These production tests from the film Falbalas are interesting because the film was shot in Paris in early spring 1944, before it was liberated. The film revolves around the couture fashion industry, and shows the sharp contrast between Paris couture and its extravagant use of fabric and the real world of fabric rationing. I think the hair is also interesting for its use of permanents!
There were so many couturiers working in Paris in the late 19th and early 20th century that it is nearly impossible to research their labels, especially when what information there is, likely exists only in France.
A couple of years ago we acquired a jacket from about 1903 with the label ‘Francis & Co. – 9 rue Auber, Paris’. The workmanship of the jacket is superb – beautifully cut, trimmed and lined. The Met has a red dress with the same label, which I am showing instead of our black jacket, as it photographed better.
The location of 9 rue Auber is across the street from the Paris Opera House, and around the corner from Galerie Lafayette – Paris’ largest department store. It was also a short walk from rue de la Paix, where the highest-end couturiers were establishing themselves at the time. Femina, a French magazine printed between 1901 and 1917 for upwardly mobile middle class women, has an advertisment for travelling clothes made by ‘Francis, 9 rue Auber’, but that is the extent of anything I could find. By the 1920s a booking office for Air France was located at that address, and by the 1930s, another clothing shop had opened at 9 rue Auber by the name of Valerie.
The Ontario Knitting Mills (aka Paris Clay and McCosh Knitting Mills) was founded in 1868 in Paris, Ontario by Mr’s Clay and McCosh. In 1883 they were making, among their many products, knitted underwear. By 1890 the company had become known as Penman’s and was the largest supplier of cotton and woollen knit goods, especially hosiery and underwear, in Canada. From the turn of the century until the 1960s, Penmans’ was also Paris Ontario’s largest employer. In 1965 Penman’s was bought out by Dominion Textile Inc., a Montreal-based manufacturing conglomerate. Sales started sagging and by 1980 the company was no longer working in the black.
In 1984 the manufacturing operation was moved to Cambridge where production shifted from underwear to leisure wear and licensed brands were added, including Yves St. Laurent’s active wear line, which debuted in 1987. The company’s name was also changed to Dominion Fashion Group, and HQ was relocated in Toronto. The old Penmans company name was retained for a line of Canadian-made leisure wear – jogging suits, sweat pants, sweat shirts, and lycra active wear.
Walmart carried Penmans until 2010 when it was dropped in favour of its in-store brand George.
Until last week, a Paris law dating from the French Revolution made it illegal for a woman to wear trousers. Amendments to the law in 1892 and 1909 allowed a woman to wear trousers as long as she was also holding a bicycle handlebar or the reins of a horse. The restriction was created when Parisian Revolutionary rebels adopted trousers instead of bourgeoisie knee-breeches, in what was coined the ‘sans-culottes’ movement. However, female sans-culottes rebels were forbidden to wear trousers.
Previous attempts to repeal the law were thwarted by officials who said it was an archaic, un-enforced law, and not a priority to retract (even though France does enforce a law that outlaws religious garb in government.) It was decided the symbolic importance of the no-trouser law might offend modern sensibilities because it was “incompatible with the principles of equality between women and men.” Georges Sand would be thrilled.
Maybe I completely missed it, but I never heard of any celebrations or mention of the 100th anniversary of haute couture. I know… all the costume history books say that ‘couture’ was invented by Charles Worth in 1868 when he founded the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture et de la Confection pour Dames et Fillettes, but that’s not quite correct. This first organization was a trade association of bespoke dressmakers, tailors, and makers of ‘ready-made’ women’s fashions (which in 1868 consisted mostly of makers of mantles (capes) and underwear.)
Problems arose over the years amongst its members, the worst being design piracy. So, in 1911, Paris’ top dressmakers reorganized themselves into a smaller association called the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. This syndicate of design houses guarded the interests of the best dressmakers in Paris by negotiating with labour unions, standardizing wages, settling member disputes, and setting standards of excellence for production and quality of original design. Members had to produce a minimum number of original designs twice a year and debut those fashions at shows set by the organization. They also had to maintain a certain amount of profit from their products, and they could not buy sketches from freelance designers.
Members of this elite group were called haute couturiers (top dressmakers) and in 1911 the leading haute couturiers included: Worth, Paquin, Doucet, Callot Soeurs, Redfern, Madelaine Cheruit, George Doeuillet, Bechoff-David, Martial & Armand, and Georgette. A publication done at the time of this reorganization was called ‘Les Createurs de la Mode’, by Roger Miles. I wish someone would do a reprint because it is now out of copyright and finding a copy of this book is impossible (only 175 were ever printed.) Fortunately, someone copied many of the images and posted them into a very nice Youtube film, and you can read the entire book online here. This is a great resource for the look of fashion for fall 1910/spring 1911 as well as the interiors of the salons and their workrooms.