MODE ET SPORT
As Paris prepares to host the Summer Olympic Games next year, a fresh exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs shines a spotlight on the intricate relationship between sports competition and fashion. Titled “Fashion and Sport, From One Podium to the Other,” the exhibition is scheduled to run until spring. It starts with a rather striking absence of clothing, as the initial display features an Ancient Greek statue of a discus thrower – emphasising the historical fact that Olympic athletes once competed nude. This intriguing aspect is reflected in vintage posters promoting the Games held back in Stockholm in 1912 and Paris in 1924.
The exhibition offers captivating insights into the evolving social norms that led women to trade in their corsets for more comfortable Lycra bodysuits, as comfort began to take precedence in the world of fashion. This theme dovetails with another ongoing exhibition in Paris at the Palais Galliera museum, titled “Fashion in Motion.” Sophie Lemahieu, the curator responsible for post-1947 fashion and textile collections at Les Arts Décoratifs, traces this shift back to the 1920s. During this era, pioneering designers such as Jean Patou, Jeanne Lanvin, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Gabrielle Chanel introduced sportswear, dressing prominent athletes like tennis champions Suzanne Lenglen and Lilí de Álvarez.
Lemahieu notes, “There are ancient Roman mosaics that show women wearing the precursor of the bikini and carrying hand weights, suggesting that sporting activity was possible. Having said that, women were historically confined to the home while men were outdoors, honing their bodies.” “In the 1920s, we see a huge change as sport becomes increasingly important. During this period, sport is synonymous with youth and a lithe body, which was really the fashionable body shape of that time,” she adds.
Before this shift, women were obligated to wear restrictive corsets and bustles for activities like archery and gymnastics. “At the end of the 19th century, individual sports like tennis and golf were popular among the bourgeoisie, an elite that was focused not on performance but on socialising,” Lemahieu points out. The invention of the bicycle was a game-changer, allowing women to wear bloomers to prevent their skirts from getting caught in the spokes, although initial attempts to popularise culotte skirts faced resistance.
Lemahieu highlights a photograph from 1911, showing women attending a horse race in this new style, which at the time closely resembled a regular skirt. “There were lots of articles in the press decrying how awful and indecent they were. Some people commented that it might be the look of the future, but they were not ready for it then,” she explains. Some rule-breakers emerged earlier on, like a 1783 portrait by Louis-Auguste Brun, depicting Queen Marie Antoinette on horseback wearing breeches, a remarkably modern choice for the 18th century.
´Impressively bridging the worlds of athleticism and style, the ‘Mode Et Sport’ exhibition in Paris stands as a testament to the dynamic relationship between sports and fashion. With its thought-provoking displays and historical insights, this exhibition offers a compelling exploration of how clothing has evolved alongside sporting endeavors, capturing the essence of this intriguing intersection.´ – Charles Daniel McDonald
The 19th century marked the emergence of sporting competitions with teams, regulations, and specialised sports attire. The exhibition features around 450 items, including a jersey from New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team from the early 20th century, emphasising the challenge of preserving clothing used in strenuous athletic endeavours. The exhibition, conceived by architecture and exhibition design firm BGC Studio, underscores how athletes played a pivotal role in popularising sportswear. For instance, Emilio Pucci was an Italian ski champion, and Ottavio Missoni began his career as a 400-meter runner.
Some figures have faded from memory, like tennis player-turned-designer Jane Régny, while others remain prominent, such as René Lacoste, the founder of the French sportswear brand that is the primary sponsor of the exhibition. Among the showcased items is the earliest-known polo shirt, designed by the tennis star, which celebrates its 90th anniversary this year. Additionally, there is a limited-edition Lacoste shirt designed by the Campana brothers, featuring hundreds of hand-stitched crocodiles, illustrating the migration of vibrant colors and logos from sports uniforms to fashion design.
Swimwear played a role in the path toward unisex dressing, with men and women adopting similar swimming costumes in the 1930s. Lemahieu notes, “A further illustration of female emancipation is the way beach pajamas worn over swimsuits were one of the first types of women’s pants you could wear without a problem.” In the ’60s and ’70s, prominent brands like Balmain and André Courrèges dressed hosts and delegates at the Olympic Games, demonstrating their soft power. Issey Miyake, convinced that all 21st-century clothing would be inspired by sports, even waived his fee to design outfits for the delegation representing a newly independent Lithuania at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
A section of the exhibition focuses on the ’80s, illustrating how sports gear and sneakers became the default uniform for a generation. This era is exemplified by a pink velour tracksuit adorned with a rhinestone Juicy Couture logo across the bottom. In the museum’s atrium, mannequins adorned in designer attire are arranged around a track under circular lights inspired by the Olympic rings. Notable highlights encompass designs by Jean Paul Gaultier, Alexander McQueen, Vetements, and Off-White, as well as examples of prominent sports collaborations, such as a sleek black gown with a three-stripe band by Yohji Yamamoto for his Y-3 line for Adidas, and a patchwork dress made from upcycled soccer jerseys by Koché designer Christelle Kocher for Nike.
The final segment of the exhibition underscores the role of athletes as trendsetters, featuring items like the black bodysuit worn by Serena Williams at the Roland-Garros tennis tournament in 2018, which was subsequently banned from future French Opens, sparking controversy. Advertising campaigns starring tennis star Naomi Osaka for Louis Vuitton and soccer player Zinedine Zidane for Dior serve as modern-day evidence that the enduring romance between fashion and sport shows no signs of fading.
Article: Charles Daniel McDonald
Photography: Mode Et Sport / Musée Des Arts Décoratifs