National Center of Stage Costume, Moulins, France

Centre national du costume de scène (CNCS), is a French museum dedicated to stage costumes and sets.

It was inaugurated on 1 July 2006 in Moulins, Allier by Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres the Minister of Culture, Pierre-André Périssol the mayor of Moulins and Christian Lacroix, dressmaker and board chairman. The current director is Delphine Pinasa, whose portrait is exhibited at the museum.

The National Center of Stage Costume is the first preservation structure, in France or abroad, to be entirely devoted to the material heritage of theaters.

Its mission is the preservation, study and valorization of a heritage collection of 10,000 theater, opera and ballet costumes in addition to painted stage sets, provided by the three founding institutions of the center, the National Library of France, the Comédie-Française and the National Opera of Paris. The center has also received numerous donations from artists and theaters.

The museum is the first structure, in France or abroad, to be entirely dedicated to scenography and costume heritage. Its mission is to preserve, study and increase the value of a collection of 10,000 theatre, opera and ballet costumes. It also shows paintings, on loan from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (National Library of France), the Comédie-Française and the Opéra de Paris (Paris Opera).

The museum has four areas: the reserves, exhibition halls, library and the training center. There is a gallery of temporary exhibitions 1,500 square metres (16,000 sq ft) behind eight windows. A large room showcases costumes in a scenography context. It also has educational spaces, an auditorium and a documentation center.

Its restaurant was decorated by Christian Lacroix, and it has a museum shop.

The Villars Quarters, located on a four hectare site, draws our attention from far across the River Allier and keeps all its promises once we have entered: a truly elegant and martial monument with its three sandstone staircases that seem to come right out of a swashbuckler movie.

Begun in 1767, construction continued for over a century. Its first architect, Jacques Denis Antoine, a well-known artist, was responsible for designing the Hôtel des Monnaies in Paris. Sublime, necessarily sublime, Villars Quarters reflects the magnificence of the monarchy and its army! In fact it was the first army barracks built under the reign of Louis XV, as part of the army reform initiated by the Duke of Choiseul, putting an end to the practice of lodging soldiers in local dwellings, a source of numerous disturbances.

Named Villars, in homage to Moulins-born Marshall Claude Louis Hector, Duke of Villars (1653 -1734), great military chief of Louis XIV, the barracks was home to a cavalry regiment. It is designed in line with classical esthetics of the 18th century: it is made up of a central building surrounded by two low pavilions, with three internal staircases connecting the stables on the ground floor and the dragoon’s quarters above. The buildings, which are made of Coulandon sandstone (a local quarry), show the technical prowess of its stone masons and the ingenuity of its structure designed to enable the rapid mobilization of troops while providing comfortable lodging for the men and their animals

Over the centuries, Villars Quarters was home to a variety of different army corps resulting in perceptible changes to the architecture. The magnificent barracks, bordering on a work of art, knew its hour of glory: reviews, maneuvers, balls and concerts. It is on the arm of a handsome cavalry officer stationed at Villars Quarters that a beautiful young seamstress, Gabrielle Chanel, nicknamed Coco, left Moulins to « ascend » to Paris and become a fashion icon.

The First World War marked the beginning of the barracks’ decline with the cavalry being progressively replaced by armored troops. Damaged in 1940, the main building was occupied by a police unit until the beginning of the 1980’s, and then abandoned. It was reborn in 2006 to house the CNCS and its regiment of costumes.

Made up of around 10 000 costumes and scenery elements from the middle of the 19th century to the present day, the collections come from theatres, operas, ballets like the national Opera of Paris, the Comédie-Française and the National Library of France.

The museum has a collection of Rudolf Nureyev’s costumes, as requested in his will to be a “place of memory”. Nureyev, who has been the Paris Opera Ballet director had wished to have his collection placed in a museum in Paris, but suitable locations could not be found. So, his collection was placed in the museum in this Auvergne region museum, which is about 3 hours by train from Paris. It is “a permanent collection that offers visitors a sense of his exuberant, vagabond personality and passion for all that was rare and beautiful.” The collection has historical artifacts from Nureyev’s career including film and photograph material, in addition to 70 costumes.

Stage costumes
Several stage companies and theatres, including the Comédie Française and Paris Opera, send their costumes to the museum after their final show. At the museum they are available to be exhibited and preserved. They are also available to researchers and students for study.

The collections: the memory of legendary institutions and artists
Even if stage costumes represented a most important heritage in terms of expenditure and property for the theatres, there had never been a real policy of protecting them until the creation of the center. They bear witness to the creativity of the costume designers that drew them and the know-how of the workshops that made them. They carry in them the traces of the artists that enhanced them on stage.

The oldest costumes date back to the 18th century. They are authentic clothes (male frock coats and waistcoats) given to or bought by the Comédie-Française after the French Revolution to be used in a repertory of 18th century inspiration (Marivaux, Beaumarchais…). In addition to these exceptional pieces, the collection includes mostly costumes from productions created since the second half of the 19th century. The project originated in 1995 when the Ministry of Culture and Communication solicited the major national institutions, the National Library of France (Performing Arts Department), the Comédie-Française and the National Opera of Paris to constitute the first collection made up of 8500 costumes for the opening of the CNCS.

The collection provided by the National Library of France reflects the richness and variety of the Performing Art Department’s collection. It includes the costumes of the Renaud-Barrault troop, the Théâtre de l’Atelier under the direction of Charles Dullin, the Théâtre du Campagnol directed by Jean-Claude Penchenat in addition to Philippe Guillotel’s costumes for the Albertville Olympic Games dramatized by Philippe Decouflé, in 1992.

The collection of the Comédie-Française covers three centuries of the history of this great theatre. The costumes were made in well-renowned sewing workshops notably for the historical clothing. Certain were created by Suzanne Lalique, Lila de Nobili or Thierry Mugler and worn by Sarah Bernhardt, Mounet-Sully or Jean Marais…

The collection of the National Opera of Paris includes 5000 opera and ballet costumes covering a period of a hundred and fifty years from 1872, with costumes designed by Bakst, Benois, Derain, Cocteau… Most of them were made in the sewing workshops of the opera and worn by all of the greatest stars, Serge Lifar, Yvette Chauviré, Maria Callas, Rudolf Nureyev, Régine Crespin, Luciano Pavarotti…

The CNCS houses an exceptional collection of around 2000 drawings and models of costumes created by Christian Lacroix for stage (opera, dance and theatre). The fashion designer Frank Sorbier has also donated his costume models for two operas, the Traviata and The Tales of Hoffmann.

A collection of stage scenery elements
The National Center of Stage Costumes and Scenography houses a collection of painted canvases, decorative elements and stage machinery (chassis, lifting equipment, masts, praticables, tools) dating from the middle of the 20th century. In this continuity, several contemporary dance troops have bequeathed some of their stage sets along with their costume donations.

Across 1,730m2, the reserves include, on the ground floor, work areas (costume reception and departure zones, transport lock, packaging and sorting rooms, isolation room, mannequining workshop…).

Then, on the following three floors, reserves equipped with compactus shelving systems, vast sliding wardrobes including both hanging space and drawers, hence enabling the storage of some ten thousand costumes. These reserves are in compliance with the most stringent recommendations for the sanitary and physical security of works of art and benefit from totally independent air-conditioning.

Originally, the vaulted ground floor housed the stables; today it is the reception hall. Ticket sales are followed by boutiques, then cloakrooms, a restaurant and a 100-seat audi- torium.

The entire first floor, which formerly provided accommodation for soldiers and officers, is now devoted to exhibitions. Eight showcase exhibition rooms act as miniature stages displaying costumes within a scenographic context. Two further rooms can be used for a great variety of purposes.

Finally, the great split-level hall, equipped with a theatrical grid, hence referred to as the “salle du gril”, or grid room, allows painted decor and props to be displayed, together with all sorts of other whimsical features or examples of theatrical immoderation.

The second floor, over and above office space, comprises a documentation centre and an educational centre. The documentation centre is dedicated to the general history of the performing arts and theatrical professions.

The four teaching rooms have been highly active since the Centre opened, successively welcoming the young and old, from nursery classes to students from the Ecole du Louvre, from little dancers to skilled embroiderers… All levels of the French national education system are represented and workshops are organised during school holidays.

The fashion designer, Christian Lacroix, honorary president of the CNCS, completely remodeled the museum’s café-restaurant in 2011. In Baroque-style with sparkling colors, we can find a mixture of old prints, sparkling and arabesque colors combined on a carpet created by the designer exclusively for the museum.

Located on the ground floor of the building, the CNCS auditorium, with a surface area of around 140m², may welcome up to 90 people. Situated at the end of the exhibition circuit, this room enables visitors to continue their visit with a projection of films presenting the design of the costumes displayed. Programming is adapted to each exhibition in partnership with the National Audiovisual Institute.

In the Auvergne region, located in the centre of France, in the very heart of the Bourbonnais within the Allier department, nestles the charming town of Moulins, with its typical pink and black brickwork, appreciated by many a celebrity. Moulins boasts a wealth of beautiful churches, noble town houses, and a cathedral which is home to one of France’s greatest late 15th Century masterpieces, the Maître de Moulins triptych, together with the Duke of Montmorency’s sumptuous mausoleum, one of the17th Century’s finest funerary monuments, portraying the great warrior swooning on his weeping widows knees.