The second half of the nineteenth century saw a decline in metallurgy and drapery, the two major economic activities in the region, which led to the unemployment of many industrially-trained, mostly female skilled workers. In this context, Charles Brillaud founded the first mechanized lingerie workshop in Argenton-sur-Creuse. This first was established in 1860 and other industrialists followed suit; the city soon became a premier location for shirt-making. In 1885, nine garment confectioners existed; by 1902 there were around twenty. By the mid-twentieth century, some sixty businesses in Indre specialized in shirts. Today, however, the industry’s hum has grown considerably hushed.
Opened in 1993, the Museum of Shirtmaking and Masculine Elegance was born from the desire of a group of former industry professionals, organized under former atelier director Jean-René Gravereaux and his spouse Solange. The objective was to preserve the industrial heritage of the city of Argenton-sur-Creuse and its environs. And so in the beginning of the 1980s, the duo initiated a massive collection campaign among local individuals, designers and businesses involved in men’s shirting – an effort that created the base of today’s collection.
Named a “Museum of France,” the institute conserves approximately 12,000 items in collections composed mostly of men’s clothing and accessories. The objects date from the 17th century up to today and comprise materials linked to the industry, its archives and a significant collection devoted to Jean-Claude Villeminot, also known as Jean-Claude Pascal. Born in 1927 to a well-off industrial family based near Bougival and descended from famed couturier Charles Frederick Worth, Jean-Claude Pascal was an actor, singer, writer and once-stylist at Dior. This collection collects clothes from life and screen, photos and drawings.
Visitors to the museum experience the history of the shirt from the Middle Ages to today. Originally an undergarment, the shirt slowly became a visible piece of clothing, emerging at the neckline and wrists before becoming fully exposed. The social functions of shirting are explored, particularly its use as an element for distinction. On the next floor of the museum, a scale replica of a lingerie atelier allows visitors to observe the steps of shirtmaking from initial design to final packaging.
At the center of the museum is a textile garden cultivating linen, hemp, nettle, gorse, madder, dyer’s wood, broom, and hops, all of which are used in the production of natural fibers and dyes. The museum is complemented by a resource center and fabric library, thus serving as a cultural site and a place of research around the garment industry and clothing.
Photo Credits: Museum of Shirtmaking and Masculine Elegance