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Birds of Paradise: Plumes & Feathers in Fashion.

MoMu, Antwerp,

20 March-24 August 2014.

Sophistication, femininity, lightness, wealth, luxury, lost innocence and dark romance: Birds of Paradise is an ode to the elegance and refinement of plumes and feathers in fashion. From the glamorous decadence of fin de siècle accessories, to the graphic drama of Alexander McQueen’s intricate feather prints, this exhibition celebrates the exotic and poetic resonance of swan, pheasant, ostrich and marabou.

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Drawing on clothes and accoutrements from the nineteenth to the twenty-first centuries, Birds of Paradise examines fashion’s appropriation of feathers – as material and symbol – from the incorporation of actual plumes to the application of feather motifs. Typically the reserve of haute couture, due to their costliness and the technical expertise needed for their application, the exhibition also identifies the use of feathers in prêt à porter – notably in the work of Belgian designer Ann Demeulemeester for whom feathers have a particular significance.

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Alongside Demeulemeester, the exhibition includes work by Alexander McQueen, Chanel, Balenciaga, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent. In a special collaboration with Parisian couture feather-workers Maison Lemarié, Birds of Paradise will reveal the unique skills of the plumassier – the feather embroiderer – and the intricate techniques of this revered craft.

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Curated by Karen Van Godtsenhoven, scenography by Bob Verhelst.

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Birds of Paradise: Plumes & Feathers in Fashion is published by Lannoo.

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Alexander McQueen, Autumn-Winter 2009. Photograph © François Nars.

Straw hat decorated with bird of paradise feathers. Photograph © Stephen Mattues, courtesy MoMu.

Folding fan, mount in ostrich feathers, sticks in mock tortoiseshell, 1900-1920. Photograph © Stephen Mattues, courtesy MoMu.

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