G Gucci thong, which soared in desirability when Kim Kardashian slipped into the skimpy style in 2019, and fuelled a renewed fervour for the designs from Ford’s sex-infused archive (it’s no surprise that, for AW23, the house dredged up his brilliant 2004 horsebit bag and presented it to a bunch of foaming-at-the-mouth fashion editors).

Elsewhere, Martin Margiela’s seminal Sellotaped Tabis – in which the Belgian iconoclast strapped his signature cloven-hooved sole onto models feet with the sticky-backed plastic – are also on the line-up. Worn originally by just a handful of those with a particular penchant for avant-garde fashion, the Tabi boot has now reached meme-levels of popularity, with Mary Kate and Ashley referencing them as part of their SS20 show at The Row.