Hats, shoes, bags and purses, muffs, scarves, jewellery, fans, walking sticks, parasols, umbrellas, gloves, buttons, buckles – these are all to be found in the Accessories Department, whose collection covers a period extending from the late 17th century up to the present day. Comprising some 35,000 items, this is one of the most significant collections of its kind, in terms of quantity and quality, in France and in the world. Most of these items are familiar to all of us, yet some are enigmatic enough to pique our curiosity: flower holders, for instance, and skirt lifters, dance cards and the bludgeons carried by the ultra-fashionable Incroyables.
While the term may suggest something of little importance, the 'accessory' made a major contribution to both the female and the male silhouette and played a vital role in the history of fashion. These objects met with different fates: initially indispensable to the elegant, they could ultimately fade into oblivion, having become unsuited to current silhouettes or uses, or quite simply having fallen out of fashion. The cut of clothes was a crucial factor here: the handbag was of little use when 18th century paniers and Second Empire crinolines offered concealed pockets.The accessory had a practical function, but it also matched the tastes of its time and reflected current artistic and aesthetic trends. Artists and craftsmen studiously improved and embellished these utilitarian objects, transforming them into veritable works of art. The Galliera collection is eloquent testimony to the diversity and inventiveness this gave rise to; for instance, there were combinations of accessories like the flower-holder fan, the muff-handbag and the parasol-fan.
The collection's richness, then, lies in the variety of the objects, the ways they were made and the social levels represented. While many of these pieces carry no label, all the great names are there: milliners like Madeleine Panizon, Agnès and Jacques Pinturier; the shoemakers Hellstern, Perugia, Ferragamo, Roger Vivier and Camille Di Mauro; the fan makers Alexandre, Duvelleroy and Rodien; and the costume jewellers Roger Scémama and Robert Goossens. And in addition to the couture houses, the major stores – Au Louvre, La Samaritaine, Les Galeries Lafayette, Au Bon Marché – are also represented. Among the iconic pieces in the collection are the Schiaparelli gloves and lantern bag from the 1930s, a Jeanne Lanvin straw turban dating from the Occupation years and a Givenchy hat designed for Audrey Hepburn around 1960. Famous artists played their part too, with the wood-shavings headdress designed by Jean Dunand for the milliner Agnès, the driving bonnets by Sonia Delaunay and a remarkable set of Art Deco jewellery by Jean Després. The prestige of accessories sometimes depended on who wore or used them, as in the case of personalities like Cléo de Mérode, Sarah Bernhardt, Mistinguett, Sacha Guitry, Arletty and Sophia Loren.