Love in Fine Fashion: A History of Love, Idioms and Wedding Gowns

The newest exhibition at Montreal’s McCord Museum explores how clothes reveal much about the people who wear them, history and clothing through a garment cherished above all others: the wedding dress.
Mrs. Louis Philippe de Granpré in her wedding gown, copied from an illustration she found in Vogue magazine, 1941. (Photo courtesy of McCord Museum)
No two closets are the same. But while one woman’s wardrobe may differ greatly from another, there is one garment that always finds its way into her closet.

Passed down from mother to daughter, it is a treasured family heirloom, or acquired or designed at her behest, it is the incarnation of what she imagines to be the perfect dress to take the plunge in. But beyond their designer tags and expert stitching, wedding dresses tell stories: love stories, yes,  but also stories of hope, dreams and even loss, as shown in “Love in Fine Fashion”, the latest exhibit at the McCord Museum in Montreal.

Cynthia Cooper, head of collections and research, curated the exhibition, whose 30 wedding dresses and 30 accessories, culled from the museum’s extensive costume and textile collection, tell a fictional love story. The narrative is cleverly engineered using wordplay to highlight the intricacies of each garment as well as those of relationships in general, tracing their evolution from a budding romance to the proverbial walk down the aisle. “She was tickled pink,” reads a card next to a coral silk and wool blend crepe, silk chiffon and silk lace gown worn by a Toronto bride in 1901. Another follows with “He thought she was a true gem,” flanked by a pair of ivory silk satin pumps adorned with a metal and glass ornament from 1927 a Montreal bride wore on her special day.  Designer creations, like an exquisite 2008 gem-encrusted gown by Montreal couturier Joseph Helmer share the spotlight with equally stunning but more modest dresses sewn by lesser-known seamstresses. While a fictional narrative ties the gowns and accessories together, these same garments, dating as far back as 1816, tell the true love stories—and life stories of women and men who “tied the knot” and are as varied as the brides who wore them, 10 of which we get to know intimately throughout the exhibit.

Wedding gowns weren’t always exclusively made in white. A wedding dress from 1896 made of silk faille, silk satin ribbon, metallic appliqué with beads, sequins and rhinestones. (Photo courtesy of McCord Museum)
“This exhibition is about how language and clothing tell stories about clothing,” says Cooper. “It explores the way clothing holds stories.”

The gowns on display are truly breathtaking in design and craftsmanship, and the exhibit as a whole is an introspective look at love, life and fashion through a symbolic garment, examined through and through.

“Love in Fine Fashion” runs until April 19, 2015 at the McCord Museum. For more information on the exhibition and related activities, visit

Fashion, art, architecture, design, TV, and film: Katia Jean Paul is a Montreal-based writer who casts a critical eye on her many idées fixes, unearthing the aesthetic and cultural dimensions within each and every subject. / Follow Katia on Twitter:


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