Sunday, May 23, 2010

Théâtre de la Mode, part VII: Seeing the exhibit at Maryhill

(For the start of this on again-off again series on the Théâtre de la Mode, please see my blog of March 14, My visit to the Théâtre de la Mode, part 1.)

As I wrote in my first post about the Théâtre, it is permanently housed at the Maryhill Museum of Art and there are no plans for it to tour again from what I can tell. The current Théâtre de la Mode rotation features the three sets I have described in previous posts, including that very haunting Cocteau.

The museum is open 7 days a week, including all holidays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., March 15 through November 15. It is 100 miles from Portland and not terribly far from any place in the states of Washington and Oregon. The Maryhill Museum website should give you all the information you need to plan a visit. It is an enchanting destination, for more than even the Théâtre; I love the peacocks that strut the grounds!

My red jacket alongside a red jacket by Worth (photo, denisebrain)


Here I was in the presence of this miniature masterpiece of Parisian art and fashion in a museum on the edge of a precipice overlooking the Columbia River, 5,294 miles from Paris.

I carried a very small package with me in my bag when I visited Maryhill. In it was a pair of vintage black gloves marked "Made in France," boxed up to mail to the buyer, who happens to live in Paris. It suddenly seemed like a somewhat smaller world.

Friday, May 21, 2010

My shoes are museum pieces!

These 1950s lucite-heeled shoes (recently sold)
are in this exhibit:
and these early 70s Fox & Fluevog shoes (on loan from my collection)
are in this exhibit:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Théâtre de la Mode, part VI: Loss & Rebirth—Again

(For the start of this on again-off again series on the Théâtre de la Mode, please see my blog of March 14, My visit to the Théâtre de la Mode, part 1.)

In 1983, Professor Stanley Garfinkel of Kent State University was told about the Théâtre while researching at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The next year he went to Paris where he met Eliane Bonabel and Jean Saint-Martin (the designer of the dolls and the wire artist who made their structures) and he presented the story to Susan Train, the Paris Editor for American Vogue. No one in Paris knew of the dolls' continuing existence at Maryhill. A Franco-American partnership was spearheaded by Garfinkel and Train.

In the mid 1980s the dolls were sent to Paris for meticulous restoration, and in a few cases, total recreation. All but a few of the sets were recreated by Anne Surgers.

In 1990 the exhibition reopened in Paris, later traveling to New York, Tokyo, Baltimore, London, Portland and Honolulu before settling back at Maryhill in 1995. It is on permanent rotating display there, with three of the sets on view at any one time.

Eliane Bonabel with the dolls in 1991

In searching for information about the restoration of the Théâtre, I came across a Telos film called Théâtre de la Mode.

The film has a double poignancy in that it was made along with the exhibit's restoration. Many of the people interviewed were involved with the original project and are now gone. The restoration (and the film) seem to have come from a cusp time: Society was finally eager again to see this work of couture's past greatness, and it was not too late to find some of the original creators. Robert Ricci (son of Nina Ricci), who was instrumental from the conception of the Théâtre de la Mode, died two weeks after he was interviewed for the film. Eliane Bonabel, Stanley Garfinkel, Jean Saint-Martin, all but one of the set designers, and all the fashion designers are gone now.

Eliane Bonabel, a beautiful 72-year old in 1991, was the highlight of the film for me. She describes the Cocteau set, saying that he gave only vague instructions about the set-up and meaning. It was clearly a bombed out building, and a bride is lying dead while her spirit flies off, a symbol of hope and rebirth. The other dolls look on in shock and sorrow. The couturiers at first balked at having their creations appear in such a scene, clearly a reference to The War, but eventually all consented, agreeing that the gowns were even more beautiful in this setting.

The original Cocteau set in 1945

The film is in all ways touching, a reminder of the loss that inspired the Théâtre de la Mode, and the rebirth that was in turn inspired by it. Now it has been 20 years since the newly resurrected Théâtre and we have lost so many more people tied to the exhibit—but we still have their dolls. Susan Train wrote of the dolls in her introduction to the book Théâtre de la Mode:
Born at a moment in history and under circumstances that were more than difficult, but in an élan of solidarity and hope for the future, they stand also for the creative ability, skills, and pride in perfection of detail of the artisans, couturiers, and artists of France. Their message is as strong today as it was in 1945-1946 when they carried it through Europe and to the United States and, inanimate though they appear to be, they are in fact, like the phoenix, a symbol of life.
Doll dressed by Madame Grès, photographed by David Seidner,
shown on the cover of the Telos film Théâtre de la Mode

Monday, May 3, 2010

How does your garden grow?

With pretty vintage clothing all in a row!

Please see my latest monthly theme, Power of the Flower!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Théâtre de la Mode, part V: Down to the Tiniest Details

In case you haven't been following my occasional series on the Théâtre de la Mode, you might want to start at the beginning (My visit to the Théâtre de la Mode, part I).

Originally the plan was to have Théâtre dolls dressed in miniature versions of haute couture styles with no particular emphasis on accessories. As the couture houses got more involved (more caught up in the project, and also more competitive with one another) it was decided that just as much attention should be paid to all the smaller elements.

At the Maryhill Museum, display cases give a close-up view of some of the tiny accessories (click on the photos for a closer look. Photo, denisebrain)

Tiny shoes were made, along with hats, bags, gloves, umbrellas...the full range of accessories. The tiny umbrellas open, some of the tiny shoes have contrasting trim one millimeter wide. The bags not only open, but are completely fitted inside. The greatest milliners of Paris were called upon to do their work in 1/3-scale size. The greatest coiffeurs of Paris created hair styles using pins and rollers scaled down to the size of the dolls.

(photo, denisebrain)
For the 1946 presentation of the exhibition in New York, tiny fine jewelry was made by Lesage, Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Chaumet.

In many cases, what wasn't to be seen was also created: Jackets are lined and quilted; miniature versions of house labels are sewn into items; some dolls even have intricate undergarments.

The purpose of the exhibition was to convince the world that French fashion—every element of it—had survived the War. It seems to me that it couldn't have been more convincing!