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The Société de l’Histoire du Costume (SHC) was founded in 1907 at the instigation of the painter, historian and collector Maurice Leloir (1853–1940). On 30 December 1920 the SHC donated its remarkable collection to the City of Paris; and while searching for a venue that would meet the society's demand for a municipal costume museum, the City loaned the gift – some 2000 items – to the Musée Carnavalet. Henceforth a tiny part of the collection was on show in just a few rooms.
When Leloir died in 1940 Georges-Gustave Toudouze took over as SHC president. At the end of the Second World War steadily increasing interest in historic and contemporary costume confirmed Paris's status as world fashion capital, but as various museum projects came and went the city still lacked a place where the public could admire the SHC donation.
A temporary haven was found in the early 1950s: the Taylor Foundation helped turn the historic Cercle Volney premises into a 'costume museum', while at the same time the Musée Carnavalet curators and the SHC directors used the most iconic pieces to convince the Paris City Council of the timeliness of a permanent showcase for the collection. The first exhibition at the Cercle Volney triggered the City's initial financing of a costume museum and in 1954 the project became definitive: several ground floor rooms at the Musée Carnavalet were renovated and devoted exclusively to presenting the SHC collection.
The Musée Carnavalet exhibitions were greeted with immediate public enthusiasm, and gifts began to pour in. It soon became clear that a more adequate venue was required and in 1955 a large ground floor room at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris was chosen. Considered an annexe of the Musée Carnavalet, the Musée du Costume was officially opened on 23 November 1956, with Madeleine Delpierre as chief curator.
In 1971, however, the museum was forced to close when its ceiling collapsed. After transfer of the collection back to the Musée Carnavalet, the City of Paris decided on the Palais Galliera, which it owned. The move, though, could only take place once existing commitments for temporary exhibitions and auctions had expired.
1977 saw a change of name and address, as the Musée du Costume became the Musée de la Mode et du Costume and took over the Palais Galliera. The new, independent establishment inherited the Musée Carnavalet collection of costumes and accessories and, with Madeleine Delpierre still at the helm, joined the fourteen-strong Musées de la Ville de Paris group. The storage facilities and restoration workshops were installed in the basement.
The 1980's brought the creation of two new departments: Prints and Drawings in 1984, and the Contemporary department in 1987. Guillaume Garnier succeeded Madeleine Delpierre as chief curator in 1985 and initiated a major refurbishment the following year: the curators' offices were moved to the first floor and changes were made to the exhibition rooms, with restoration of the decoration of the main gallery and the arches and skylight made visible again. The library and archives were created that same year and, given the ongoing expansion of the collections, the City of Paris decided to provide restoration and storage facilities equal to the task. When Guillaume Garnier died on 12 May 1989, he was succeeded by Catherine Join-Diéterle.
In 1994 the restoration workshop and the storerooms opened on a new site in Paris: 4,800 square metres devoted to expert conservation of the museum's garments and accessories. A second change of name came in 1997, from Musée de la Mode et du Costume de la Ville de Paris to Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris – the City of Paris Fashion Museum.
Official 'Musée de France' accreditation was granted in 2002.
The Prefecture ordered the closure of the museum in 2009, for it to be brought into compliance with current standards regarding electricity, fire safety and access for the disabled.
In 2010 Catherine Join-Diéterle was succeeded as director by Olivier Saillard who, in addition to the measures called for by the Prefecture, initiated improvements to thr museum's courtyard, wings, bay windows, sculptures and offices. He also restored their period charm to the exhibition rooms. During the period of the works, he was busy organising exhibitions in France and abroad.
The museum reopened in September 2013, with a kind of rebirth, a return to the roots in the spirit of its original architect Paul-René-Léon Ginain. And a third change of name: the Musée Galliera is now the Palais Galliera.