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Wardrobe Mistress

October 17, 2016
Proust's Muse, The Countess Greffulhe

Fashion designers and artists often have a muse, but fiction writers – not so much. Perhaps that’s why Elisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe (1860-1952), is so fascinating.

This showcase from Paris’ venerable Palais Galliera at New York’s The Museum at FIT explores the fashion flair of the extraordinary muse of French novelist Marcel Proust (of monumental novel A la recherche du temps perdu fame, aka In Search of Lost Time). Admire garments from her 1920s wardrobe by iconic Gallic designers Nina Ricci and Jeanne Lanvin, and opulent Orientalist statements.

Aristocratic and artistic, the elegant countess patronised big-name couturiers but had her own style (like modern-day muses Daphne Guinness and the late Isabella Blow). She inspired Proust’s character Oriane, the Duchess of Guermantes, whose dresses were described as like projections of her soul. 

The 28 gowns on display include the ‘Lily Dress’ (c 1896), attributed to the House of Worth, with its dramatic lilies motif, and the daring emerald and blue ‘robe d’intérieur’ (1897), which contrasted with her auburn hair. Gold lamé, pearls and fur all feature, alongside dozens of accessories from hats to gloves, fans, stockings and shoes (like the red velvet high heels that inspired a famous scene in the book).

The Countess loved being photographed, and there are some stunning ‘pre-selfie’ ones here, plus a dress by US fashion whizz Rick Owens in homage to this fashion-forward minx.

Until 7 Jan, 2017.

Proust's Muse, The Countess Greffulhe / The Museum at FIT / 227 W 27th St / Chelsea / +1 212 217 4558 / noon-8pm Tue-Fri, 10am-5pm Sat / fitnyc.edu

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