This book was an accidental discovery I made while looking for stock for the museum’s gift shop. I took the opportunity to read it while I was at the front desk this weekend whenever there was a lull, although I was so engrossed at times I ignored the visitors.
This is a fascinating memoir by Trudi Kanter that was recently rediscovered and reprinted for the first time since its 1984 release. Jewish Trudi Kanter, who was called Trudi Miller at the time, had a successful millinery in Vienna until the Anschluss of 1938. A week before Nazi Germany’s takeover, Trudi had been attending fashion shows and buying supplies in Paris but upon her return to Vienna, the mood had darkened in anticipation of the coming nationalistic amalgamation.
Despite the serious times, the book recounts an odd mix of menus from moonlit romantic dinner dates with Walter, her future husband, intimate gossip about friends, detailed descriptions of hats and humorous accounts of her sales transactions – but as the book asserts, even in wartime “Women still looked in the mirror.”
Alongside the frivolous and mundane, a story of desperation grows as Trudi undertakes bureaucratic errands to obtain letters of credit, permissions to travel, passports, visas, guarantees, and other endless paperwork needed to flee an occupied country in an orderly fashion.
With great trouble and a lot of luck, the chic Trudi managed to charm and cajole her way from Vienna to Prague to London with husband in tow and parents not far behind. This true story is made more interesting because of the details Trudi shares – of the clothes she and her friends wore: white linen evening dress with emerald satin bag and headband, or a tight black velvet suit with toque of roses. There are also fascinating stories like the time a hat was set afire by a girlfriend’s careless cigarette, and how for her autumn 1938 collection Trudi used lots of veiling on her hats to hide sad eyes.
The writing is a bit overly sentimental (there are far too many scenes where Trudi bursts into tears) but it is full of interesting stories and descriptions. It’s a quick read and another great story to add to my favourite kind of book genre – ‘I was there’ memoirs.