3 European Couture Exhibits Fashionistas Won’t Want to Miss

“I like my money right where I can see it: hanging in my closet.” So said Carrie Bradshaw, whose endless parade of couture outfits was deliciously fun to watch — though inconceivable on a writer’s salary. (Trust me: The closest this writer has gotten to a YSL smoking jacket or quilted Chanel bag is on the pages of Vogue.) But you don’t have to own haute couture to appreciate fashion. From rebellious dressers to Hollywood style icons and avant-garde contemporary designers, three exhibitions — in The Hague, Paris and Antwerp — get you up close to the world’s greatest couturier creations. It’s not quite the same as having a Chanel suit, but a whole lot less expensive.

“Hubert De Givenchy: To Audrey With Love” The Hague, Netherlands

It’s one of the most enduring scenes in cinema: Audrey Hepburn in a long black evening gown, elbow-length gloves and sunglasses, eating a pastry and sipping coffee while gazing longingly through the windows of Tiffany & Co. That iconic dress is perhaps Hubert De Givenchy’s most famous haute couture creation for his muse, but in fact he dressed Hepburn — both onscreen and off — for nearly a half century. This sprawling exhibit at The Hague’s Gemeente Museum (gemeentemuseum.nl) showcases sketches, video clips and costumes from such films as “Roman Holiday,” “How to Steal a Million,” “Charade” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (and yes, that gown is just as stunning in person). There are also pieces that Hepburn wore at the Oscars and her ballet-pink mini-dress from her wedding to her second husband, Andrea Dotti. The exhibit also includes creations for other famous women including Grace Kelly and Jackie Kennedy. Through March 26.

“Ric Wouters and the Private Utopia” Antwerp, Belgium

It’s no surprise that this Belgian city has its own gallery dedicated to fashion, the Mode Museum (momu.be) — after all, it was the birthplace of the group of avant-garde designers known as the Antwerp Six. Weaving together pieces by this daring fashion collective with sketches and paintings by Belgian artist Ric Wouters (who died last year), this show’s theme is about domesticity and finding ways to achieve happiness through small, simple means. How does this translate into fashion? Well, it’s not always clear in this exhibit, but it’s a treat to check out couture created by top Belgian designers like Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten and Martin Margiela. A highlight of the show is the room devoted to Dirk Van Saene’s curious creations — among them a bright orange dress crafted entirely from plastic survival gear. Through February 26.

“Tenue correcte exigée, quand le vêtement fait scandale” Paris, France

Women in tuxedos. Men in skirts. The world’s first bikini. This exhibit at Paris’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs (lesartsdecoratifs.fr), which loosely translates as “Proper dress code required, when clothes cause a scandal,” looks at how liberties taken with clothing challenged society’s moral values. Give yourself a few hours to navigate this massive show, which brings together more than 400 garments and accessories from the 14th century to today. On display are medieval armor whose toes were deemed too pointy, dresses with plunging necklines that breached 18th-century norms, and mini-skirts considered scandalously revealing for their time. One of the most interesting aspects of the exhibit is a look at gender-bending throughout the ages: from Joan of Arc’s androgynous look and Marlene Dietrich’s tuxedo in the 1930 film “Morocco” (accompanied by a clip from the sultry film) to Jean Paul Gaultier sending men down the runway in skirts in the 80s. It’s both thoughtful and great fun. Through April 23.

photo by Jac. de Nijs / Anefo

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