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Revisiting the Théâtre de la Mode, part III: Le Jardin Marveilleux



The second scene from the Théâtre de la Mode currently being shown at the Maryhill Museum is Le Jardin Marveilleux (The Marvelous Garden).

The Marvelous Garden at Maryhill. Photo by M. Wilds/denisebrain
The designer of this delightful and somewhat surreal set was Jean-Denis Malclès. The current scene is the recreation by Anne Surger. 

The Garden as it appeared in 1945
Malclès was a painter, stage designer, costumer and illustrator. He was a master of magical effects and he gave his all to Le Jardin Marveilleux.

Jean-Denis Malclès. Photo by Béla Bernand
You may notice that the images of the sets dating from 1945 include clothing different from that on display now. The clothing of 1945 was replaced for the exhibit’s tour in 1946 because the couturiers wanted the fashion to be the very latest of their styles.

In the current display you will see an evening dress by Mad Carpentier with a yellow silk chiffon bodice embroidered with blue beads, old rose lamé and mother-of-pearl sequins...tiny versions of the couturier’s usual embellishments. The skirt is lilac tulle over a pink underskirt. 

Dress by Carpentier. Photo by M. Wilds/denisebrain
Dress by Heim, evening coat by Bruyère
In front of the beautiful bridal gown by Paquin (yes, those are minute covered buttons down the bodice front) is a shadowy figure in one of the most outstanding outfits of the 1946 version of the exhibit.

Wedding gown by Paquin, outfit by Balmain, Photo by M. Wilds/denisebrain
Created by Balmain, the original was lost and considered essential to recreate.

Here is the ensemble as illustrated by René Gruau in 1946. The long cord holds the drape of the dress:


And here the designer of the dolls, Eliane Bonabel, shows this Balmain doll to Carmel Snow and Diana Vreeland, in New York in the spring of 1946.


At the right of the Garden scene is a stunning gown of black silk with a green silk under skirt by Madame Grès. Exhibited alongside is another narrow silhouette. It was called “Caran d’Ache” by its creator, Jacques Fath. Designers were experimenting with both sheath silhouettes and the very full skirts which presaged the New Look of 1947.

Dresses by Grès and Fath. Photo by M. Wilds/denisebrain
I was amazed by the miniature scale of the jacquard used for a gown by Bruyère. If only we could see her feet, shod in matching fabric and bordeaux leather shoes! All the shoes you are able to see are miniature masterpieces. 

Dress by Bruyère. Photo by M. Wilds/denisebrain
Some of the tiny shoes on display. Photo by M. Wilds/denisebrain

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Théâtre de la Mode, part IV: The Fashion Designers

Jacques Fath with one of his creations for the Théâtre de la Mode, 1945

The designers involved in the costuming for the Théâtre read like a who's who of Paris couture of the time, or a near who's who. Notably absent is Coco Chanel, who had closed up shop in 1939, believing that war was no time for fashion.

It was indeed a very challenging time for French fashion. After the Nazi occupation, raw materials, energy and transportation were at a minimum. In 1940 German officers seized the entire archives of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture. Balenciega and Grès were shut down on the grounds that they had used more than their allotment of fabric. Balenciaga reopened with the intervention of the Spanish Embassy, while Madame Grès had to quit making her iconic draped designs.

The German Reich was planning to uproot French haute couture, making it part of its regime, with headquarters in Berlin and Vienna. By 1944, the Nazis threatened to shut down the haute couture completely. It was only saved from extinction by the Liberation.

Remarkably, during the four year occupation the majority of haute couture designers had managed to remain in business, maintaining their creativity and keeping their skilled workers. When the Liberation came, the industry was prepared for its rebirth.

Prints came back in the form of polka dots, stripes, plaids, checks and historic patterns derived from Chinese vases, Delft earthenware and Renaissance velvet. Draped designs were also back, emphasizing necklines and hips. Small waists were emphasized with the V-line (for Victory). Jackets softened, hems lengthened, colors and elaborate decoration returned.

Some of the designers involved with the Théâtre were especially important prior to the 40s (Schiaparelli comes to mind first) while some younger designers were rising stars, important at and after the New Look transition.

Dior was part of the firm of Lucien Lelong from 1941 until December 1946. According to Nadine Gasc ("Haute Couture and Fashion 1939-46," one of the essays collected in the book Théâtre de la Mode), there is little doubt that Dior was responsible for a turquoise chiffon dress with white polka dots, with its low neckline and emphasis on the waist. The only difference between this and his New Look style of 1947 is the length.




Jacques Fath, among others, showed a pen silhouette.

Fath's "Poudre d'Iris," a beige wool jacket with mid-calf straight black skirt, currently on display at Maryhill (photo, denisebrain)

Long, full-skirt strapless gowns were back again, shown by a number of designers. Fewer showed a silhouette more common to pre-WWI times, a narrow long silhouette with wide-brimmed hat. Some, like Balmain, showed both. Either way, without a doubt, evening wear was back.

Dress by Balmain, 1946 (yes, those are tiny feathers; click on any
image for a closer view)

Eliane Bonabel showing a doll dressed by Balmain to Carmel Snow and Diana Vreeland, New York, spring 1946

List of the design houses contributing to the Théâtre de la Mode

Agnès Drecoll
Alex
Alice Thomas
Ana de Pombo
Annek
Anny Blatt
Balenciaga
Blanche Issartel
Bruyère
Calixte
Carven
Charles Montaigne
Dupouy-Magnin
Freddy Sport
Gabrielle
Gaston
Georgette Renal
Germaine Lecomte
Grès
Henriette Beaujeu
Henry à la Pensée
Hermès
Jacques Fath
Jacques Heim
Jean Desses
Jean Farell
Jean Patou
Jeanne Lafaurie
Jeanne Lanvin
Jungmann
Lucien Lelong
Lucile Manguin
Mad Carpentier
Madeleine Vramant
Madeleine de Rauch
Maggy Rouff
Marcel Dhorme
Marcel Rochas
Marcelle Alix
Marcelle Chaumont
Marcelle Dormoy
Martial & Armand
Mendel
Molyneux
Nina Ricci
O'Rossen
Paquin
Pierre Balmain
Pierre Benoît
Raphaël
Robert Piguet
Rosevienne
Schiaparelli
Véra Borea
Worth
One of my favorite dresses currently on display at Maryhill, a long bare-backed evening gown in vertical bias panels of pink, blue lavender, cream, black and gray rustic linen, by Calixte. The cowl could be worn as a hood. (photo, denisebrain)


Reference: Nadine Gasc, "Haute Couture and Fashion 1939-1946," Théâtre de la Mode

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