Architect Elliott Barnes sets the stage for an exhibition paying tribute to Gaby Aghion, founder of the infamous fashion house Chloé, and designers including Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, and Phoebe Philo, who launched their careers with the label.
Designer Gaby Aghion, founder of the iconic French fashion house Chloé, was nothing short of a visionary for women's attire. A Jewish woman born in Egypt in 1921, Aghion had an early appetite for fashion. She visited Paris as a student before marrying Raymond Aghion (an intellectual and left-wing political activist) and moving to the City of Light in 1945. She disliked the formality and rigid structure of traditional women's fashion, which spurred her to launch the fashion house Chloé in 1952. The label prioritized designs meant to flatter the female figure by creating soft, feminine pieces made from flowing fabrics while famously endowing women with more accessible garments—offering them for purchase off-the-rack, or as Aghion would say, "luxury prêt-à-porter." Now, nearly 71 years later, Chloé is renowned as one of the leading luxury brands in the world.
"I started Chloé because I love the idea of couture, but found the concept a little out of date—a little artificial. A thing of beauty and quality should be seen on women in the streets." — Gaby Aghion
Top to bottom, left to right: Blouse designed by Phoebe Philo, spring–summer 2002, silk crepe; Dress designed by Natacha Ramsay-Levi in collaboration with Rita Ackermann, autumn–winter 2020; Ensemble (shirt and skirt) designed by Natacha Ramsay-Levi, spring–summer 2019, cotton (shirt), wool (skirt); "Astoria" dress designed by Karl Lagerfeld, spring–summer 1967, hand-painted silk crepe by Nicole Lefort; Dress designed by Martine Sitbon, spring–summer 1990, silk crepe, black chiffon, plastic pellets, and beads; Shirt designed by Stella McCartney, spring–summer 2001, cotton jersey. Images: © Chloé Archive, Paris. Photos by Julien T. Hamon. Courtesy The Jewish Museum, NY.
To honor Gaby Aghion's legacy, an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York titled Mood of the Moment: Gaby Aghion and the House of Chloé (designed by architect Elliott Barnes) will be open from October 13, 2023 – February 18, 2024. A longtime admirer of Aghion's work, Barnes earned his master's degree in Architecture and Urban Planning from Cornell University in New York before opening his design studio in Paris (Elliott Barnes Interiors), and he was moved by the idea of honoring the fashion icon's influential work.
"As a stylist drapes a model to make a garment, I would then drape the museum to make this show." — Elliott Barnes
Looking to Aghion's early work, Barnes drew inspiration from the fluid lines and soft contours that define the Chloé brand. He began with a tour of the Chloé Archive collection in which he was inspired not only by the designs themselves but also by the material in which they were stored. Barnes noted the items were swathed in white Tyvek®—a sustainable, synthetic material that is breathable yet resistant to water, corrosion, and bacterial penetration—to protect them from premature aging and damage. Not only was the medium indicative of the care given to preserve the items, but it was simple and unobtrusive. As if to serve as a "blank canvas" backdrop to the art of the luxury pieces on display, Barnes chose to hang the Tyvek® throughout the exhibition, covering large portions of the museum from floor to ceiling, taking great care to leave uncovered the building's many historic and ornate architectural features.
While Tyvek® was used as a backdrop for much of the exhibit, the historical architecture of the Jewish Museum, NY remains uncovered, creating a kind of dialogue between the traditional building and the modernity of the installation.
Through the use of rounded podiums and the pleated Tyvek® came a sense of fluidity that achieved Barnes' plan to design the show with very few "hard lines," paying homage to the playful garments and reflecting on Agihon's rebellion against the commonly rigid women's clothing of the '50s & '60s. He extended the fabric to the full height of the museum to continually bring the architectural focus back to the garments.
First image: a concept sketch by Elliott Barnes; Second Image: a photo of the live exhibition. Both feature Chloé blouses and tops hung naturally from garment hangers.
The exhibition concludes in a room affectionately referred to as "the blouse room." Here, Barnes worked with the exhibit's curators to create an immersive retrospective of Chloé blouses from 1960 to now. Viewers are encouraged to spend time with the pieces, examining and appreciating the similarities and differences of each. The mood of the space reflects Aghion's appreciation for the colors of Egypt—she often referred to the beauty of the Egyptian sand and how it felt like silk.
The blouses and tops are casually draped from garment hangers and include a mix of prototype and commercial offerings. The display presents the pieces unencumbered by mannequin figures and allows visitors to marvel at the Chloé label adorning each garment. Including this brand-specific identifier was unusual at the time, as many retailers insisted on replacing brand labels with their own—a move Gaby Aghion did not accept.
I never asked anyone for their permission. I was responsible for my own life! I wanted to have an activity of my own—not to make money, but because creating something of your own brings you great happiness and pride. — Gaby Aghion
For visitors, walking amongst the whimsical and bohemian designs of Chloé includes an appreciation for the work, the space, and the meaningful legacy Aghion has left behind. The exhibit is a place for reflection and introspection; its contents represent a quiet strength once seen in the heart of a strong-willed woman who was not afraid to forge her own path.
For more information about the exhibit including tickets, visit their website.
Leon Levy Assistant Curator
Director Emerita and Exhibition Project Director