Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Extraordinary Style of the Countess Greffulhe

Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Isabella reporting,

French women have always had a reputation for being fashionable, but Élisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe (1860-1952) made fashion into an opulent gesture of self-expression. While she was known as a patroness of artists, writers, and musicians and as a hostess whose salons attracted the most brilliant members of European society, it is her sense of style that makes her so memorable today.

There are two reasons for this. First, she was immortalized as the fictionalized Oriane, Duchesse de Guermantes, in the famous novel À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust. Second, her family preserved much of her famous wardrobe. The highlights of this collection are currently on display in the exhibition Proust's Muse: The Countess Greffulhe at the Museum at FIT in New York City through January 7, 2017. (Many of the pieces appeared first in an earlier exhibition organized by the Palais Galleria, Musée de la Ville de Paris, the permanent repository of the Countess's wardrobe.)

It's an amazing show. The earliest pieces date from 1887, when the Countess was a teen-aged newlywed. Already her taste - and her daring - are on display. There's a sleeveless, black lace bodice that would have been worn over a colored gown, not-so-subtle transparency that must have been shocking at the time.

By the later 1890s, the Countess was not only commissioning clothing from premier couturiers like the House of Worth, but collaborating with them, pushing the designers to create the dramatic clothing she craved. She loved to be the center of attention wherever she went, and journalists devoted countless words to describing what she wore to the opera or theatre. She posed for photographers like Paul Nadar, and polished her "image" before that very-modern sense of the word existed.

One of her most famous dresses by Worth, above left, was known as the "lily dress" for its bold black-and-white embroidered design. The photograph, above right, shows the Countess wearing the dress, with her pose carefully staged with the mirror to display both the dress, and her own beauty.

To me perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the exhibition is that it includes clothes worn by the Countess throughout her long life, from the heavily corseted dresses of the Belle Epoque to the narrower silhouette of the early 1910s, lower left, to straight, beaded shifts of the 1920s, lower right, to the beautifully cut and sinuous dresses and suits of the 1930s. Certain elements of her taste (for example, she frequently wore the color green, flattering to her auburn hair, and she loved exotic Byzantine prints and motifs) remain, weaving in and out of the changing fashions. Yet always her clothes remained constant to who she was, and how she wished to be seen - and remembered.

Unfortunately the Musée de la Ville de Paris prohibited visitor photography. You can see more of the Countess's dresses here, on the the exhibition's blog, and on the museum's Flickr account here.

Many thanks to Nicole Bloomfield, Costume & Textile Conservator, and Ariele Elia, Assistant Curator of Costume & Textile, Museum at FIT, for their help with this post.

Upper left: Evening gown, known as "La Robe aux Lis" (the lily dress) c1896, by House of Worth. Photograph by L. Degraces et Ph.Joffre/Galliera/roger-Viollet.
Upper right: The Countess Greffulhe by Paul Nadar, c1896. 
Lower left: Evening dress, c1913, by Pierre Bulloz. Photograph ©Zach Hilty/BFA.com
Lower right: Evening dress, c1925, by Jenny. Photograph ©Zach Hilty/BFA.com.
Bottom left: The Countess Greffulhe in a Ballgown by Otto Wegener, c1887.
All images from Palais Galliera, Musee de la mode de la Ville de Paris.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Holiday Gift Ideas for 1913

Monday, December 5, 2016
Gifts for 1913

Loretta reports:

Instead of a fashion plate for the 1910s (yes, we’ve come that far in the year’s survey), I’m presenting a few pages of the Ladies' Home Journal holiday gift ideas from their November 1913 issue.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind receiving some of these myself!

If you’re desperately missing the monthly fashion plate, here’s one from the December 1913 Delineator, with several more pages of fashion following.

Gifts for 1913
Gifts for 1913

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Breakfast Links: Week of November 28, 2016

Saturday, December 3, 2016
Breakfast Links are served - our weekly round-up of fav links to other web sites, articles, blogs, and images via Twitter.
• The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and the Hessians of the American Revolution.
• Edgar Degas and Miss LaLa at the Cirque Fernando.
• The unsung woman artist behind your tarot cards.
• The dancing plague of 1518.
• Her Majesty has an eye-watering collection of miniature things.
• When Felix the Cat took down an airplane at the 1932 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Image: Shakespeare in brick.
• That time when the mother-of-the-bride stole all the attention in a jeweled Byzantine gown designed by Worth.
• Whatever happened to Pre-Raphaelite model and muse Fanny Cornforth?
• Updated for modern cooks: a 17thc recipe for a marmalet of pippins (for those can't resist apples in season.)
Image: 17thc gold and enamel memento mori ring, to remind the wearer of the brevity of life.
• Explore the life and reign of Elizabeth I in her own words.
• Guy Fawkes' lantern.
• How Charles Dickens kept a beloved pet cat alive (sort of.)
• Nicknames of the French royals in the 18th-19thc.
• Fashion is not a matter of size, except when it is.
Image: Restraint clothing used at Bedlam Hospital in the early 19thc.
• Granddaughtes of the revolution: modern descendents of early suffragists recall the work of their ancestors.
• Now to read online: a 17thc registry of Scottish men and women accused of witchcraft.
• A Stuart prince reappears in Baltimore.
• The wayward youth of John Adams.
• "Her slip is always showing": Picky bosses and their pet peeves about their secretaries, 1945.
• Gambling, cheats, and Voltaire's Madame de Chatelet.
Image: Just for fun: the only celebrity autograph worth having.
Hungry for more? Follow us on Twitter @2nerdyhistgirls for fresh updates daily.
Above: At Breakfast by Laurits Andersen Ring. Private collection

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday Video: Victorians Get Dressed Quickly

Friday, December 2, 2016
Loretta reports:

Continuing the 2NHG tradition of re-examining aspects of history that might not be completely true and may in fact be completely false, I present for your consideration this interesting program in which a historical interpreter gets into her Victorian attire in a very short time.

This is the same expert, by the way, who demonstrated the many different activities a Victorian lady could perform while wearing a corset.

"Debunking Victorian myths.1. Dressing up Victorians," Costumes and video by Prior Attire - www.priorattire.co.uk.

Readers who receive our blog via email might see a rectangle, square, or nothing where the video ought to be.  To watch the video, please click on the title to this post.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Into the Writing Vortex with Jo March & Louisa May Alcott, 1869

Thursday, December 1, 2016
Isabella reporting,

As Loretta and I have mentioned here before, we are each furiously racing towards our separate book deadlines. We commiserate with one another long distance (she's in Massachusetts, and I'm in Pennsylvania), but for the most part we're so deep in the writing morass that we're not very sociable.

We're not alone in this, of course. Yes, writers write, but there is also much wailing and gnashing of teeth. That's why I love this particular passage from Little Women, the classic novel by Louisa May Alcott. First published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, Little Women features the March sisters, four young women who remain among the most memorable female characters in American literature. Jo aspires to be a writer, and because Alcott based Jo loosely upon herself, Jo's writing process has the ring of truth to it. So does the illustration, left, from the first edition. Substitute old sweats for Jo's "scribbling suit" and a laptop for her pen, and you have a pretty good idea of how things are going for Loretta and me this month.

"Every few weeks [Jo] would shut herself up in her room, put on her scribbling suit, and 'fall into a vortex', as she expressed it, writing away at her novel with all her heart and soul, for til that was finished she could fine no peace. Her 'scribbling suit' consisted of a black woolen pinafore on which she could wipe her pen at will, and a cap of the same material, adorned with a cheerful red bow, into which she bundled her hair when the decks were cleared for action. This cap was a beacon to the inquiring eyes of her family, who during these periods kept their distance, merely popping in their heads semi-occasionally to ask, with interest, Does genius burn, Jo? They did not always venture even to ask this question, but took an observation of the cap, and judged accordingly. If this expressive article of dress was drawn low upon her forehead, it was a sign that hard work was going on, in exciting moments it was pushed rakishly askew, and when despair seized the author it was plucked wholly off, and cast upon the floor. At such times the intruder silently withdrew, and not until the red bow was seen gaily erect upon the gifted brow, did anyone dare address Jo.

"She did not think herself a genius by any means, but when the writing fit came on, she gave herself up to it with entire abandon, and led a blissful life, unconscious of want, care, or bad weather, while she sat safe and happy in an imaginary world, full of friends almost as real and dear to her as any in the flesh. Sleep forsook her eyes, meals stood untasted, day and night were all too short to enjoy the happiness which blessed her only at such times, and made these hours worth living, even if they bore no other fruit. The divine afflatus usually lasted a week or two, and then she emerged from her 'vortex', hungry, sleepy, cross, or despondent."

Now back into the vortex....

Above: "Jo in a Vortex" from the 1869 first printing of Little Women, Part Second. Louisa May Alcott Collection, Hale Library Special Collections, Kansas State University.
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