This week we have concentrated on Queen Mary 1, Queen Mary 2 and current upcoming exhibitions in the States and in the UK. Queen Mary 1 carried many War Brides from Europe to the States, today as my Fashion Flashback posting I wanted to talk about a very important exhibition that brought hope, excitement, and glamour, back to Paris at the end of WWII, the Théâtre de la Mode. During the time that Paris was occupied by the Nazis the Haute Couture continued, most certainly in a modest way but none the less it did survive due to the courage and foresight of the French designers. When France was liberated there was a need to give the people something to admire, be proud of…something that was uniquely French and what could be more French than, Haute Couture. The exhibition was under the artistic direction of Christian Bèrard known for his sense of style and his charming illustrations.
A Christian Bèrard illustration (if any of my readers finds one let me know I would love to add one of his illustrations to my collection!)
Bèrard painting one of the sets. It was reported that he was an unkempt mess with cigarette ashes, paint, etc. covering his beard and clothing…but the ladies loved him, his style and sought his advice for their clothing and home decoration!
In 1945-1946 all the Haute Couture designers were invited to created outfits to dress miniature figures in staged scenarios conceived by such artists as Jean Cocteau. Each figure was made of a wire frame with the same head that did not have make-up or different hair styles so they were a blank canvas having the clothes be the most important element. Everything was to 1/3 human scale and worked….buttons buttoned, snaps snapped, purses opened, hats were charming and wigs often appeared, gloves were hand stitched, shoes were fashioned for each outfit, it was indeed a theater of fashion!
The couturier, Jacques Fath, with one of his garments.
I love this photograph, it shows you the scale of the charming mannequins.
A night at the Opera with all the gala attendees on stage and in the boxes.
A magnificent fur cape and ball gown.
The final scene with the bride ascending into heaven from the devastation of the war with the ball-gowned attendants watching her go through the roof. Truly magnificent in detail and concept with the stage designed by Jean Couteau (check out his 1946 Beauty and the Beast, it is a surreal masterpiece!).
After a very successful run in Paris, the exhibition traveled to London, New York City and other cities throughout the world and then became a distant memory and was “lost” to all of us…that is until a professor, Stanley Garfinkel, from Kent State University, was researching a documentary on Christian Dior and he found the little mannequins and garments in major disrepair in the Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington, which the Museum acquired in 1952. The collection was carefully wrapped and send back to Paris for repair. The wire mannequins were refurbished and the garments all brought back to their original glory. The collection resides at Maryhill Museum of Art to this day.
There is a wonderful documentary Théâtre de la Mode which I would highly recommend you see. There are portions of it on YouTube or perhaps you can find a DVD on line.
Haute Couture, fashion in general, is in the French DNA and to have this charming, uplifting exhibition must have been a huge morale booster after years of occupation. There is a series of dolls by the Tonner Doll Company www.tonnerdoll.com that have been made in conjunction with the Maryhill Museum of Art www.maryhillmuseum.org. Actually the idea of using “dolls” to show garments goes back many centuries and many designers, including Madelaine Vionnet, used a wooden mannequin, to scale, to fashion her garments, in fact, all her atelier workers used them. When I took dress design in high school, you heard that correctly, (in the Art Department, the head of the department was a frustrated fashion designer and he was really quite good, not Home Economics), we had to do all our garments to scale before we could produce full-size clothes. and you thought Barbie was the original fashion doll…..not really my friends, not really!!!