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July 7th, 2009

Haute Couture in Hard Times: The Theatre de la Mode

A New York Times article titled “Haute Couture Faces Uncertain Times” summarizes the challenges the exclusive circle of Haute Couture designers face in these days of economic difficulty.  Apparently, for the lavishly rich, paying up to $30,000 for a masterpiece of a dress was more justifiable before the economy tanked. Now, designers like Christian Lacroix are filing for bankruptcy.  Some designers have braved these rough economic seas by scaling back at Fashion Weeks, offering more mid-priced merchandise, and hosting Haute Couture shows in house.  Still, this isn’t the first time that the fashion world has been forced to get creative in the face of economic instability.  In fact, compared with the designers in Paris following WWII, today’s designers seem downright spoiled.  A recent visit to an exhibit called Theatre de la Mode at the Maryhill Museum of Art in Maryhill, WA, increased my appreciation for the creativity and determination of post-war European designers.

The Theatre de La Mode show is an enchanting treat for any fashionista. As the museum’s audio tour for the exhibit explains, “In 1944-45, after the German occupation of Paris, the fashion world was really threatened…  The things that were most important to the fashion world were in short supply (needles, thread, fabric, fuel)… but Paris would never give up the claim to being the center of fashion for the world. So Lucien Lelong had an idea: that he would develop the 1945 fashions in miniature.” Wire was on hand, so twenty-seven-inch-tall wire mannequins were topped with lifelike sculpted faces and heads, and 55 design houses created scaled down, incredibly detailed versions of their best fashions for that season, including hats, shoes, and even gloves.  However, despite the fact that the Theatre de la Mode captivated and inspired fashion-starved consumers across the globe, the mannequins sat in the basement of a department store until the 1950s, when a benefactor brought it to the Maryhill Museum.

The shoes in this exhibit were lavishly detailed and completely fierce, to use modern fashion lingo. (I will post more pictures from my trip later in the week.) The Theater de la Mode exhibit shows just how powerful fashion and other forms of art can be.  Although those who had suffered from the war probably felt that their lives were as bare-boned and incomplete as those wire mannequins, the beautifully detailed pieces from the Theatre de la Mode buoyed their spirits and made their post-war world a little brighter.

Here are a few shoes from the Shoefly collection that remind me of shoes that I saw in the Theater de la Mode.  Enjoy, and remember: everything in the Shoefly store is 25% off right now.

Arch by Faryl Robbin

Arch by Faryl Robbin

BV1855 by Biviel

BV1855 by Biviel

Maddie by Joy Chen

Maddie by Joy Chen

Top photo via Maryhill Museum of Art.


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  1. Indian Handicrafts » Haute Couture in Hard Times: The Theatre de la Mode Says:

    [...] here:  Haute Couture in Hard Times: The Theatre de la Mode Author: admin Categories: Art Design Tags: article-titled, business-owner, challenges, [...]


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