The first set as you walk into the Maryhill Museum’s current exhibit of the Théâtre de la Mode is a copy (all the sets were lost and many were recreated) of the set by the youngest artist involved in the project, André Beaurepaire.

Beaurepaire’s set, La Grotte Enchantée (The Enchanted Grotto) was created by the 20-year old French painter, designer and illustrator. André Beaurepaire became an outstanding French artist of the postwar period. He was the last of the Théâtre participants living—dying just last year at the age of 88.

 André Beaurepaire working on his set. Photo by Béla Bernand.
The 1945 Grotte Enchantée, courtesy Le Blog de Cameline
The Grotto scene at Maryhill Museum today, with the reconstructed set by Anne Surgers. Photo by M. Wilds/denisebrain
In this set are some truly gasp-worthy costumes. These are the original creations, being modeled by the original dolls.

From the left of the scene, there is a long ivory dinner dress with elbow-length dolman sleeves, the bodice entirely embroidered in bronze and mother-of-pearl sequins, by Worth. 

Lucile Manguin’s long dinner dress features a long-sleeved black velvet spencer and full organza skirt with criss-crossing black lace. The doll holds a tiny pink taffeta handkerchief edged in black lace.

Gowns by Worth, Manguin, Renal and (mostly hidden) Patou. Photo by M. Wilds/denisebrain

The gorgeous evening gown by Georgette Renal has a white tulle skirt trimmed with widening bands of satin. Nina Ricci designed the black satin evening dress with leg-of-mutton sleeves. Its fitted bodice has a set-in yoke of pale pink satin embroidered with old-gold sequins. The full skirt has a longer pink satin underskirt.

The  Manguin, Renal and Patou again, with the Ricci. Photo by M. Wilds/denisebrain

While each of the dresses (not to mention accessories and hairstyles) are truly incredible in this set, the gown at front and center definitely is worthy of its place on the stage. It was designed by Balenciaga of raspberry satin embroidered with tiny pearls and ruby beads. The doll wears a matching pillbox hat.

Dress by Balenciaga. Photo by M. Wilds/denisebrain
Dresses by Patou, Balenciaga and Ricci, evening coat by Issartel. Photo by M. Wilds/denisebrain
I wish I could have seen better the Jean Patou dress, “Fleurs de Mal,” shown to the left of the Balenciaga. This evening dress has a short-sleeved black tulle bodice embroidered in black sequins. The slim pink wrap skirt is asymmetrically draped. The doll’s shoes are pink fabric and black leather ankle wrap sandals. To the right of the Balenciaga is an Italian Renaissance-inspiration evening coat by Blanche Issartel. It is made of ivory satin with a silver pattern. The coat is worn over a long gold lamé sheath dress. See those tiny gloves? They are white suede. (Click on the photos to see them larger.)

To the right of the scene is a bright red organdy evening dress by Madame Grès. The turban and veil are of pale green organdy with kingfisher feathers, coral beads and rhinestones. 

The black and silver paisley brocade evening coat was designed by Mad Carpentier. It is a full-skirted redingote with large puffed sleeves. The doll’s equally striking toque is black velvet and tulle embroidered with sequins and jet and trimmed with feathers.

Dresses by Grès and Carpentier. Photo by M. Wilds/denisebrain
The Théâtre de la Mode was conceived as a way to express French couture’s preeminence, even as it struggled to hold itself together during and just after the Nazi occupation of Paris. This scene’s elaborate, elegant, minutely-detailed, gorgeously-designed and heart-meltingly optimistic creations succeed in reaching, even surpassing their goal. I had to sit and look at these dolls for a long time.


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