One of the great things about collecting old clothes is that the internet has made it so easy to find like-minded people with whom you can talk fashion history. It was through longtime on-line friend Jonathan that I met vintage sellers Melinda and Jeff, who live in my own community. Seriously, it took a guy from Canada to connect me with people in my own extended backyard.
For obvious reasons, I love visiting Mel and Jeff. They always have something “new” that I’ve never seen. And while museum exhibitions are so useful in learning about old stuff, having access to lovely things and actually getting to examine them is an education apart.
Last fall I was at their place of business when I passed by a blue linen suit waiting for its turn to be photographed. I’m such a sucker for blue anyway, but this suit was just the loveliest thing I’d seen. I pulled it off the rack and saw the label, A.E. Lelong, Paris. I was familiar with Lucien Lelong whose couture house existed from the early 1920s to the late 1940s, but this suit predated that label. Still, I was sure there had to be a connection.
But even without the label I could tell this was an exceptional garment. The two colors of blue linen were perfectly matched, and the details showed expert construction. Between the label and the superb craftsmanship of the piece, I was intrigued. I took a few photos and when I returned home, began a search for A.E. Lelong.
As it turns out, A. was Arthur, Lucien Lelong’s father and E. was his wife Éléonore . Details are a bit sketchy, but Arthur and
Éléonore owned a textile and dressmaking establishment at 18 Place de la Madeleine in Paris. Their son Lucien studied business, but joined his parent’s business when he finished school. In 1914 he was set to take over with the first collection made under his direction when World War One erupted.
When the war was over, Lucien returned to Paris and resumed his work at A.E. Lelong. Several years later the company was renamed Lucien Lelong. Lucien was not so much the designer of the company as he was the director. Designers were employed, and with input from Lelong, the collections were designed and made.
This suit pre-dates Lucien’s time at Lelong, though from what I’ve read he was influencing the activities at A.E. Lelong even before he formally joined the company. What does matter about the suit is the fact that it is a wonderful example of French couture in the early days of the twentieth century. Linen suits from this era are quite common, but most of the ones I’ve seen are white or off white. The blue color is just extra special.
Like so much fine dressmaking from the twentieth century, this set has a combination of machine and handwork. The construction is machine sewn, with the embellishments being applied by hand.
A word about the length, the mannequin is a bit tall for the dress. It is actually to the ankle.
The dress makes a statement even without the jacket. What could be lovelier on a lazy summer afternoon.
The braid was laid on and stitched by hand.
The lace looks to be hand crocheted, but I’m no expert on lace, and machines were making incredible look-alikes buy this era.
The dress buttons up the back with the tiniest buttons.
Instead of buttonholes, the maker made a string of loops out of a continuous thread. This dress definitely required the help of a lady’s maid.
The closure on the jacket is that elaborately knotted braid. The buttons are purely decorative.
When I saw this set, my first thought was, “I want that.” But soon common sense took over. As much as I love this, I have to be reasonable and limit myself to buying sportier items that fit within the context of my bigger picture. So, I did what any friend would do – I sent photos to Jonathan at the Fashion History Museum. He was coming to North Carolina to get the Poiret coat, and I wanted to make sure he saw this as well.
As it turns out, the suit is now at the Fashion History Museum, on display in one of their current exhibitions, Made in France. I love happy endings!
An online search for examples of clothing with the A.E. Lelong label have shown the label to be quite rare. The Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris has four examples.
Thanks to Melinda and Jeff for the use of their photos.
And here’s a photo of the suit as shown at the Fashion History Museum. Thanks to Jonathan for the photo.