This department has a collection of some 5,000 items of lingerie, underwear and corsetry. A diverse assortment, but one dominated by women's undergarments dating from the early 19th century to the present day.
In listing the items, one can see intimate secrets: petticoats, panties and pantaloons, crinoline hoops, bustles, lobster-tail bustles, day shirts, night shirts, camisoles, corsets, girdles, brassieres, waspies, combinations, stockings, garter-belts and tights. These familiar or now out-dated terms designated invisible paraphernalia hidden in the secrecy of the silhouettes of their time. Brought together these underclothes provide, as it were, a photographic negative of the history of fashion. The undergarment – whether corset; crinoline, or girdle – became the architect of a fashionable silhouette; however, the opposite could be true: one could also speak of the invisible wardrobe, as with stockings and panties.
Other items surfaced as time went by, under other names: the camisole suggests the 'top' of recent summer fashions? And meanwhile some undergarments have vanished completely – the bustle for instance – while others, like a corset, are now brought out solely on festive occasions.
A number of items bear such prestigious high couture labels such as Callot Sœurs, Paul Poiret, Madeleine Vionnet, Lucien Lelong, Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Robert Piguet, Pierre Balmain, Jacques Fath, Christian Dior, and André Courrèges. These are often intermediate garments, like the negligee and combinations, or maybe petticoats and stockings from the 1950s onwards. On corsetry, stockings and panties we also find the best-known labels of the specialist market, like Cadolle, Marie-Rose Lebigot, Dim, Scandale, Joy, Lejaby, Chantelle and Hom. At the same time we see bra-straps and so on bearing ready-to-wear signatures and the names of creators like Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, Sonia Rykiel and Jean Paul Gaultier. John Galliano and Kenzo have given up in favour of the discreet corselets of the 2000s – their logos are there as a clear all-over motif – and most often the object is anonymous and even modest.
With its thousands of separate pieces, the collection lets us retrace the metamorphoses of the intimate wardrobe back over more than two centuries. The powerful originality of the collection lies in the historical continuum, the series. Their tiny variations, with their monotonous charm, help us appreciate the nuances of the range of tastes of each period. And the era the best documented in this sense is between 1890 and 1910: the golden age of lingerie.