Olivier Saillard: the uber fashion’s historians and curators

He is the “creative mind” behind some of the most innovative and exclusive fashion exhibitions. A chat with Monsieur Olivier Saillard, the Director of Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode of Paris.

Vanessa Caputo

His career began by accident at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, where Monsieur Saillard spent his period of national service as a conscientious objector. There he met Nadine Gasc, a curator specialising in fabrics, who initiated him into the secrets of the profession. After five years at the Museum of Fashion in Marseille, he returned to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, putting on a series of extraordinarily successful shows – on Yohji Yamamoto, Christian Lacroix, Sonia Rykiel and Jean Paul Gaultier, to name just a few. He was then appointed Director of the Palais Galliera and its priceless collection of fashion (it has more than 100,000 pieces with dresses and accessories ranging from the eighteenth century to the modern era). A chat with the man who all fashion lovers admire for his exquisite and cerebral curation…

Do you remember the first exhibition you saw? The first exhibition I saw was in my parents’ attic where my sisters piled their clothes like a work of Boltanski!

I think any fashion lover would try and forge an identity card to get into your archives. which part of them do you like the most? The one we worked together with Tilda Swinton for our last performance The impossible wardrobe. I also like the part of the archives devoted to the twentieth century, a distant yet close period far.

If you had to explain what fashion was to people in a foreign country who didn’t have the faintest idea about it, and you could take only two pieces from the museum, which would they be? Any corset and Elsa Schiaparelli claw gloves.

Who is your favourite couturier? Balenciaga e Charles James.

Which of the exhibitions you’ve created has been the most difficult to put on? What is yet to come, otherwise it would only be mechanical art and I do not care.

Which exhibition, of the ones you’ve gone to yourself as a visitor, have you liked the most? The permanent exibition at the Chichu Art Museum in Naoshima: just ten works within a museum, divine and very silent.

I’ve read that when you were 12 your brother would take you to a museum in the morning and then return to pick you up in the evening. Did you already have a clear idea of what you wanted to do, or was it your brother who chose your profession for you? At that time, when my brother left me in front of the Louvre, I did not know what I would do, but in the museum I felt a great sense of freedom and protection. The masterpieces of the past were a kind of fortress for me.

Do you collect anything? I collect badges, I have more than 1000! I also have the first of Bernardin, the founder of Crazy Horse.

Which period of history, in fashion terms, do you like the most? The 30s.

If the museum was on fire and you could rescue only a single piece, which would it be? I think I’d and get a watering can to try and save it all.
Can you tell us how you convinced the publicity-shy Rai Kawakubo to say yes to having his work on show? In order to convince someone, you shouldn’t be afraid of rejection. As a matter of fact, he or she should be free to say “no” to avoid any pressure or embarrassment. It’s not people who do the convincing, it’s good projects!

Do you read fashion magazines?The fashion magazines I read are always dated, often from five years ago. I don’t care about the present because this appears repeatedly across all media.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to become a curator? Always cultivate your personal taste!

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