If you have ever dreamed of attending a masked costume ball, the Centre National du Costume de Scène in Moulins is offering just such a chance. Its major new exhibition, Modes! À la ville, à la scène runs from 8 April to 17 December, and on Bastille Day, 14 July, the museum is holding a grand bal for all the family.
The exhibition itself is ambitious and spectacular, tracing three centuries of interaction between theatrical costumes and non-theatrical fashion from 1700-2015, and revealing the links between theatrical costumes and fashion - the end result of which is today's obsession with celebrity and style. "These costumes are works of art", says curator Catherine Join-Diéterlé.
"The exhibition includes costumes from three centuries to illustrate the evolution of theatre's influence over fashion. In the 18th century, the costume ball was an intermediary; the well-heeled tested theatrical costumes and then adapted elements into daily fashions. But from the mid 19th-century, the developments of haute couture, photography, the press, and star actresses created a new, direct contact between the world of show business and daily fashion."
Among the exhibits is the particularly striking golden costume designed for Lady Macbeth, with its exaggerated side panniers and panels resembling the rays of the sun, or a spider's web. Although the overall shape is 18th century, the details and styling owe everything to the 1980s: the exaggerated shoulder pads and the straight lines of the bodice. The fabulous Dior creation worn by Isabelle Huppert in Un Tramway is also a highlight, the scarlet hem makes it look as if the dress has been dipped in blood.
The exhibition also explores how costumes for Diaghilev's company, Les Ballets Russes, were especially influential because designers such as Léon Bakst were working in haute couture as well as entertainment, and used the same styles and motifs in both fields. "The exhibition traces this relationship through the clothes but also through the physical shapes of the women," said Mme Join-Diéterlé. "The 's'-shaped silhouette popularised by Sarah Bernhardt's tightly corseted stage costumes is particularly striking."
Beautiful as they are, the 18th-century costumes must have been incredibly uncomfortable, she added. "I'd hate to wear a whalebone corset and have my shoulder blades pulled back all day. I wouldn't mind wearing a crinoline though. It was at least possible to sit down in them."
In the 1960s and 1970s, women abandoned restrictive stays and corsets, relying on diet and exercise to achieve a fashionable figure, and at the end of the 20th century, any kind of foundation garment was considered old-fashioned. But corsets are making a comeback.
Call them what you will - shapewear, waist-trainers, tummy-control undies, slimming shorts, butt-enhancing knickers - these kinds of clothes are once again being worn for the sole purpose of altering a woman's shape, just a few decades after women struggled out of uncomfortable restricting corsets, and - as the exhibition neatly demonstrates - once again celebrities such as Kim Kardashian are leading the way.
The exhibition is open everyday from 10am - 6pm (6.30pm during July/August), except 1 May when it will be closed, and 20 May (the Nuit Européenne des Musées) when it will be open until 11.30pm. The museum is also organising a series of costume-making workshops, many aimed at children. On 21 May adults (15+) can attend an all-day workshop Les secrets du corset, run by costume-maker Mélanie Gronier, and learn how to make men's and women's stage costumes.
As for the grand bal on 14 July, guests can create their own costumes or hire them from the museum, which will also have stylists on hand to advise about appropriate hair and make-up. There will then be a costume parade, followed by the ball itself and a fireworks display.
If you can't make that date all is not lost. The museum's café-brasserie was designed by Christian Lacroix and is a sumptuous and elegant festival of decor which would make anyone feel they were attending a ball. While you're there, don't miss the museum's permanent exhibitions. It owns around 10,000 theatre, opera and ballet costumes dating from 15th century to the present day.
It is also intensely proud to own a huge collection of 3,500 possessions and costumes worn by legendary ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, who was the director of the Paris Opera Ballet from 1983-1989, and chief choreographer until 1992.