Palais Galliera, Paris

1997 Fashion Big Bang

Words by Albert Shyong

Jersey dresses designed by Rei Kawakubo for Merce Cunningham’s ballet Scenario, 1997.
Photography by Gautier Deblonde

A convergence of unbridled creativity, budding talent and the sheer audacity to challenge enduring fashion norms in 1997 – a year described by Vogue Paris as a ‘big bang’ – re-established the preeminence of Paris as a fashion capital and ushered in novel codes still seen on global runways today. The exhibition 1997 Fashion Big Bang, on show through July 16th at the Palais Galliera fashion museum in Paris, explores the dynamic shifts in and around this titular year, where avant-garde and luxury players laid the roadmap for the new millennium.

Curated by the Galliera’s own Head of Collections, Haute Couture and Contemporary Creation Alexandre Samson, the exhibition catalogues watershed collections, runway shows, designer appointments, retail openings and world events that occurred in this singular year, which have had a lasting impact on our contemporary fashion landscape.

In a U-shaped scenography furcated by thematic antechambers, the show is arranged chronologically, commencing with Spring Summer 1997 ready-to-wear, followed by the Spring Summer 1997 haute couture, Autumn Winter 1997-1998 haute couture and Spring Summer 1998 ready-to-wear shows. This seasonal timeline is complemented by momentous historical events such as the opening of the Parisian concept store Colette and the deaths of Gianni Versace and Princess Diana, contextualising the liminal state of the industry fraught with disruption far beyond the runway.

Left: Helmut Lang Spring Summer 1998. © Dan & Corina Lecca
Right: Raf Simons Spring Summer 1997 catalogue. © Ronald Stoops

Left: Bishops’ robes designed by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac for the closing mass of the World Youth Day, 1997. © Antonio Ribeiro / GAMMA RAPHO
Centre: Martin Margiela Spring Summer 1997 Stockman collection, Autumn Winter 1997-1998 fur wig “Bless” © Paris Musées / Palais Galliera, Paris
Right: Bono wearing a Walter Von Beirendonck t-shirt, U2 ‘Popmart Tour’ 1997. AFP Archives. © Achim Scheidemann / DPA Picture Alliance via AFP

Archive pieces on loan from respective houses and private collections as well as specially-commissioned recreations of wigs and makeup serve as legitimate guides to the overarching narrative of impact and legacy asserted by the exhibition. Several emblematic collections emerged in 1997, including Comme des Garçons’ Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body collection, Martin Margiela’s Stockman collection and Raf Simons’s Black Palms collection — alongside the arrival of 80s star designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler on the haute couture stage, all of whom feature prominently in the show.

Concurrent to the rise of new names in their own right, a slew of public appointments at renowned French houses took place, including Hedi Slimane’s first menswear collection for Yves Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney at Chloé, Nicolas Ghesquière’s Balenciaga, and the arrival of two British enfants terribles: Alexander McQueen at Givenchy and John Galliano at Christian Dior.

Givenchy by Alexander McQueen, Haute Couture Spring Summer 1997 ‘The search of the Golden Fleece’ collection.
Vogue Runway / Condé Nast Archives. © Condé Nast

Christian Dior by John Galliano, “Kusudi” and “Kitu” Haute Couture Spring Summer 1997 dresses. Photography by Peter Lindbergh.
© Courtesy of Peter Lindbergh Foundation

Costumes designed by Jean Paul Gaultier for Luc Besson’s film The Fifth Element, 1997.

Photography by Gautier Deblonde

Balenciaga Spring Summer 1998 by Nicolas Ghesquière.

Photography by Gautier Deblonde

Guy Laroche by Alber Elbaz Autumn Winter 1997-1998.
Digital scan by Katerina Jebb. © Katerina Jebb

In addition to visualising this wave of institutional change, the exhibition also acknowledges a coalescence of music, film and art photography around fashion, the latter of which was still frowned upon at that time. Examples include the American art photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s foray into fashion editorial for W Magazine, David LaChapelle for Vogue US, and the British artist Katerina Jebb’s first fashion-related scans featuring Alber Elbaz’s first debut creations for Guy Laroche.

In an extract from the exhibition catalogue, Galliera director Miren Arzalluz writes, “In their editorial, Vogue [Paris, March 1997 issue] interpreted this frenetic chain of events as ‘an extraordinary blast at the very idea of couture’ and likened this new couture to ‘a fun fair, a celebration, a mustering of talent. A big bang, a galactic event, an opportunity for pride and the vortex of a general change in attitude.’”

1997 Fashion Big Bang runs through July 16, 2023 at the Palais Galliera museum, Paris.

Cover of ‘Homogenic’ by Björk, 1997. Kimono designed by Alexander McQueen.
© Nick Knight / Courtesy of Björk

Colette Paris, opening invitation (1997)

Fendi ‘Baguette’ bag, 1997.
© Courtesy of Fendi

Olivier Theyskens Spring Summer 1998.
© Juergen Rogiers / Courtesy of Olivier Theyskens




The 26th issue is the Vietnamese-American designer’s most intimate project to date, inviting readers to explore the idea of home and understand the internal narratives of the shy designer.

Read more

See all Articles

A News in your inbox