Christian Lacroix, arguably the most extravagant couturier in Paris, never intended to be a fashion designer. His dream was to be a museum curator, a wish that finally came true via a breath-taking walk through two centuries of fashion.
For the past couple of years, Lacroix, 56 this year, spent most of his Friday mornings picking through 80,000 items of clothing old and new stocked at France's Decorative Arts Museum next door to the Louvre.
To mark the 20th anniversary of his own couture house this year, the museum had offered a show of his own lavish designs. But Lacroix declined.
"A self-promoting retrospective would have been a bit vulgar," he said.
"I wanted to show that my work is based on the wealth of museums such as this one."
Obsessed with costume since the age of six, and a dedicated history of art student who nonetheless failed France's tough museum curator exams, Lacroix narrowed down his choice of clothes to 1,400 then 500 "of the most inspiring items recounting the history of fashion."
At the show, titled Christian Lacroix, Histoires de Mode (History of Fashion) and running until April 20 next year, a final 400 dresses, capes, coats and hats dating back to the 18th century are displayed in counterpoint to 90 emblematic designs from Lacroix's own twice-yearly haute couture shows.
Alongside his iconic stripes from 1987 hang striped bustles and crinolines from the 1860s, while a black-and-white spotted 2001 number worn with a red crocodile-skin jacket stands by a red-spotted Schiaparelli evening coat from 1939 and a 1940 Lanvin gown in black and white spots.
There are groups of dresses in spots, stripes, checks, lames, flowery patterns, netting or patchwork. Gathered together by color, fabric, style or inspiration, the exhibition highlights how fashion constantly reinvents itself, said co-curator Olivier Saillard.
"Christian Lacroix is someone whose work is inspired by history and shows fashions coming around over and over again," said Saillard. "Fashion always repeats itself."
Celebrated for his exuberant swathes of lace and embroidery, and patchworks of fabrics in vibrant colors, Christian Lacroix hit the catwalks 20 years ago with dramatic designs inspired by the costumes of his native Arles in the south of France, and the Camargue, with its gypsies and bullfighters.
But while his roots remain an inspiration, he is known more than any other of the great French couturiers for harking back to the history of costume in his stunning fashion collections.
Along with dresses from the 18th and 19th centuries, the show features models by Lacroix contemporaries such as Yohji Yamamoto, Comme des Garcons or Yves Saint Laurent, alongside post-war classics from Christian Dior or Pierre Cardin as well as creations by early couture czars Worth, Poiret and Jeanne Lanvin.
"There are not only the big names but also anonymously-made clothing," Lacroix said. "The show is a hymn to Parisian couture."