I consider myself so fortunate because my days are filled with interactions with people in the creative arts. This includes our staff, each of whom is rich with stories and experiences to share. Janee recently returned from this year’s ASDP convention. She shared many stories of her experiences and brought paraphernalia for all of us to peruse. On the table (our habit is to leave books, articles, etc of general interest on our lunch table) I found the catalog of Théâtre de la Mode. I was immediately transfixed. Janee told us about her choice to visit Maryhill Museum where the fashion dolls collection is now housed. “Could I please borrow the catalog to read?” Generously Janee gave up the catalog to me, knowing it would be a bit before she would see it again. Now a catalog doesn’t sound that exciting to read, but I ate up everything I could in this beautifully done revised second edition and along the way learned the history of the haute couture fashion dolls.
Simultaneously on the West Coast a close friend was about to begin a class with Pati Palmer , one she’d had on her list for a long time. I mentioned the museum collection and Pati’s connection with it. (*This edition of the catalog was published by Palmer-Pletsch.) Much to my surprise and pleasure, Lois sent photos back to me of the Tonner replicas of the original fashion dolls. Thank you Pati for allowing us to use the photos from your collection. What a circle of friends!
I tell myself I must save this diary to be reopened again at a later date when it will bear witness that in February 1941, between standing in line for milk, rutabagas, and mayonnaise with no oil or eggs, Candlemas with no crepes, and shoes with no leather, Paris brought forth its most characteristic feats, producing a figured velvet dress…a very dressy pink lame blouse…” (Colette, Paris de ma fenêtre). That was how Colette described the Paris of 1941, where life was made up of daily hardship, of nostalgia for a suddenly vanished age, and the odd miracle of creativity. Nadine Gasc, Théâtre de la Mode catalog, pg. 75.
To give a quick summary of the story of Théâtre de la Mode does not do justice to the telling of the “odd miracle of creativity” which is so eloquently written by Nadine Gasc. To whet your appetite for the book and for a visit to the display I will give you the basics of the story. The original displays were contrived and produced in mid-1940’s Paris. The plan was to demonstrate to the people of Paris and to the world that haute couture still lived even in the dark days of that post war era. Spirits were low and supplies were scarce, but the couture community came together and created a magnificent collection that announced to the world that the fashion industry and the artistry of Paris couturiers were not dead.
The original mannequins were formed in wire and fitted with porcelain heads. The outfits replicated the current season of the prominent couture houses. The sets, themselves miniature works of art, were designed and built by well-known artists. Real hair was used on the mannequins along with real leather for shoes (can you imagine making those tiny shoes?) and jewelry using real gemstones. The proceeds from the showings were donated to war charities. After a successful opening in Paris, the collection travelled to major cities around the world. It ended up being stored in the basement of the City of Paris department store (Neiman Marcus today) in San Francisco. By good fortune, one of the directors of the Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, Washington was able to obtain the collection and it was brought from the basement to the public once again. In 1990, the collection was loaned back to Paris for re-furbishing and a re-introduction to the European public. The collection again toured major world cities and now resides back at Maryhill Museum of Art where it is shown a portion at a time. A trip to this museum is definitely on my bucket list!!
Has anyone else seen it, or like me, read the catalog without the benefit of the visit? Share your experience with us.
* Here is the publishers release which Pati shared with us…a full description of what you will find in this wonderful catalog.