As you may recall from recent coverage of NY Fashion Week (Fall 2009), fashion is yet another area that has been affected by the recent economic downturn. No, fashion has not stopped, but for many designers, large fashion shows in the Bryant Park tents just were not in this year’s financial picture (See articles here and here).
Interestingly enough, the ‘Presentations’ – like this one from Naeem Khan, put me in mind of an art/fashion exhibition that I was lucky enough to attend several years ago at the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) – Theatre de la Mode – on loan from the Maryhill Museum of Art. I was actually lucky enough to see the rarely shown ‘Opera Set’ which is actually too tall to be exhibited at the MMA.
The Theatre de la Mode came about as a result of the immediate Post WWII period when French couturiers were subject to such drastic manufacturing shortages that putting on any kind of fashion show seemed impossible. There were doubts that Haute Couture could survive. When shoes and food are rationed luxuries, what place does fashion hold?
After all, if you are considering attempting to power hair dryers via ‘pedal power’ – things are definitely on the tight side (From May 1945 issue of Mechanix Illustrated).
But, fashion finds a way. In this case, the result was a collection of miniature wire-frame 27.5-inch dolls wearing the newest fashions by renowned French Fashion Designers. Fabrics were scarce, but having each fashion house design for and clothe a two-foot tall doll was much more realistic than having each designer try to have a complete fashion show. Even with fabric shortages, small amounts of luxury materials could be acquired to perform this task. So, this was the basis if the Theatre de la Mode. It has also been referenced as ‘Theatre de la Mode, or the Return of Hope’; the subtitle reflecting that even though times were difficult and luxuries were rare, that people would continue to dream and create.
Now back to 2009 ‘Presentations’ – Just to give you a quick point of reference:
Naeem Khan ‘Presentation’ – Photo via www.nypost.com
Then, a quick comparison photo from the Theatre de la Mode exhibition:
Interestingly similar appearance. At least today’s fashion houses are not limited by materials shortages and rationing that significantly limit what they can produce – even for a 2 foot tall model.
So, here are more photo’s from a period when fashion was at a much lower point than we are seeing today. It is a wonderful window on the staying power of art, beauty, and fashion:
And yes, the fashion houses even made beautifully stitched shoes and other accessories to go along with the diminutive dolls.
All Theatre de la Mode exhibition photos courtesy of B.A. White
So we are reminded that even in the toughest times, art and fashion find a way to prevail.
The MMA normally exhibits three of the in-house sets per year, changing which sets are on display annually. If you find yourself in Seattle or Portland, the extra trip out toward the Columbia Gorge in southeast Washington to catch this exhibit is definitely worth the drive.
On a related note: If you happen to be a doll collector with a love of history, the Tonner Doll Company has made reproductions of several of the Theatre de la Mode fashion dolls.
Additional reading for those interested in learning more on this exhibit and its history: