March 5, 2015

Is this the real thing?

This caught my eye a while ago. In fact, I have no idea why I haven't blogged about it before. 
This is the thing: Getting a general idea about how fashion changes over the decades is fairly simple. But if you get beyond that, read period sources and get an idea about the smaller trends and hypes that lasted maybe only one season, you get a different picture. And that's where interesting things happen. Many of my favorite looks from the late 1940's and 1950's fit into that category: Interesting designs that won't show up in a general view of those decades. I've shown examples of that in blog posts for a while and it was an important reason to start using Pinterest. But how great would it be to see some of those designs in real life?

I haven't had that chance yet but I think this is half-way there: The Gemeentemuseum here in The Hague is working on creating an online database of its collections (of fine art and crafts) and one of the things that is on there already is the haute couture wardrobe of opera singer Else Rijkens (1898-1953)(I'm sorry but the information is only in Dutch for now).  All the pieces on the site seem to be from the late 40's and early 50's. This may mean the museum still has to document the rest (I guess they are still working on it, that would be the only reasonable explanation for the variation in quality of the pictures) or maybe this was the time when the lady's career was in full bloom and she could afford haute couture. 
However... This means that what's already there covers my favorite years in fashion history!

And when I was browsing this database a few weeks ago, I noticed this dress:

Although it looks lilac in the picture, it is described as grey. And just look at that amazing skirt: Ray-of-the-sun style plissé from a zig-zag yoke... Wow.

It made me think of something I had pinned a while before that:

This dress from Beatrijs magazine. 
It appeared as an illustration for an article about practical fashion (basically about fashionable alternatives to the on-trend narrow skirts). The whole article talks about Dutch reality (rain, cycling) versus Parisian style (those narrow skirts, high heels, taking a taxi when the weather is less than nice) and yet they've chosen to publish it with pictures of glorious couture dresses...

There are clear similarities between the dresses in these pictures. First of all that amazing skirt, and both were created by the same designer: Jacques Griffe. They also have the same colour: Grey. 
After that, things get a bit sketchy. Else Rijkens's dress is made from silk taffeta, the one in Beatrijs from thin wool. The collars are different. It's not just a matter of buttoning up or down. You can see a simple notched collar in Beatrijs's picture which is obviously not there on Else's dress. And the dress in the magazine doesn't have a self-fabric belt. 
The front dart may be in different places but that's hard to tell from these pictures. The sleeves may the same.
The most curious bit of information is, again, in the written text: The woolen one appeared in the Beatrijs magazine of 20 April 1951, the dress in the museum is listed as being from 1952/1953...
The only explanation I can come up with is that the magazine may have used very recent pictures. Pictures which were taken at the same time that designs became available to order by couture customers. That might explain some delay, but not likely more than a year. Is it possible that designers in the early 1950's allowed their customers to order their favorite designs from previous seasons? Or could the museum simply be wrong about the date? 


  1. How interesting! Perhaps the designer loved the dress so much that they decided to make another version in Taffeta the following spring? Hmm...

    the Middle Sister and Singer

  2. Yes, the museum could be wrong about the date. I don't know who works in the Gemeentemuseum, but I assume it isn't a fashion museum. So the person who writes down this data may or may not be an expert in fashion, you never know. Sometimes you have old documents that give a date, if you don't know it better you simply copy it. Or maybe the one who dated it used other elements to date this, which became popular when the haute couture dress was already two seasons old.
    I have worked in a museum as exactly this, an expert for historic costumes. And you find everything there, wrong materials, wrong techniques, wrong dates. Often you don't have the time to research one single object thoroughly and just copy what you find, the proper research has to be done by others who can really concentrate on the material and don't need to work themselves through the whole collection.
    Maybe they know a photo of the singer with this dress that was dated to 52/3, nobody would start questioning this date when there is still half a wardrobe to go :-)
    Thank you for telling that the Gemeentemuseum is creating an Online Database, too, I only knew the one from the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands.
    I love this ray-of-the-sun-plissée-design, I have some sewing patterns who ask for plisée-fabric, it is such a pity that today it is next to impossible to have you fabric pleated like this.

  3. I'm not so surprised about the different fabric or necklines - I've seen that many times. Couture clients didn't just get the outfit sewn and fitted to their exact measurements, they could chose to alter a lot of things. Even the famous Bar by Dior comes with different collars! I was more "concerned" about the dates but I think Ette Ett had some really good answers there! :)

  4. The model in the photo is the spitting image of a very young Ingrid Bergman.

  5. Oooh, what a fun little mystery! (I also wonder if there was a bit of a time delay between seeing a couturier's collection and having them make you a dress---might you order a dress one season and not get it until the next? :)