Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Couture Longing

Couture Longing

Under stylized high ceilings of art deco design, in a city that is not my own, I enter the gallery and see them waiting for me, composed and silent, like a flock of elegant birds with their wings folded - each one lovelier than the last, each one serenely posing for a visitor’s admiration.  As though inhabited by the ghosts of another time, these faceless frocks lined up before me offer shy suggestions of the women they once graced - the Audrey’s, the Jackie’s, the Suzy, the Grace.   Suddenly aware of my wild hair, my paisley jeans, my gladiator sandals, I find myself feeling a bit diffident, sentenced to wander this exhibition like a sartorially backward peasant, but one more than willing to be reprimanded, one starving for a taste of sumptuous inspiration.   And I am in luck, for this stage is set for a feast.  With strains of La Vie en Rose floating on the refrigerated air and Avedon portraits lining the walls, I am transported back, back, to a time of elegance unseen in this current age, back to The Golden Age of Couture.

 It began on February 12, 1947, the very day Christian Dior launched his couture house in Paris, and it lasted until Monsieur Dior’s death in 1957.  
It was almost as though an enchanted wand was waved over London and Paris, conjuring up artists like Dior and Balmain, Balenciaga and Chanel and creating a magical decade unlike all the others, ten years of resplendent fashion, now remembered with longing for their abundance of unparalleled creativity, quality and style.

As I stand before the most superb examples of the artistry of that decade, the hushed voices in the gallery recede into oblivion and I can almost see the women who once spent their days and nights in these creations........  

.........There in the corner wearing the Jacques Fath green tartan dress stands the enigmatic Scottish mystery writer waiting to board the train at Waverley station, on her way to London where she’ll meet her elderly uncle for tea at the Savoy.....

..........And over there I see clearly... a stone terrace on a spring night in 1949, when the air smelled like honeysuckle and orange Chinese lanterns swayed low in the trees, a winsome new bride clad in a Chaumont evening gown of hand-painted organza is nervously hosting her very first dinner party......

........And here to my left, it is a cold December day, and the tall brunette in the Digby Morton tweed suit turns her velvet collar up against the wind as she stands on the corner of Oxford Street, her arms full of Christmas boxes, her thoughts wrapped in tinsel as she waits for the light to change........

Oh, where did these women go?  When did the waspie waist become the low rider jean?  When were the garments created by dressmakers with “doigts de fees” replaced with those mass-produced and disposable?  When did the latest Sports Illustrated model knock Dovima off her throne?  When was elegance and grace regulated to history and fashion begin to strive more to shock than to adorn?  And, while we’re at it, when did plastic bags replace dress boxes?

Sighing, I take my leave of these ladies with reluctance, resolving to cultivate a more elegant appearance in the coming days.  But, stepping outside, I am hit with a blast of bombastic heat and I make my way to my car, all the while twisting my hair up into a knot and rolling up my sleeves, shamefully grateful that I remembered to pack these sandals.
But then,  I don’t know, perhaps Edward and I could take a few lessons from Dovima and Sascha.  
Should we revamp our image?
 What do you think?  

The Golden Age of Couture is ensconced in the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee through September 12th.  Culled from the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, it is truly amazing and not to be missed.  See it if you can!

Christian Dior Fashion Illustration above by Rene Gruau
Photograph of Dovima and her dog, Sascha, by Richard Avedon


  1. Pamela, I look at the photo of Davima and her dog and then I look at you and Edward and I have to say I prefer the look of you two. I do appreciate the stylized, "put together" fashion of the era but there was an awful lot of suppression going on too. I don't think Davima and her dog had the same connnection as you and Edward.....not to mention that if we're talking looks then Edward is haed & shoulders more handsome than fashion dog.

  2. Oh yes I agree with Marian... but oh how I also love the mystery behind fashions of the past. The way clothes were wrapped ~ both in boxes and around the person ~ sophisticated, mysterious... *sigh* However, I'm with you - I long for that style, but can't resist my free-spirited sandals and wild hair ;-) Hope you are well Pamela!

  3. Dear Pamela,
    I am back from a week with my sister on the south coast. It was the hottest weekend this year and I'm so pleased that I didn't have to wear the fashions of the era that you have posted about. Beautiful and graceful as they were they were sometimes not practical and I guess we have to move on and not get stuck in the past. I loved the romance of the Victorian/Edwardian era but, I don't think that the reality of it was up to much !!
    A lovely post which I really enjoyed reading (as I always do) but, you and Edward are head and shoulders above them all. XXXX

  4. Yes, great moments in fashion have gone by the wayside, the same way as formal ware, calling cards and embossed thank you notes. Now, it's all wash and wear, wear and pass on.

  5. Sigh. I have just mis-spent 20 minutes looking at this collection on the V&A site. Yes, now I too want to go up to my closet and change Everything.
    By the way, I think you and Edward look perfectly stylish already in your photos here.

  6. I enjoy looking at couture, a lot. I see it as Art, wearable Art. Season after season I think Louis Vuitton creates the feminine, timeless look that flatters women, with fitted bodices and full skirts.

    Would I ever pay for couture? Even if I could afford it? Probably not. But it's fun to look, as I would at any gallery.

    As for you and Edward, your style is perfect.

  7. It certainly does intrigue us- I think much like you and dress similarly, Me thinks. Just saw the American Woman show at the Met in like mode and garb!! pgt

  8. Don't change a thing... unless it comes naturally :)

    My favourite 50s designer would have to be Givenchy.

    You have just reminded me to check out the Grace Kelly exhibition at our local V&A before it's gone. I used to worry that glamour was shallow after I indulged in it for a while. Now I see it as anextension of taste; simple, subtle elegance can be like icing (or frosting as you call it there). Peace, Love, X.

  9. it was a time wasn't it! however, I'm a fan of todays fashion also - I think the most important thing is to find our own personal style and wear it well because we are the 'style' :)

  10. It wasn't only the actual clothes, it was the whole atmosphere. And it really only applied to those with money (sadly), but it was about glamour, and allure, and grooming, and manners. It was indeed the time! It permeated the lives of the rich (or so the rest of us believed). And then the movies and magazines made icons of most of the very ladies you named. Every time we saw them they wore beautiful, incredible clothes. Surely their lives were just as wonderful as their clothes.

    I fear that it was my contemporaries who tossed out grace, and elegance,and glamour, and standards. We traded those things for Woodstock, Haight-Ashbury, Berkely. Clothes were barely even worthy of the name. And things were never the same.

    I think we lost more than we gained!

    I never could have afforded Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, or Givenchy. But oh, I could dream.

  11. Couture is pretty to look at, but I imagine not very comfortable to wear. Still, I would love it if women were a bit more fashion conscious today.

  12. That show sounds divine! Wonder if it is traveling up north...I find these styles fun to look at but I prefer your style...

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  14. The other day I was looking at a college girl in shorts remembering how we were required to wear dresses. When I was young, I loved movies that included a fashion show.

  15. THANK YOU DEAR PAMELA & EDWARD. I love fashion so I so enjoyed reading this. I think I may have seen some of this when I was in London last. I love these old things but I myself am old enough to remember girdles, stockings held up with those clips and sitting on those things all day long in school. bare legs where unheard of, pantyhose not yet invented. Although much of this stuff was beautiful we are fortunate enough to wear these things if we are so lucky enough to find the replicas in a vintage store and wear our linen shorts, flip flops and tank tops. hair up, down or sideways. I think we have the best of all worlds right not. Anything goes.

  16. Don't revamp your image one tiny bit Pamela - that photograph of you and Edward has far more beauty - who needs all that makeup., all that hair styling; all that starchiness - when they can pose with that adorable dog and make such a wonderful show.

  17. Maybe we don't have to change our clothes...you always reflect elegance and grace and beauty in everything you do.....
    Hugs Lynn xxx

  18. Ah those were the days. What I wouldn't do for a wasp waist in my dreams. But were they real? Perhaps we don't look as amazing these days but I think we are much more comfortable. I still have squashed together toes as a result of years of stiletto wearing, but these days I prefer my nearly flatties.

  19. Hi Pamela,

    I enjoyed your post today, thank you for sharing.
    When my daughter was in London she visited the Victoria and Albert Museum and saw some of the wonderful Haute Couture Fashion, the clothes were so glamorous, and was one of the highlights of her time away.

    Happy week

  20. Pamela, you have not lost one iota of your writing talent. I would just love this exhibition and so would my dear mother have enjoyed it. She wore those fashions! Sigh. What a beautiful post. But I could never wear them, I'm too much of a scruff and spend all my time gardening!

  21. Oh, now that's something I'd love to see!

    Yes, I do wonder about the practicalities of all that divine finery on a hot, hot day.

    But it's still divine finery!

  22. Those gowns came in an era that was desperate to leave the tribulations of war behind but they also came at a price! Aspects of 50s style are certainly in vogue again but on the mass-produced market. I think it's still an extremely attractive look.

  23. It's a long way from here to Nashville but we recently visited the fashion gallery at the V and A, like you I was transported back in time to a more elegant era.

    When I was little my grandmother and I loved to visit Platt Fields Gallery of Costume in Manchester. My grandmother recalled the days when ladies fastened their boots with button hooks and always wore gloves and hats.

    I suspect you are one of those people who look elegant no matter what you wear.

  24. Dearest, I would like so much to wear those dresses nowadays....at that time a woman knew how to be very feminine....

    Love, Zaira

  25. Oh, I just saw some of these at the V & A when I was in London last month.

  26. I'd love to see this exhibition, clothes were so feminine in that post-war period and all women wore hats when they went out. Even so it is the elegance of the clothes from the 1930s that I really love. It's sad really that one so rarely sees an elegantly dressed woman these days, no-one seems to have a real sense of style anymore. Including me I'm afraid.

  27. My dream as a girl was to wear dresses like Loretta Young wore on her show. I did have a dress or two with a bit of elegance in my 20's but nothing truly glamorous.

    Comfort come in the guise of a nice T shirt and jeans.

  28. I love the title, illustrations and bird analogy of this post. Extinct birds? Elegance is more fun to watch than to wear.

    As for the dogs, my fuzzy one is at the groomers and my hair is twisted into a messy knot as we head to the beach. I do like to dress up for special occasions. Stella would sooner skip the groomers but she’ll be happier in the heat for her buzz cut.

  29. It's not only about the clothes in themselves, it's about elegance, charm, being polite and respecting yourself and others - which in turn is reflected in the clothes, body language and attitude. Great post, I wish we could bring some of this elegance back...just a little bit ;-) Love from London x

  30. No one should revamp their image - ever. So there! The rest is fascinating.

  31. I would love to go to this exhibit in Nashville. Wow. I was lucky to catch the final day of the Avedon and Fashion exhibit in NY last fall. It was stunning.
    Hope you're enjoying the summer, Pamela.


I love to read your comments! Each and every one! Though I'm always reading your comments, I may not respond in the comment section. If you want to write me directly, you may do so at pamela@pamelaterry.net. Thank you for reading!