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Théâtre de la Mode at the Maryhill Museum

Sarah Wizemann

Posted on September 19 2011

Théâtre de la Mode at the Maryhill Museum
Black Wool Suit by Balenciaga - Image by David Seidner
My husband and I celebrated our 4th anniversary this weekend by visiting the site of our wedding ceremony and reception, the Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, Washington. An eclectic collection of artwork is housed in this beautiful mansion, perched high on a hill in the Columbia River Gorge, where peacocks roam the sprawling grounds, just to add to the magic. We chose this spot for several personal reasons, but near the top of the list was the fact that it contains the incredible Théâtre de la Mode dolls. I was eager to revisit the dolls, since the time flew by so quickly on our wedding day (as well it should) that I didn't have much of a chance to admire this amazing collection.
Street Scene by Anne Surgers (replacement for Georges Wakhevitch's "The Port of Nowhere")
For those of you who aren't familiar with them, here is a little background information: After France's liberation from Germany in 1944, French couture was at a standstill. Due to a severe shortage of materials, designers were unable to even think of producing a full-scale collection, so the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne conceived of a small exhibition called Théâtre de la Mode (Theater of Fashion.) The organizers commissioned two-foot tall, wire-framed dolls from a sculptor, called on artists like Jean Cocteau to create sets, and invited the major fashion designers of the day to create outfits to scale. The resulting exhibition was “perfection in miniature,” and not lacking a single exquisite detail for which the haute couture Parisian houses are known. The original collection, including accessories and recreated sets, has been permanently housed and preserved by the Maryhill Museum since 1952.

Fleurs de Mal by Jean Patou - Image by David Seidner
Anne Surgers' recreation of "Croquis de Paris" by Jean Saint-Martin
Linen Day Suit by Marcel Dhorme - Image by David Seidner
For anyone with an interest in fashion, you simply have to see this exhibit! So compelling are the ensembles that I kept inadvertently setting off the alarm sensor by leaning in too close to get a better look at the intricate details on the garments. A book about the project recounts the difficulties encountered by the seamstresses and tailors–imagine the challenge of producing couture-quality garments when something as simple as a needle and thread were in short supply! I am continually awed by the resilience of the French spirit. To conceive of such an imaginative project at what must have seemed like their darkest hour, what with constant rationing, brutal weather, and the national economy in ruins. And yet, in true French form, these fashion designers and artists came together to create a much-needed symbol of hope and renewal for the people. I know I'm a shameless Francophile, but I just have to say it—Vive la France!
Anne Surgers' recreation of Jean Cocteau's "Ma Femme est une Sorciere"

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