A must see film – Falbalas 1945

Rooster feather trimmed sleeves and turban hat, from Falbalas, spring 1945

Rooster feather trimmed sleeves and turban hat, from Falbalas, spring 1945

This film should be required viewing for students of 1940s fashion! The title Falbalas, which means frippery (ostentatious decoration), is translated into ‘Paris Frills’ on IMDB. The film was released in France in June 1945, shortly after European hostilities had ceased but before WWII had ended in the Pacific. The film must have gone into production shortly after Paris was liberated in June 1944 and completed with the final outdoor scenes filmed on a warm late winter or early spring day in 1945.

The clothes and hats are, in a word, fabulous. There are bustled Victorian ball gowns that would have contravened wartime fabric restrictions in all other countries in 1945, novelty trims, like rooster feather covered sleeves, and endless silly hats resembling mad medieval headdresses and Dr. Suess-like top hats. The entire film looks like the Theatre de la Mode has come to life.

The wedding dress in the finale, spring 1945

The wedding dress in the finale, spring 1945

The clothes for this film were designed by Marcel Rochas and the hats by Gabrielle. Neither designer are well-remembered today, although Rochas had a brief resurgence of fame under the fashion direction of Olivier Theyskens in the early 2000s. However, during the occupation and in the postwar, pre-Dior 1940s, Rochas and Gabrielle were leading fashion houses  heavily featured in French fashion magazines, along with other less-well remembered labels like Lelong, Ricci, Saint-Cyr, and Valois.

A fitting of a model, with the head vendeuse in black

A fitting of a model, with the head vendeuse in black

What makes this film so special is that the entire storyline takes place almost entirely in the fictitious fashion house of Phillipe Clarence (loosely modelled after Marcel Rochas). Clarence is a bounder – he has a series of girlfriend/muses until he falls in love with his best friend’s fiancee. This drama unfolds at fashion shows and fittings, in scenes where he has temper tantrums while draping creations onto models, or while ‘baptizing’ dress designs (giving numbered designs names for the fashion show like ‘Aphrodite’ and ‘Antigone’.)

This film is a document of how a fashion house worked in 1945. As a story, its okay, the film opens with six women standing around a man who is lying dead on the ground with a wax mannequin in his arms, and then rewinds to a few weeks earlier to show the journey of how this came about. The strength of this film is not in the plot, it is in the documentary of Paris fashion in 1945. You can watch the film here on rarefilmm.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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