The Théâtre de la Mode's artful dolls and their fashions were displayed in a series of décors, or sets, each designed by an artist or set designer.
The Théâtre made its debut in Paris on March 27, 1945 and it was still being shown when the war ended in May. By then 100,000 French had seen the exhibit, and it traveled to England, where it attracted even more visitors. Parts of the exhibit were shown in capitals throughout Europe and Scandinavia. In the spring of 1946 the fashions were updated and the show went to New York. Everywhere it went, the Théâtre dazzled and charmed, reestablishing French fashion leadership.
The last stop for the Théâtre de la Mode was San Francisco, where it opened on September 12, 1946. After the exhibition closed, the sets and dolls were stored at the City of Paris department store, and by the 50s, with French couture thriving, the exhibition was abandoned and presumed destroyed. It had served its purpose.
In fact, most of the dolls survived but the sets did not.
The sets now seen at Maryhill, on rotation, are recreations. Of the 12 original sets, 9 were recreated.
The variety in these sets is remarkable.
Maryhill’s Théâtre de la Mode is currently featuring Jean Cocteau’s Ma Femme est une Sorcière (My Wife is a Witch), and Jean Saint-Martin’s Croquis de Paris (Paris Sketch), both originally created in 1945 and re-created in 1990 by Anne Surgers. Also on view is Scène du Rue (Street Scene) created by Anne Surgers as a replacement for Georges Wakhevitch’s set The Port of Nowhere, 1945.
Cocteau's dreamlike set was a tribute to the French filmmaker René Claire. The dolls in beautiful gowns, exposed to ghastly gashes in the surrounding architecture were haunting—I'd even say disturbing—to me. The creation dates from the Paris of WWII, and one can only imagine the feelings this set must have stirred.