Tag Archives: Paris

Currently Reading – Theatre de la Mode

The story of the Théâtre de la Mode is quite well-known. Briefly, it was a project undertaken after the liberation of Paris in 1944 to show that the Haute Couture had survived the war, and to raise money for war recovery. Dolls, sculptures actually, were designed by young artist Jean Saint-Martin, and members of the  Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne designed fashions for the dolls to wear. Scene sets were designed by famous artists like Christian Bérard.

Lots of money was raised. The show toured Europe, and then went to New York, with the show ending in San Francisco. When the show ended, the dolls somehow ended up at the Maryhill Museum of Art in Oregon.

There is, of course, so much more to this story. When I spotted this book in an antique mall last fall, I picked it up and then put in my to-read pile. Well, that pile has been shrinking, and I finally got around to reading Théâtre de la Mode. My timing could not have been better, because this is not just the story of some beautifully dressed sculptures; it’s the story of how beauty can survive in the midst of the most terrible of circumstances.

As an American Baby Boomer, I grew up with my family’s tales of the depravitations of World War II. There were stories of cars with no gasoline, of cakes with no chocolate, and of new clothes being remade from old. To my middle class 1960s life, it all sounded so dreadful. In recent years the sufferings of life in Britain during and after the war have been well documented in movies and television. But what about life in Paris after the liberation from Nazi control?

The writers of Théâtre de la Mode did an exceptional job of painting a picture of post-liberation Paris. What was pointed out was that after the cheering was over, one of the harshest winters in known history set in, with shortages of everything from coal to milk. The infant mortality rate soared to 10.9 percent. Electricity was turned on only at meal times and at night. New, warm clothing was not to be had.

But in spite of all the misery and hardships, the couture had survived. Paris had lost its position of the world’s fashion leader, but plans were made in 1944 for the city to regain what it had lost. Part of the plan was the Théâtre de la Mode.

Couture houses, milliners, and shoemakers worked through the winter of 1944-1945 on their contributions to the project. Sets were built, dolls constructed, and tiny garments constructed. In March, 1945, the Théâtre de la Mode opened at the Pavillon Marsan. It was a smashing success. Paris was ready for some beauty and fantasy.

Above you see Eliane Bonabel, who was instrumental in the development of the dolls.

When the show closed in Paris, it traveled to other cities across Europe. Late in 1945 new clothes in what couturiers imagined to be the latest fashions were made before the dolls were sent to New York, accompanied by Bonabel. The show opened there in May of 1946, and then traveled to San Francisco where it was shown at the De Young Museum. When it closed, the dolls were stored at the City of Paris department store in the city.

There the dolls stayed until 1951 when Paul Verdier, president of the store, arranged for the dolls to be sent to Maryhill. There they resided until they were “rediscovered” in 1984 by Stanley Garfinkel of Kent State University.  A plan was hatched to send the dolls back to Paris where they would be restored, and put on display again at the Pavillon Marsan. All the original sets had been lost so reproductions were made of nine sets.

This book came about as a result of the restoration and the Paris exhibition. There are essays by people involved in the project, and by historians. All are interesting. The photos by David Seidner are really special.

Today the Maryhill Museum of Art displays the dolls and sets on a rotating basis. I have definitely put Maryhill on my long range plan list. And now, a little taste of the lovely photos of the dolls.

Coat and dress by Martial & Armand, hat by Blanche & Simone, shoes by Bertili

Left: Suit by Lucile Manguin, accessories by Vedrennes

Right: Suit by Dupouy-Magnin, hat by Jane Blanchot, shoes by Gelé.

The only slacks that I spotted: Sport ensemble by Freddy Sport

Beachwear ensemble by Maggie Rouff, hat by Gilbert Orcel, sandals by Casale

Beachwear ensemble and hat by Jacques Heim, sandals by Hellstern

Dress by Madame Grés, veil by Caroline Reboux

Left: Dress by Henriette Beaujeu, hat by Rose Valois, gloves by Hermés, shoes by Grezy

Right: Dress and hat by Schiaparelli, gloves by Faré, shoes by Casale

In all there were over 235 dolls, though some are now missing. Many of the accessories are also missing. For the 1991 exhibition, Massaro made some reproduction shoes.

Essays by  Edmonde Charles-Roux, Herbert R. Lottman, Stanley Garfinkel, Nadine Gasc, Katell le Bourhis, and photographs by  David Seidner 


Filed under Currently Reading, Designers, Museums, World War II

A.E. Lelong, 18 Place de la Madeleine, Paris, Circa 1910

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.


Filed under Designers, Vintage Clothing

Seahorse Silk Blouse: Tache, Rue de Castglione

I realize after looking at this photo that I should have taken the time to try and do a better job of showing just how lovely this late 1940s or early 1950s blouse is. I’m hoping the details will show the special-ness of it.

Every so often the question will arise on vintage clothing chat board, “What makes a garment museum quality or museum worthy?” There’s no easy answer to the question, and it depends on the museum and the collection housed within. For example, the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art might turn up its nose at a rather plain mid-nineteenth century dress made and worn by a woman in Kansas, but that same dress might be an important part of a museum that interprets the history of that state.

When it comes to adding something to my own collection, I have several things to think about. “Museum quality” isn’t one of them, but “collection worthiness” is. An item has to not just fit into my theme of sports and travel wear, it must fill a spot that is currently empty, or it has to be a better example of something I already own.

Blouses from the post WWII era are quite common, and I already have a few, including a navy one in rayon, so unless one is pretty special I’m not going to be interested.

I love the under-the-sea theme of the embroidery with the seaweed and seahorses.  But notice also the quality of the embroidery.  This is tambour, which is done with a hook. There is also a machine which can produce a good tambour facsimile, and I’m not enough of an embroidery person to be able to tell the difference. I’m guessing it is machine work because it is just so tiny.  I can’t imagine it being done by hand, but expert embroiderers are magicians.  All I can say is that the work is beautifully done, and the back is neat and lovely as well.

This is the arm opening, and you can see the tambour that is applied to the band that secures it.  Also note the button, which is starburst-cut mother-of-pearl.

I sort of wish the blouse were actually this color, but this is just my camera playing tricks again.  The blouse is navy.  But I included this shot because I wanted to make sure the row of tucks would be noticed.  You probably can’t tell, but they are actually stitched by hand.

This blouse was meant to be tucked into a skirt or slacks, and to help keep it looking neat, there is a series of eight tucks (in addition to these decorative ones) all around  the waist.

The label reads “Tache, Paris, 6 R. de Castiglione. The Rue de Castiglione is a shopping street that connects the Place Vendôme to the Tuileries Gardens. It’s a nice area of the city.  Unfortunately, I have found nothing at all about Tache.  I assume it was a store that sold pricey goods. Today, it appears as if there is a spa located in the space, which is across the street from a Weston Hotel.

As would be expected on a garment of this quality, there is a mixture of machine stitching and hand finishing.  The hem is hand stitched, as are the bindings at the neck and arms.  The machine-stitched side and shoulder seams are finished with a hand overcast stitch.

I also consider condition when deciding on a purchase.  I can deal with a bit of less-than-perfect-ness, especially if the garment is really good. Rarity also is considered.  I’d want a 1960s sportswear piece to be almost perfect, but I’m willing to be a little less picky when it comes to a piece from the 1910s. In this case, the condition is very good, with one light spot and a tiny repaired hole.  There are also some seams that have come loose.  Those I’ll fix with basting.

This was an item I spotted on Instagram, from Ballyhoo Vintage Clothing.  Sellers, if you are not on Instagram, you might be missing opportunities to sell your stuff.


Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Vintage Clothing

Paris – Post WWII

Only three years after the war was over, European countries were ready and open for the tourist business.  This great print was the cover of Holiday magazine in May 1948. The article talks about how people were getting over the sorrow of German occupation, and were getting on with life.

It also mentions the fashion business, and how the haute couture was struggling with various problems – the continuing fabric shortages, the high wages and taxes that must be paid, and the lack of foreign customers.   Many houses were pretty much surviving on the profits from perfumes.   And the article mentions a “baldish, stubby newcomer named Christian Dior” who was helping to bring the fashionable back to Paris with the introduction of his “New Look.”

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Filed under Travel, World War II

Milliner Suzy of Paris (or Somewhere)

Over three years after writing this post, the internet rewarded me with the true answer to my questions about this hat.  It was not made by Madame Suzy of Paris, it was made by an American company headed by milliner Sylvia Whitman Seigenfeld.  Her daughter Suzy has filled me in on the story.

Here you see the latest distraction in my life.  Made from a fine wool jersey knit, it was probably intended for wintertime sports or casual wear.  The label reads, “Suzy” with another one from the store, “Flint & Kent, Buffalo”.

I love hats, but they are not my strong suit.  I bought this one purely on the strength of the sporty design, though I knew I had heard/read/seen the Suzy name somewhere.  After several days of searching for information and reading, I imagine I recalled her name from the pages of Vogue and Bazaar magazines of the 1930s and 40s, as her work was often used in their editorial pages.  Finding good, solid information about her has proved to be a bit difficult.

According to the V&A site Suzy became known in the 1920s and had a shop at 5 rue de la Paix in Paris.  During WWII she designed hats for the American market, and she stopped production in the 1950s.

All that information was a good starting place, but  it was incredibly short on details.  Continuing on, I found an interesting hat at the Antiquedress.com site.  It is a bonnet, identified as 1890s, with a Madame Suzy at 5 rue de la Paix label.  Interesting, as several sources, including the V&A one have the label starting in the 1920s.

And then I found an article in a millinery magazine from 1921, and it identifies Madame Suzy as the hat designer for Maria Guy at her shop on the Place Vendome.

By the mid 1930s, Suzy must have been well-known to American women, as I found hundreds of references to her and her new styles in various US newspapers of the time.  There were American stores selling adaptations of her styles.  Then, when WWII came, Suzy left Paris, and ended up in New York, making and selling her hats.  With the end of the Occupation, she returned to Paris in 1944.  In the post-war period, she continued traveling to the US, in an effort to help re-establish the French fashion industry.

I can find no primary references to Suzy after 1949, and several sources said she closed shop in 1951, and others said in the 1950s.

I’m thinking my cap dates to Suzy’s New York years.  I’m in the process of working my way through several dozen fashion magazines from the time, hoping that by magic I’ll turn a page and there it will be.  It has happened before so keep your fingers crossed for me please!

UPDATE:  I’ve heard from a very knowledgeable collector of antique and vintage hats, and this person thinks my hat is from a different Suzy than Madame Suzy of Paris.  If any of you have any information about other Suzys, please let me hear from you!

A word about Flint & Kent:  Established in 1865, it was an upscale Buffalo department store.  It changed hands in 1954, and ceased to be in 1956.


Filed under Collecting, Designers

1950s Paris Novelty Print

Subtitled, How Not to Do Business

As promised, here’s a bit more about this stack of 1950s and 60s novelty prints that I recently stumbled across in a local antique mall.  I almost missed these, as they were stuck on a low shelf in a booth that sells primarily modern Fiesta dishes.  Why modern Fiesta dishes are allowed in an antique mall is a very good question – one that I cannot answer.  As you’ll see, there are a few other disturbing questions about the whole process of buying the one bolt of cloth that I knew I had to have.

I really love antique malls.  They are like a giant treasure hunt where you never know that the treasure is until you spot it.  (Tammis Keefe tipsy reindeer napkins, anyone?)   And while you generally have to sift through a lot of junk, the possibility of finding great things usually makes for a nice hour or so of searching.  Usually the staff is very helpful and the prices are clearly displayed, and most places will even give a discount on larger purchases.

But then there are the times that try a vintage lover’s soul.

After spotting the stack, I looked through them and realized there was a sweet 1950s print depicting the streets of Paris.  Holding my breath, I tried to find the price tag.  I looked and looked on the bolt, on the other bolts, on the floor, on the wall…  No price tag.  At that point I felt the hassle coming on.  But I knew I had another 45 minutes or so in order to shop the entire mall, so I took the bolt to the counter to see if they could track down the seller.  Simple, right?  Wrong.

After close to an hour, I made my way back to the counter with another item to purchase, and I stood waiting for the two cashiers to help.  They were both consumed with a guy who was buying a piece of pottery.  Finally one of them looked my way, and I inquired about the price of the fabric.  The other worker said she had called both people who own the booth and neither answered their phones.  Ten minutes later, she decided to text one of them, and I realized at that point that there was a real possibility I would not be taking the fabric home with me.

I gave her my phone number and left.

Three hours later the other worker called saying the price of the bolt was $5. Well, that made all my irritation at them disappear, and I gushingly thanked the woman, telling her how much I appreciated the effort.  And in the middle of my little speech, I heard a click.  She had hung up on me.  At that point any reasonable person would have said to heck with them, but I had been obsessing about that fabric for the past three hours.  And when it comes to the perfect vintage novelty print, I’m anything but reasonable.

So back I went to the mall, quietly crept in, bought my treasure and left.  And it will be a very long time before I return.

I think you will agree that this was worth a little bother:


Filed under Novelty Prints, Sewing, Shopping

The Eiffel Tower

The 1950s had an all things Parisian crush going on.  Maybe it was the tales from all those returning servicemen (and women), talking about the French cafes and wines and most of all, the Eiffel Tower.  Or maybe it was that Paris had been closed for business for years, and people were eager to return.  Whatever the reason, during the 50s Paris, and the Eiffel Tower in particular became the motif of choice for many products, especially those aimed at women.

There is no easier way to instantly portray  “Paris,” and in the same breath , “Romantic holiday,” than to show a picture of the Eiffel Tower.  And for a complicated structure, it is amazingly simple to draw, with a curved pyramid with diagonal crosshatching.  Throw in a bit of pink and a cafe or two, and voila!  Paris!

Isn’t this 1950s handbag just the sweetest?

Eiffel Tower? Check.

Sidewalk cafe? Check.

Pink? Check.

And more of Paris, vintage style:

If you think about it, most decades have design motifs that are strongly associated with the era.  See some kitchen accessories decorated with mushrooms?  They must be from the 1970s.  And does anything scream 1980s like some white ducks on a French blue background?  Even the eclectic 2000s had a reoccurring theme – birds.


Filed under Collecting