Centre Pompidou - La Traversée des Apparences


The Centre Pompidou has commissioned Laurence Benaïm to explore the bonds between art and fashion. A highly distinguished journalist and writer, she puts her expertise and love of words into arts, crafts, design and fashion, which she both scrutinises and honours. From January 24th to April 22th, 2024, the exhibition "La Traversée des Apparences: Quand la mode s'invite au Musée" (The Crossing of Appearances: When Fashion Invites Itself to the Museum) unveils an abundance of inspirations and collaborations transcending the boundaries of artistic disciplines. Silhouettes intertwine with paintings, linked by words. Laurence Benaïm has drafted fictitious letters, giving clothes and designers a voice. Like a hidden treasure we discover together. An entry into intimacy.

Romain Brau – artist, actor, singer, burlesque icon – will read these letters. He slides through the net of categorisation, crafting beauty with notable finesse and an abundance of love. In three sessions, on January 23rd, January 27th, and February 28th, Brau will enter what the Centre Pompidou calls its “main street,” improvising as a guide, a storyteller, with his wit, his madness, his freedom. 


“Laurence wanted the silhouettes to speak with the paintings.”


One day at La Samaritaine, when Brau had just ended a performance, Laurence Benaïm approached to congratulate him. “She recognised me from the movie Haute Couture (2020)." The professional admiration is mutual, as anyone who enjoys reading about fashion has read Laurence. “And then I realise that it's her, it's Laurence Benaïm! I know her, I read her articles!" It was the beginning of a tender friendship. They started to work together, sharing their plans and visions. "One day, Laurence told me about her project for the Centre Pompidou. She wanted the silhouettes to speak with the paintings." And the project went ahead.



“I want to bring my queerness, my vitamin, my je-ne-sais-quoi.”


Laurence Benaïm, maestro of this fashion/art gathering, sprinkled in her own words. She wrote letters, “like testimonies that would never have been discovered before, a treasure trove, secret, forbidden letters,” recounts Brau. “It's really beautiful what Laurence allows herself to do, what she offers; it's brilliant.” So, she entrusted Brau with the mission of reading them. On three occasions in January and February, the artist will light up the Centre Pompidou by reading three letters. This performance opens the door to intimacy, to the very essence of what the textile and pictorial works can tell us.


Laurence Benaïm has selected artworks by designers including Christian Dior, Iris van Herpen, Alber Elbaz, Thebe Magugu, Marine Serre, Charles de Vilmorin, Kévin Germanier, just to name a few. Each garment is the result of a vision, a masterful savoir-faire, colors and shapes. They are the outcome of the hands that crafted them, but only reveal themselves fully when embodied, through voice, through language. Brau will carry the voice. The Centre Pompidou, top-tier French institution, is home to Culture and everything capital C stands for, from Classical to Craftsmanship to Comical.


“I want to shake off the museum stiffness. Bring laughter, relax people, interpret texts with emotion. I want to bring back my queerness, my vitamin, my je-ne-sais-quoi.”


“The emotion of an old Dior, it's like the Eiffel Tower!”


When Brau is asked which silhouette chosen by Laurence Benaïm particularly appeals to him, the answer is immediate: Dior. It's “the fabric, the cuts, the taffeta. You can feel the passion.” According to the artist, that's the beauty of fashion, it's “the designer who talks about his passion and Laurence has that knowledge, she reminds us of what fashion is, real fashion, the love of fabric.”


That's all a piece of work can provide, whether it's recent or has stood the test of time, whether it comes from a young mind or an ancestral house. "The emotion of an old Dior look is like the Eiffel Tower!" says Brau.



"And then I'll reveal a Pierre Cardin suit..."


Tending towards total art, the Gesamtkunstwerk as some say, means bringing disciplines and mediums together, enfolding the spectator in the fusion of life and art. Here, fashion finds itself placed on the same level as the other arts. Brau, with his powerful presence and creativity, conveys the freedom of fabric and words. For those lucky enough to have already met Brau, he is a gentle, sincere light. A total spontaneity, of those people who make no apologies for their own lives and do so respectfully.


Beyond theoretical considerations, the question that spontaneously comes to mind remains (and will remain): what will Brau wear? “I'm an Atlein muse and I'm very loyal. Antonin Tron has designed a flowing dress, very glamorous, very evening, and humble. And then I'll reveal a Pierre Cardin suit, which will incense the letter.”



"Fashion is a testimony to a global change in society."


Paris Fashion Week Menswear Fall-Winter 2024/2025 closed on Sunday evening. The gender barrier is porous and permeable. The masculine wardrobe borrows from the feminine and vice versa. "Fashion is a witness to a global change in society. We don't even care whether it's men's or women's anymore, we just do what we want," says Brau, who points out that this freedom is within easy reach in Paris. This freedom of choice to dress as you wish, beyond your gender, "also proves the pleasure of wearing what you want and playing with it."


La Traversée des Apparences: Quand la mode s’invite au Musée

From January 24th to April 22th, 2024, at the Centre Pompidou. 

Performance by Romain Brau, open to the public, on January 23, January 27 and February 28, 2024.