[April 10 2015]
After a brilliant and rapid succession of posts at French cultural institutions as a fashion historian and curator, Olivier Saillard is now the director of the Palais Galliera (the Musée de la Mode) in Paris. He has curated the most important fashion exhibitions in Paris, among them last year’s Azzedine Alaïa retrospective. Parallel to this official responsibility, he has been developing a personal artistic œuvre for years, regularly presenting performances on the state of the fashion world. These two activities have a common thread: Olivier Saillard’s personal conviction that fashion is a true artistic endeavor with historical importance, which has a specific vocabulary he wants to underline.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it true that you created your own fashion magazine at the age of 12?
OLIVIER SAILLARD — Yes, I did. When I went back and pulled them out at my parents’ house — these little fake magazines written with such naiveté and conviction — I realized that the first thing I did in my life was to write about fashion. I reported on the collections I had seen in the magazines. Everything was fictionalized: the names of the journalists and designers. They were all named Olivier: Olivier Durand, Olivier Breton. I did my own mise en abyme, hoping it would bring me luck!
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you come from a big family?
OLIVIER SAILLARD — I had a brother and four sisters, one of whom was quite a flirt. One of my sisters had her clothes made by a dressmaker in my neighborhood who would copy what she saw in Vogue. For a city in the provinces, this was fairly unusual. I came from a pretty modest background; my parents were both taxi drivers. I think it was a determining factor that I lived with four girls. I was able to imitate the sketches of the great designers. I would do fake Saint Laurents, fake Diors when I was in class…
OLIVIER ZAHM — You were bored at school?
OLIVIER SAILLARD — Completely. I couldn’t wait to get away from my town — Pontarlier, in northern France — my family, my milieu. I studied hard so I could get out of there as fast as possible. I was a conscientious fugitive! Years later, when I had arrived in Paris and was working at the Museum of Fashion at the Arts Décoratifs, I realized I had never really left my parents’ attic. We were a large family, and the only place where I could go to escape was the attic. I had fixed up a sort of large sofa-bed up there, where I would sprawl, surrounded by piles of old and new clothes. Which actually isn’t very different from what I’m doing now!
OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s true! How do you maintain all the clothing at the Palais Galliera?
OLIVIER SAILLARD — We have a sort of underground NASA in the 11th arrondissement. There are these beige canvases, and under them we have organized 120,000 pieces, archives that have been in place since the 18th century. There are some amazing things there: the wardrobes of Sarah Bernhardt and the Countess Greffulhe, who was Proust’s inspiration for the Duchess of Guermantes. Countess Greffulhe’s clothing channels Alexander McQueen. She only liked green; she had ecclesiastical garments re-cut to make her evening dresses, which at the time was definitely considered subversive.Read more in Purple Fashion magazine #23. Click here to buy