Pow-Wowing with the Louvre’s Fashion & Textiles Chief, Pamela Golbin

There are occasions in a chronic byliner’s life when there just isn’t enough time to ask all the questions on one’s mind. People are busy. Schedules are relentless. And all too often, a chat comes to an end before your questions even get asked, let alone answered. Then there are what the French call “thoughts of the stairwell.” Things you think of to say (or in this case ask) after you’ve left the conversation. Case in point: Pamela Golbin. Golbin, who’s Chief Curator of the Fashion and Textiles Museum at The Louvre in Paris, gave a rather keen talk last week at The Wolf. After she signed a stack of her marvelous book, Madeleine Vionnet, about the pioneering French dressmaker, we sat down for a chat. Unfortunately, there were a few distractions, and The Wolf had to close up shop before the conversation could really get started. Fortunately, Golbin was in town for a short while, and she agreed to a second sitdown. So late Wednesday afternoon we ducked out of the summer rain and into Rosinella (yeah, I know, but I dig the place). Here’s how some of round two played out.

You said last week that the Fashion and Textiles Museum covers the 16th century until tomorrow. So I’m guessing it’s not all about the past, is it? We have the national collection, so it’s part of the French patrimony. It has the same judicial stature as the Mona Lisa. So I’m collecting for future generations. The key pieces in fashion history need to be in a museum, and I have very close ties to current designers and we work together with shows, for research purposes, and in various types of projects.

Is there a parallel between art acquisitions and fashion acquisitions? The collection is a living collection. It’s not closed off. So when I say it’s from the 16th century until tomorrow, it really is until tomorrow.

So each year you hit all the shows? Yes, I go to every single show – well, the big ones anyway.

Would, say, Stephen Sprouse have been something you’d acquired back in his day? Well, Stephen is more of a New York designer. We try to concentrate on Paris designers; not necessarily French designers, but designers that show in France or who are with Parisian houses. Paris has always welcomed all nationalities – I mean, Charles Frederick Forrest was an Englishman and he’s the one who started couture. And today Balenciaga is Spanish, Valentino is Italian, Marc Jacobs is American, John Galliano is English… so it’s really a melting pot of fashion. And creativity and talent is what brings them together in Paris and that’s what we collect.

Okay, I’ve gotta ask: Lagerfeld, is he the coolest? He’s so cool. He’s the coolest of the cool.

And super smart, right? He’s more than super smart. And he’s the only one left today who studied with the great fashion designers of the ‘50s who started Parisian couture – Christian Dior, Pierre Balmain, Jean Patou. This was the Golden Age. There was a trio: Yves St. Laurent, Valentino, and Karl Lagerfeld. Yves St. Laurent passed away and Valentino has just retired, so Karl is the only one left from that generation. It’s pretty incredible. He’s been in the business for almost 60 years.

Does he live near The Louvre? Yes, he lives right across the river. I’m a frequent flier, but he’s a super ultra frequent flier.

He’s everywhere? All the time? He’s everywhere. All the time. He’s a real night person. The mornings are a very personal time for him; nobody sees him. Then around 1 o’clock he’s on, till 3 or 4 or 5 in the morning.

Do you see a Lagerfeld exhibit in The Louvre’s future? Sure. Any time. But he’s not into museums that show dead clothes. It drives him nuts.

Before we go, can you tell me what it’s like to walk into The Louvre every single day of your life? I mean, even after 18 years, the thrill still must be palpable. You know, I started going there when I was very, very young, because my grandmother – this crazy, whacky lady who lives by herself at 98 – was one of the first women in Paris to study Art History, in the ‘20s. And we always went there. So it’s place where I’ve always felt at home.

Some home! Yes, it’s quite nice.

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