Wardrobe of “Proust’s muse” on display at FIT

Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay
Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay and Marcel Proust

Everyone wants to be a muse. You get all of the glory while doing none of the work. But to achieve optimal “musiness,” you’ll need to look the part. Luckily, New Yorkers can draw inspiration from the best. Last week, the Museum at FIT debuted “Proust’s Muse,” featuring the wardrobe of Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe.

Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay
Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay

The Countess — a sort of yesteryear Kardashian — was the inspiration for writer Proust’s famed character, the Duchess de Guermantes, a prominent figure in his book, “In Search of Lost Time.”

So what made the Countess so special? Vogue reports that aside from her well known philanthropy (she raised funds for Madame Curie) and great beauty (a fiery redhead), she was a woman who lived for fashion and had very strong opinions on dos and don’ts.

Contra to the mores of the period — women were to avoid being “showy” — the Countess wanted to stand out in what could be now thought of as a Kardashian-esque way. However, her husband Henry Greffulhe was the opposite of Kanye, and “wanted his wife to be elegantly and expensively dressed, but he did not want her to look in any way unconventional or conspicuous.” She felt differently.

Within a few years of marriage, she was already a fashion icon with her own unique look. She also loved to document her looks via photography. She wrote, “I don’t think there is any pleasure in the world comparable to that of a woman who feels she is being looked at by everybody, and has joy and energy transmitted to her.”

As FIT explains, “her fascination with photography, also documented in the exhibition, was related to her desire to fix the image of beauty.” Do you, girl! Somehow we suspect if the Countess lived today she would be a big proponent of the selfie!

Vogue noted that way back in 1906, the Countess “has reduced her scheme of dressing down to a science, the richest of fabrics, simplest of lines, and an almost barbaric profusion of jewels.”

On display is the Countess’s famous “Lily Dress” (circa 1896), created by the House of Worth — but heavily influenced by the Countess — and photographed by Paul Nadar. Other fashion highlights include the emerald green and blue frock (1897) and the “Byzantine” dress (1904), a gold lamé, pearl-encrusted, fur-trimmed ensemble that she wore to her daughter’s wedding. Later during the ’30s she sported duds from noted female designers like Nina Ricci and Jeanne Lanvin because #girlpower.

The exhibit of the Countess’s finery — 25 ensembles in total — runs until January 7th.

[Vogue]