The oldest pieces in this collection date from the very early 1950s and illustrate the beginnings of ready-to-wear as pioneered by historic brands like Lempereur and Weill. The different groupings signal the evolution of French fashion from the mid-20th century to the parades of the most recent season: ready-to-wear garments by the couture houses, licensed lines, ready-to-wear from designers in the 1960s and creators in the mid-1970s, street fashion and the mass-produced clothes to be found in big cities all over the world. The department's collection continues to grow as the history of fashion continues to be written.
Extremely varied in terms of styles and functions, this collection of some 7,000 items is classified by designers and brands or, in the case of pieces of unknown origin, chronologically. The latter, though, are of more than just documentary value: they bring the everyday fashion of the last six decades back to life.
The Contemporary Department collection has been put together mainly from gifts from couture houses, designers and private individuals including all the various players from the fashion world: press attachés, style directors, models, journalists, editors and photographers. Other famous donors like Elli Medeiros offer continuing support to the museum by leaving their mark, style and sense of fashion on the garments they have worn. For fashion is not only a matter of clothing: knowledge of their provenance or of when they were worn is often essential to true appreciation.
The 1980s and 1990s are generously represented here, with high points including the work of Jean Paul Gaultier, Jean-Charles de Castelbajac and Martin Margiela, and notably their very first collections. In addition the complete archives – fabrics and documents – donated by couture houses like Carven, Popy Moreni and Anne-Marie Beretta offer a particularly rewarding insight into different creative processes. Other labels less well known to the general public are represented by ensembles whose true value will become clear as current research goes ahead and exhibitions are organised.