September 29, 2016

The Countess Greffulhe

The exhibition features extraordinary fashions from the legendary wardrobe of Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe (1860–1952). A famous beauty celebrated for her “aristocratic and artistic elegance”.

Proust’s Muse is based on La Mode retrouvée: Les robes trésors de la comtesse Greffulhe, an exhibition organized in Paris by Olivier Saillard, director of the Palais Galliera, Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, which is the repository of the countess’s wardrobe. Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, has organized the exhibition in New York in collaboration with Saillard. She also contributed an essay, “The Aristocrat as a Work of Art,” to the French catalog.

“The Countess Greffulhe believed in the artistic significance of fashion,” says Steele. “And although she patronized the greatest couturiers of her time, her style was very much her own. Today, when fashion is increasingly regarded as an art form, her attitude is especially relevant.” When Marcel Proust wrote his novel In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu), the Countess Greffulhe inspired his immortal character, Oriane, the Duchess de Guermantes, of whom he wrote, “Each of her dresses seemed like…the projection of a particular aspect of her soul.”

In addition to the 28 garments on display, there are a dozen accessories—shoes, hats, fans, gloves, and stockings—including a pair of red velvet high-heeled shoes that evoke one of the most famous scenes in Proust’s novel. A selection of photographs depict the Countess Greffulhe and important contemporaries, including Robert de Montesquiou and Marcel Proust. Finally, there is an ensemble inspired by the Countess Greffulhe and created by the contemporary fashion designer Rick Owens.

Proust’s Muse, The Countess Greffulhe is the first of several exhibitions focusing on French fashion to be held at The Museum at FIT. It will be followed by Paris Refashioned, 1957-1968 (February–April 2017), curated by Colleen Hill, and Paris, Capital of Fashion (September 2019–January 2020), curated by Dr. Valerie Steele. The exhibition is part of Tandem Paris NYC.


This exhibition was developed by the Palais Galliera, Fashion Museum of the City of Paris, Paris Musées.