Possessing some 150,000 items in its rich collection, this fascinating museum offers a glimpse of history through the prism of decorative objects, with a spectrum that ranges from medieval traveling trunks to Philippe Starck stools. The collection is organized in more or less chronological order, so on your journey you will pass by paintings from the First Italian Renaissance, through a room filled with exquisite 15th-century intarsia (“paintings” made out of intricately inlaid wood), before gaping at huge, intricately carved 17th-century German armoires. Other highlights include a tiny room covered in gilded woodwork from an 18th-century mansion in Avignon, a stunning Art Nouveau dining room, and fashion designer Jeanne Lanvin’s decadent, purple Art Deco boudoir. While the objects themselves are beautiful, the link between style and historic context is illuminating; the endless curlicues of the rococo style, which perfectly reflected the excesses of Louis XV’s court, for example, give way to more puritanical neoclassicism, which developed during the Enlightenment, when unrestrained frivolity began to look degenerate.
Two other collections worthy of your time are the Publicité/Graphisme collection, which takes on the history of advertising, and the Mode/Textile fashion displays. While the former will mostly be of interest to those who are in the biz, the latter hosts a terrific range of works from famous couture houses like Jean-Paul Gaultier and Dior. Another intriguing addition is a collection of wallpaper through the ages—the earliest of which dates from 1864 and depicts a bucolic hunting scene. Note: The visit starts on the third, not the first, floor.