The Jewish Museum’s latest installation, Mood of the Moment: Gaby Aghion and the House of Chloé , is the first museum exhibition honoring the visionary Jewish entrepreneur Gaby Aghion (1921-2014) and her legacy as the founder of the French fashion house Chloé. It will remain on view through February 18, 2024.
Casting a new light on the label’s 70-year history with nearly 150 garments as well as never-before-exhibited sketches and documents from the Chloé Archive, this exhibition highlights Aghion’s vision of effortless, luxurious fashion. Of her own talents Aghion said: “I have no talent, I recognize the talent in others,” as illustrated by the work of iconic designers who began their careers with the brand, including Karl Lagerfeld, Stella McCartney, and Phoebe Philo.
The exhibition showcases Aghion as a leader whose work altered the course of the global fashion industry in liberating women’s bodies from the restrictive attitudes and styles of the time, as well as pioneering the emergence of luxury ready-to-wear lines. The 150 garments on view are light and free moving.
Gaby Aghion was born Gabriella Hanoka in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1921 to a Greek Jewish father and an Italian Jewish mother. Like many educated upper-class families, especially among Egyptian Jews, the Hanokas spoke French and admired French culture. To this day all of Chloé products are made exclusively in France or Italy according to the Riccardo Bellini, the newly appointed CEO.
Aghion and her mother were fond of French fashion and the idea of Parisian elegance, inviting seamstresses to their home to recreate designs they saw in French fashion magazines. In 1945, she moved to Paris with her husband Raymond Aghion, the son of an eminent Egyptian Jewish banker and an anti-fascist activist. The couple quickly embedded themselves in the cultural scene of the city’s Left Bank cafés.
“I started Chloé because I loved the idea of couture but found the concept a little out of date – a little artificial. A thing of beauty and quality should be seen on women in the streets,” she said. Aghion established Chloé in 1952, during a time when the French fashion market was dominated by the stiff formality of haute couture—women who couldn’t afford haute couture would make their own copies just as she and her mother did. Aghion wanted to offer original, modern, and elegant well-made garments in high-quality fabrics and free women from the rigid designs of the time. She chose the name Chloé for the feminine roundness of its letters.
Breaking with the haute couture precedent of showroom presentations in formal interiors, she brought fashion to her clients in the Left Bank cafes they frequented — the Café de Flore, the Brasserie Lipp and La Closerie des Lilas — thus infusing the brand with a bourgeois-bohème spirit. By capturing the mood of the moment, Aghion founded a fashion brand characterized by an easy elegance.
The exhibition concludes with a section dedicated to 50 iterations of the iconic Chloé blouse from across the brand’s history, celebrating the beauty of everyday wear and rooting visitors firmly in Aghion’s vision.