Thursday, October 17, 2013

Paris Journal IV: La mecanique des dessous

Photograph: Hallie Cohen
You would think that “La mecanique des dessous”, subtitled “une histoire indiscrete de la silhouette” current on view at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs would specialize in things like paniers, busks and corsets. But billed as “behind the seams” view of undergarments, the “the highpoint” of the show was its exhaustive review of an important element of male underclothing—the codpiece. Montaigne is quoted as calling it “that vain and useless model of a member” (increasing its) “natural size by a kind of imposture.” And Rabelais is quoted thusly about one of the famed giants of his Gargantua and Pantagruel, “How they appareled Gargantua. For his codpiece were used sixteen ells and a quarter of the same cloth and it was fashioned on the top like a triumphant arch for it has erective virtue.” Surprisingly there were no merkins on view. But the push up bra does get its due as part of the show’s overview of the attempt to rein in the human body--that also includes a series of mannequins. These mannequins reflect the way the morphology of the body itself has changed from the eighteenth century until 2010. In short, the female body has gotten taller, slimmer and less classically female. It’s got less breasts and hips, less to work with you could say.

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