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Vm inspiration: Musee des Arts et Metiers

Given that VM professionals tend to have a keen interest in everything due to the nature of their jobs, the Paris museum Musee des Arts et Metiers is well worth a visit.

In one sense it is a ‘museum of museums,’ with charmingly old-fashioned rows of glass cabinets, each containing something fascinating; in another it is a repository of a million possible ideas for VM props and window themes.

This is just one of a range of beautifully made models of gearing mechanisms. Perfectly carved in wood, these giant wooden cogs occupy several cabinets tracing the development of mechanized power, which might make a compelling window feature by itself, and even more so if it could be mechanized.

The museum traces the development of architecture, electricity, ceramics, textiles and knitting, astronomy, printing, transportation, and every other area of human endeavor that can be dreamed of. It is divided into collections of scientific instruments, materials, mechanics, construction, communication and transport.

Most VM professionals will have studied accepted design history, as least in part. This teaches us that the original UK design reform schools and collections, set up by Henry Cole (1808 - 1882) et al after the Great Exhibition in 1851, were a reaction to the excessive decoration with which many exhibits of 1851 were adorned.

But here we have a lovely but decorated example of biscuit-ware by John Rose and Company. Perhaps the manufacturers could not resist creating ‘extra special’ versions of their everyday goods for display, and it was to these Cole and his colleagues objected. Maybe they were being a little unfair in their castigation of the merchandise shown at the exhibition? This vase to our eyes today is perfectly lovely and might inspire props for any perfume or toiletries display.

Of course, the Great Exhibition was hugely successful, and subsequently emulated in Paris by the World Exhibition of 1867, at which Thimonnier’s very early development of the sewing machine of 1830 was shown. Today, this resembles a steam-punk version of a sewing machine, but it was the basis on which Thimonnier, a tailor, built a factory to sew army uniforms. This was promptly burned to the ground by workers fearful of losing their livelihoods. Development of the sewing machine allowed the production of military and merchant uniforms and hastened the speed of fashion change, without which we would have far fewer fashion retail stores than we do now. Definitely worth celebrating in a VM theme?

Early electrical appliances were enormously expensive and rather unreliable. A curious forerunner of our modern toaster, this 1930s example by Calor was a luxury possession, and might make part of a series of silhouettes of toaster designs culminating perhaps in today’s Dualit.

Clemens Ader’s ‘plane developed between 1893 and 1897 was an early attempt at flight based on the morphology of a bat. It is almost a VM Halloween theme by itself.

This selection of early light-bulbs is both decorative and beautiful.

This Lalique perfume bottle for ‘Leur Ames’ (Their Souls), is an inspiration. Imagine a giant version with folded accessories inside? Or perhaps a pair of shoes, rather like an elegant ship in a bottle?

The Musee des Art & Metiers also has a temporary exhibition and allows visitors to take photographs. It is closed on Mondays, open otherwise (and free on Sunday) from 10 - 6pm with a late night on Thursdays until 7.30pm.