Photo by Beatrice Mazza, NABA student

What is Moda Povera? Interview with Olivier Saillard

February 26 2024

Edited by NABA, Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti

Firm, still, living statues on white pedestals, the models wait in their long black dresses for Olivier Saillard to approach them with a garment. Moda Povera VI: les vêtements des autresMilan is the first of three performances curated by Olivier Saillard at Triennale Milano, within the spaces of the Ron Mueck exhibition, as part of the Soirées Nomades, the live program of Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain: a research and reflection on the most intimate and secret relationship between garments and the memories they are woven from.

Olivier Saillard moves through space with confident steps, yet with extreme delicacy. In this story, he plays the role of the liaison, the one who accompanies the memory of a "borrowed" private recollection. He connects the owner of the garment and the one who interprets it in a performance that carries with it the emotion of everyday life, the history of people. Because a simple piece of clothing, what each of us finds in our own closet, can transform itself and take on a new form.

At Triennale Milano, we also witness Moda Povera V: les vêtements de Renée, which Saillard dedicated to his mother Renée after her passing. It comes to life from the garments that belonged to her, in a performative and celebratory act, carrying with it the soul of she who wore them.

Closing the triad is Salon de Couture, which sees Violeta Sanchez as the protagonist, muse of Yves Saint Laurent and Helmut Newton. This performance respects the structure of haute couture—the seats for spectators, a catwalk—but subverts the focus of every fashion show with grace and mastery. The clothes are suggestions, evoked by Violeta's voice with meticulous descriptions of fabrics, shapes, and sensations.

For Moda Povera V: les vêtements de Renée, you took on the garments of your mother who is no longer here. What was it like working with such private memories, so close to your life?

During the years I was director of the Palais Galliera—Fashion Museum, a journalist asked me, "If an extraterrestrial came to Paris, what would you show them to make them understand what fashion is?" At that moment, I realized that in the museum I had beautiful clothes by Schiaparelli and Balenciaga, but no jeans, shirts, t-shirts; no garments close to real people's fashion, to the streets. It is also for this reason that I launched the Moda Povera project, to reintroduce something that belongs to daily use into the process of artistic performance. When I then took over my mother's wardrobe, I immediately understood that I had to do something that was not dedicated to fashion, but to garments. I find that today there is a great need to talk about the "art of clothing," rather than talking about fashion. So, finding new alternatives for our passion, which is clothing: inventing new clothes, new forms, without necessarily producing, selling, buying. Finding a new system, which can also be a poetic system. And certainly, more sustainable.

If an extraterrestrial came to Paris, what would you show them to make them understand what fashion is?

Is it important to take a moment to honor the clothes that are part of us, of our history?

I think each of us has—in their closet—some favorite, beloved clothes, even if old and perhaps worn out. Just as many of us probably have a designer item, be it Vuitton, Dior, or any other brand, bought on impulse but never worn. I remember a day when a dear friend gave me shirts that belonged to her late boyfriend. I loved those shirts more than others because when I wore them, I felt there was something very intimate between them and me. That's why I'm sure everyone prefers to have a relationship with their clothes, rather than buying new ones every day.

The models of Moda Povera confessed to us that they perceive the energy of the clothes they receive and wear; do you also feel this energy when you place the clothes on the pedestal?

Yes. When I put the clothes on the pedestal, it's like offering them the honor of doing something that is dedicated to everyone, something that carries with it a sense of respect for fashion. Because unfortunately nowadays fashion shows, these great productions, sometimes remind me of hundreds of animals concentrated in the same space. Moda Povera, instead, offers the possibility for the models/interpreters to play with the jackets, or the pants. A game that also has the seriousness and magic of a ritual.

Your performance evokes a quality of transcendental meditation: the unified field, an unconscious place where all forms of life are perceived as one. An interconnection that links each of us, even with those we do not know, as it is strangers entrusting the models with their clothes.

Yes, I think so. There is certainly something meditative about it. Something that might resemble Japanese Nō theater, for example. And in fact, when we start, we suggest to the models to wear the clothes very slowly, to invite them to think that they are entering someone else's life. Our performance is not about showing something to sell or buy; but it is an invitation to appreciate and understand clothes with the memories they hold inside. And perhaps that's why it is perceived as a collective act. After all, isn't it always a moment of pleasure, every day of our life, to choose what to wear, to decide what to communicate about ourselves? Let's not forget that.

What do you want to communicate to the spectators with this exhibit?

Interesting that you said, "this exhibit," and not performance. A slip of the tongue, perhaps, but I appreciate it: because, in my opinion, this is indeed also an exhibit. There are pedestals, women in statuesque poses… So, it is also an exhibition, but an exhibition that we could not have done in a museum. And it is also the possibility of being able to enjoy fashion not only by buying clothes. Perhaps it is a new territory to explore; non-consumerist. We could call it "the art of clothing," not the art of fashion.

Making art with clothes, then.

I think the world of fashion is moving away from people. Of course, fashion shows today are watched by millions of people around the globe, live from their cell phones: not only for the clothes, but also for the celebrities in the front row. However, I do not feel comfortable in this world. Instead, I am very happy when so many people come to watch an artistic performance, for the simple pleasure of sharing a moment of beauty.


Interview edited by Intissar Bouhi (NABA Fashion Design Academic Assistant), Emilia Seminara, Giacinto Tecce (Fashion Design Area students at NABA, Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti)
All photographs: Beatrice Mazza, NABA student

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