Sunday, April 10, 2011

"Couture" edited by Ruth Lyman; "Patou" by Meredith Etherington-Smith

Couture: an illustrated history of the great Paris designers and their creations was published 1972, which was ironically around the time that Paris haute couture stopped being the main source of fashion ideas.   This book by a number of well-known fashion writers traces the history of Paris fashion from Worth in the late 19th century to Saint Laurent in the 1970s.   It is somewhat of a patchwork, covering a number of designers from overlapping perspectives.  Perhaps my favourite essay in this book is "A Paris model: the world of the mannequins" by Penelope Portrait, which describes her life as a model in the 1950s.

Along with his rival, Chanel, Patou was one of the designers who created the "look" of the 1920s, and this book is a history of his career.  He specialised in jaunty modern "sports" clothes designed for the active postwar woman, was the first person to introduce the concept of monogrammed designer wear and created a house perfume, "Joy", which is still one of the most expensive and desirable in the world.  He also shocked the French fashion world by introducing a stable of American mannequins to model his clothes - his argument being that since American women bought his clothes they would want to see them modelled on leggy American figures.  His clients included sports, screen and stage stars such as Suzanne Lenglen, Louise Brooks, Constance Bennett and Josephine Baker. 

Though he was the first designer to introduce longer hemlines at the end of the 1920s he didn't manage to retain his popularity into the 1930s, gradually falling out of step with the spirit of the era.  By the time he died in 1936 he was close to bankruptcy, and it is probably this decline in his fortunes and his premature death which accounts for him being not very well known today.   Meredith Etherington-Smith's book is therefore a bit of a rarity, being one of the few books dedicated to this designer.

(Couture published Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1972.
Patou published New York : St Martin's / Marek, c1983. ISBN 0312598165)

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