Tuesday, December 25, 2007

How They Wear it: Mouna Ayoub Part II

Clockwise top left: Mouna Ayoub, in Dior couture with Loulou de la Falaise at her birthday party in Paris; In a Gaultier Paris gown from Spring 2005; At the Cannes film festival in Atelier Versace, Spring 2003; During Couture week in January 2002, the House of Dior threw a costume ball, taking over the main floor of the Ritz hotel, shrouding its chandeliers in black tulle and pumping out disco tunes and dry ice in equal measure till dawn. Ayoub appeared at the party dressed as Cruella de Ville accompanied by two Afghan hounds that stood in for the Dalmatians; Mouna Ayoub photographed in her famous jewels.

Mouna Ayoub’s passion for haute couture has endeared her to many of the designers, not because of the amount she spends, but for her knowledge and appreciation of the craft. So much so that Gaultier even broke with the protocol concerning his clients, and spoke of her during an interview with Suzy Menkes. “It’s marvelous to find someone who loves fashion so much,” said Gaultier of Ayoub at the time. “And she is generous and adorable with the people who work on her dresses.”

This was no more apparent than in 1999, when the Musee de la Mode in Marseille mounted an exhibit of some of her haute couture pieces, entitled “Mouna Ayoub, Parcours d’une Collectionneuse” (A Voyage Around a Collector). It was a rare instance when a living couture customer opened up her personal wardrobe to the general public. For the exhibit’s inaugural reception Ayoub not only included the designers on her guest list, but the heads of the couture workrooms, the embroiderer Francois Lesage, as well as the feather supplier Andre Lemarie. “I know the designers, I love the premières (atelier heads)” explained Ayoub. “That’s why, although I’m a collector, I’m not interested in old pieces, there has to be a human contact.”

Ayoub has often said that “Couture is also a form of art,” as a rebuttal to those who may see the craft and its clients as frivolous. By doing so Ayoub points to the fact that the media seldom bats an eye when wealthy individuals invest large sums in a piece of modern art or champion the work of a contemporary artist. Art in many cases is seen as a legitimate form of investment, where as couture, which straddles that fine line between creation and commerce is often perceived by the general public as simply high priced clothing destined for a few individuals.

But the last few decades has witnessed a boom in the study, conservation, and collecting of costumes, and more significantly haute couture, by major museums and cultural institutions around the world. Not only is haute couture widely regarded as a form of social history, but savvy curators have also realized that costume exhibits have the power to attract a large number of visitor’s through a museum’s doors.

Despite this curatorial interest in haute couture, only one tenth of Mouna Ayoub's personal wardrobe has ever gone on public display. But if Ayoub has her way, the general public may soon have the opportunity to indulge in the voyeuristic pleasures of delving into a couture customer’s extensive wardrobe. She recently purchased a grand Château outside of Paris which she is currently renovating into a museum to house her extensive collection of priceless frocks so that future generations can admire the work of the couturiers and their ateliers.
© THE POLYGLOT (all rights reserved) CHICAGO-PARIS

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