Alexander McQueen, Fall 2009, Photo: François Nars

The exhibition Birds of Paradise – Plumes & Feathers in Fashion is an ode to the elegance and refinement of the application of plumes and feathers in fashion and haute couture.
Through a mixture of 19th-, 20th- and 21st-century accessories, garments and couture dresses, the different characteristics of the various plumes and feathers are highlighted: sophistication, femininity, lightness, wealth, luxury, but also lost innocence and dark romance. Plume embroidery is typically used in haute couture and evening wear owing to the costliness of the feathers, their strikingly elegant form and the technical refinement of feather embroidery. In collaboration with Maison Lemarié of Paris, the exhibition sheds light on the craft of the plumassier and the diverse techniques of feather embroidery. In addition, the immense variety of feather motifs will be covered.


Folding fan, mount in ostrich feathers dyed in degrade, tortoiseshell sticks decorated with a crown and arms in platinum, diamonds, rubies and enamel, 1928, Altenloh E&R jewelers, Brussels, Former collection Queen Astrid of Belgium, Royal Collections Palace of Brussels SA.1935.0088

19th-century accessories and belle époque garments showcase the refined elegance of the changing fashions at the end of the 19th century, emphasizing ostrich, pheasant and marabou feathers. The roaring twenties were the true heydays of garment feathers, as they were used in accessories such as boas and hats for flappers. Gabrielle Chanel also used feathers for her motifs and in the embroidery for her creations and film costumes. Marlène Dietrich’s iconic swan’s down coat is a masterpiece: it is the crowning jewel of the theme of black and white swan in evening dress.


Pic 1&2: Hat trimming, cut and lacquered goose feather, 1920-1940, MoMu collection T12/208, Photo: MoMu/Suzan Rylant.
Hat trimming of feather quills and artificial flowers, MoMu collection T96/90C, Photo: MoMu/Suzan Rylant.

In contemporary fashion, the work of Belgian designer Ann Demeulemeester counts as one of the most poetic examples of the use of feathers. The dramatic quality of the work of British designer Alexander McQueen is often expressed through the use of highly graphic feathers. Cristóbal Balenciaga, Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel all have their own specific relationship with feathers and plumes. These days, feathers are again all the rage on the catwalk, both in creations of Belgian as well as international fashion designers.


Pic 1&2 Ann Demeulemeester, DanLecca ©

SS08DLR_Paris, Ann Demeulemeester, Paris

MoMu also invited the renowned British artist Kate MccGwire. MccGwire primarily works with feathers from pigeons, a type of bird that, today, generally conjures up negative and dull connotations. Yet the labour-intensive nature of her work, which is characterised by organic forms, variations in scale and a high degree of tenderness and precision, succeeds in transcending the ordinary qualities of this bird. She describes her practice as the discovery and reinforcement of beauty in the unconventional.


Pic 1&2
Cleave, mixed media with crow feathers, Kate McGwire, 2012, Photo: Tessa Angus. Quell, detail, mixed media with dove and pigeon feathers, Kate McGwire, 2011, Photo: Tessa Angus.


BIRDS OF PARADISE – Plumes & Feathers in Fashion
20/03 > 24/08/2014
MoMu Fashion Museum Antwerp | Nationalestraat 28 | BE-2000 Antwerp

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