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  • Writer's picturePatrick Cabasset

ESMOD Collection: when history looks to the future

Imagine a collection of over 1,200 fashion pieces digitalised in 3D and available

to view online: this is what ESMOD is currently doing with its collection of

precious archive materials. Welcome to the real history of fashion, from 1750 to

the present day.

The famous outfit worn by Uma Thurman in Bel Ami. Day bodice, sweeping skirt and evening corset made from 19 th century fabrics for the 2012 film.

Any institution that reaches its 180 th anniversary (in 2021, in this case) has to have a

substantial history behind it and an archive to match. But in the field of training and

education, and fashion in particular, where the aim is to always be looking to the

future, it’s not always as simple as that. “I’d already carried out an initial inventory of

the school’s heritage archives in 2011, to coincide with the school’s

170 th  anniversary”, explains Director of Heritage and ESMOD Editions Claire

Wargnier. From patents, cutting methods, mannequin busts and tape measures to

photos, VHS tapes and DVDs, not to mention tags, patterns, books, handwritten

course books (dating from the days of the World War II paper shortages), etc., there

was certainly no shortage of documents. “Over the next 10 years, I carried out further

research with the help of the founder’s family”, she continues, “but it wasn’t until

2018, when it came to illustrating the history of the school to mark its 180 th

anniversary and to share with the students our expertise regarding historical ready-

to-wear and haute couture models, that I started collecting the garments themselves”.

Complete French-style Amazon outfit from 1885 in the ESMOD collection.

This heritage would soon consist of over 90 complete outfits and looks dating

from 1750 to 1970 and beyond. The collection was initially established with old

pieces rented out for theatre and cinema. A collaboration with passionate collector

Mireille Tembouret on the publication of 4 books on the Grammaire du vêtement

occidental (‘Grammar of Western Clothing’, ESMOD Editions), has seen the author

donate some of the clothes illustrated in her books to ESMOD Heritage. This initial

step will soon be complemented by a generous donation from the UFAC (French

Union of Costume Arts). A legacy of some 400 pieces among which Claire finds

pieces by former students who have become stylists and designers, including Thierry

Mugler, Franck Sorbier, Daniel Hechter and Jacqueline Coq. Since then, the school

has been collecting donations from individuals and buying models at auction, online

and from antique fairs.

This is where the idea of a conservatory that was both a research laboratory and a

source of inspiration for the clothing of today and tomorrow came from, a project that

embodies the ambition of one man, ESMOD President Mr. Nino, and indeed the pride

of the entire school.

Afternoon dress dating from around 1921-24. The online video will allow you to view it from every angle.

Among these treasures we find creations by the likes of Paquin, Lanvin, Nina Ricci

and Guy Laroche, among others. A unique museum piece in the form of an Amazon's

outfit is the collection’s crowning glory, symbolising the specialisation of the school’s

founder and amazonier to Empress Eugénie, Alexis Lavigne. Some of the pieces

have been reconstructed for cinema, though this makes them no less valuable. One

such piece is a ‘Danton’ dress worn by Claudia Cardinale in Robert Enrico’s La

Révolution Française (1989), along with a sumptuous detachable dress with a bustle

recreated in period fabrics and even boning for Uma Thurman in the 2012 film Bel

Ami. More amusing still is the multi-coloured kaftan dress from 1968 worn by Dalida.

These 1,200 classified and indexed pieces represent all of the different

specialisations in which ESMOD offers courses. These dresses, shirts, trousers and

accessories (hats, gloves, bags, shoes, etc.) embody such a wealth of expertise in

the fields of ladies’ and men’s ready-to-wear fashion and haute couture, as well as

children’s clothing, lingerie and knitwear. The school has also recently acquired a

number of wedding dresses from all periods in history. A real cabinet of curiosities,

then, and one that has already been the subject of various dedicated work sessions

for teachers and students alike. Guided tour-talks, whereby some of the

reconstructed garments can be tried on to help raise awareness of other forms of

wear and other textile experiences, can also be arranged.

Psychedelic kaftan dress. 1968.

Dalida in the dress that is now part of the ESMOD collection. Photo by Raymond Depardon, Magnum agency, 1968.

But an archive is worthless unless it is permanently accessible to students, alumni,

researchers and as many other enthusiasts as possible, which is why, over the past

two years, these pieces have been digitised, filmed and captioned to create 360-

degree images of the garments in question. The resulting files will soon be available


Since the last Metaverse Fashion Week that ran from 24 to 27 March 2023, specialist

firm Altr has already made available online an initial augmented reality experience

with the famous French-style Amazon outfit from the ESMOD collection (1880),

revealing the history of this garment in which the school’s founder Alexis Lavigne

specialised. Each piece – blouse, skirt, trousers and accessories – is individually

examined within the context of the period, and you can even scan a bar code using

your smartphone to make the outfit appear right there in the room with you. A unique

experience offering 3D-like access to the outfit so you can appreciate its contours

from every possible angle. Truly spectacular!

1950s gingham afternoon dress resembling Brigitte Bardot’s wedding dress at the time.

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