Have you ever seen anything that has had a profound impact you and has never left you ever. I'm not talking about something negative or horrific, because that does happen. Its awful and private. I am talking about something that you see that makes you want to know more, that has a deep creative response and something that never leaves you. All in a good way!
Back in the very early 90s, I was working at the National Film and Sound Archive as a Film restorer and technician. It was a great job, lousy on the personal side of things but great at work. It was during a research investigation, I found myself at a University Arts Library and while I was looking for some information on a silent movie star, I saw the following book on the shelf.
I couldn't help myself. I pulled it down and flipped through it. I was totally captivated. Time just melted away. If you have never heard of Theatre De La Mode then hop over to Google and have a look. But be prepared to fall down the rabbit hole.
The Theatre De La Mode was an initiative set up by the remaining French Design Houses after the end of Work War II. I say remaining because a number of houses closed during the German occupation of Paris. The houses that did remain, did so under a bit of a cloud but ... Lucien Lelong did speak about that time by saying that he was able to keep a lot of his house in employment during the occupation. It was food on tables. A lot of medical studies on the effects of starvation on children was conducted on children during the German Occupation of France. Like Holland later in the war, starvation was rife and the people suffered terribly. When the war ended and rebuilding began, the Design Houses in Paris were trying to think of a way that they could show the world that they were back in business and still at the peak of Design and Fashion excellence. They came up with the Theatre De La Mode.
A sculptor designed the Mannequins and the Fashion Houses set about making collections in miniature to dress the models. The hat makers, the shoe makers, wig makers and Jewellers all helped the designers realise their new miniature collections. Famous French artists painted back drops and helped create sets for the displays. Jean Cocteau was one of those artists, he directed a beautiful version of Beauty and the Beast (that Disney used as Inspiration for their cartoon) in 1945. He worked on the Theatre De La Mode. The mannequins were all dressed and the sets all built and then the Theatre was pack off around Europe to be displayed and then was sent to the US. The Mannequins and sets were never returned to Paris, and were eventually housed at the Maryhill Museum.
The chic looking gentleman is one of my favourite Designers, Jacques Father, with one of his designs.
It's a fascinating story and the Mannequins themselves in their beautiful clothes were just astounding. I was so entranced by them and their story (I've only given a brief description of the Theatre here), there are two books available on Amazon, one of them is out of print but second hand copies can be found at ok prices.
I have never forgotten what it was like learning about the Theatre De La Mode. I spent years looking for information on the Theatre. I wrote a novel based in Paris during the war, and spent three years researching this time. I spoke to French people who lived through the occupation. The Theatre helped resurrect the French Fashion industry. ITs a great story full of really interesting people and fabulous design.
It gave me an idea back then and that idea has stayed with me for all those years and here I am now, telling you about the Theatre and sharing my idea.
I thought it would be fun to design a Mannequin, that could be dressed in what ever time period someone wanted. If folks weren't sure about how to pattern make, then maybe I could show them and then the Fashion world is their oyster. They can dress their Mannequin in whatever they want and then do what the French artisans did in the 1940's, make wigs, shoes, hats jewellery, furniture, whatever takes YOUR fancy for your Mannequin.
It could be a real journey that a bunch of folks can do together. I thought it would be fun. So finally after all this time and after much work and refining, the pattern for the Mannequin is now up on my Etsy store as a digital download for the princely sum of $5.50. If you would like a physical copy, please send me an email and I'll see what I can do for you. Next Month, I'm going to put up a video tutorial on youtube on how to make a basic garment. Im not sure which one yet but I'll keep you posted here. I'm in Japan for a couple of weeks soon, so I'm a bit time poor at the moment but the blog is now live and I will be posting regularly (especially about Japanese design). I don't know if anyone else wants to have a go at their own mini Theatre De La Mode, but I'm going to do it anyway. Might be fun.
My Etsy Store can be found here