A Feel For Fashion: Elsa Janssen


Elsa Janssen is the Director of the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris and head curator of the current exhibition, Sheer: The diaphanous creations of Yves Saint Laurent that continues through August 25, 2024. From the finest sheath of black chiffon to soft cascades of tulle, the multitude of silhouettes on view capture the couturier’s avant-garde vision of revealing and concealing the feminine form. Before arriving to the museum in 2022, she was the director of cultural events at the Galeries Lafayette, where she realised exhibitions in collaboration with Hans-Peter Feldmann, Maurizio Cattelan and Xavier Veilhan. Along with Anne Dressen as artistic advisor and Pauline Marchetti overseeing the exhibition design, Janssen has conceived an eye-opening fashion focus that is often in juxtaposition with artists such as Man Ray and Francis Picabia. As the fashion shows get underway, this is must-see exhibition where the designs stand the test of time.

What excites you in fashion right now?

I am amazed by the fact that young designers keep on dreaming and developing their own singular universe – no matter the context. They keep pursuing ideals of beauty and manage to create moments of grace. I have been particularly touched by what we see happening on the catwalk, such as the latest show by Jacquemus at the Fondation Maeght.

What is one reason to be optimistic about the state of fashion going forward?

In today’s world, I observe a generation of emerging designers eager to reinvent fashion and its old processes. Being very conscious of the collateral effects of the textile industry or the over-production of some fashion brands, they look for recycled, recyclable material as much as upcycling older garments. Somehow, I see a parallel with Yves Saint Laurent working with the best textile manufacturers of this time to give life to his creations. 

In what ways do you think AI might benefit fashion?

I think it opens many possibilities I am not entirely aware of. I imagine it can help develop creative designs beyond the human’s mind and vision. Technologies are a tool that can prove incredible, I think of what Iris van Herpen did to imitate the world of nature. Her exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs really highlights a way to use all means available to develop avant-garde clothes.

Many of Saint Laurent’s creations are as relevant today as ever. How does some fashion transcend time?

Saint Laurent has been active during an extraordinary period of change from a social point of view, and consequently from a fashion aspect. He was the key player in this revolution of fashion designs aiming to serve, magnify and empower the woman of the 20th century. This means highlighting her figure, as much as giving her freedom in her moves according to a new contemporary lifestyle. Among the iconic looks that illustrate these strong ideas are the tuxedo, see-through pieces, jumpsuits or the saharienne. Yves Saint Laurent proves genius in creating timeless pieces. Just like works of art, of music or of architecture, his designs transcend their context of creation and remain relevant through time. We observe that they have also been disseminated and reinterpreted across all levels of the fashion industry. Since their very first appearance, the silhouettes fancied by Yves Saint Laurent have symbolised the perfect balance between elegance and originality.

Can you suggest a fashion mantra for ’24? 

Less is more.

This interview has been lightly edited.