Haute Couture in our own Backyard

By Cathy Rae Smith
Co-founder of Culture magazine.

Ooooh-la-la, j’adore couture! For any of you that also adore couture, there is a bit of heaven just up the Gorge across the river. The Maryhill Museum is home to Parisian haute couture (high fashion) in one-third scale from 1946 – the Theatre de la Mode.

Paris had been the undisputed fashion capital of the world. Then World War II erupted, leaving the fashion world to languish as Paris was shrouded under the stranglehold of occupied forces. After the defeat of Nazi Germany and the liberation of the City of Light, the Parisian fashion industry determined to join together and launch a couture collection to stimulate business. The best couturiers – Dior, Balmain, Chanel, to name a few – joined in the effort creating original ensembles. Their designs, though created in miniature, were done to couture standards to the minutest details: all hand-sewn, tiny buttons that actually button, gloves, hats, shoes, handbags.

Sets were created by artist Christian “Bebe” Berard, whose unerring eye for style was sought out by ladies of high society for his fashion direction in dressing remarkably for their pre-war soirees. The theatre opened in Paris and then toured select metropolitan cities in Europe and the United States. The show crossed the Atlantic to show in New York, traveled as far west as San Francisco, then seemed to disappear into oblivion. The collection was discovered some years later and ultimately found a permanent home in the Pacific Northwest, at the Maryhill Museum.

However, anyone wishing to sit and gaze upon these diminutive lovelies should first check to make certain the collection is in residence. These couture pieces have toured upon occasion and also returned to Paris for a carefully authentic refurbishing in the past. It took me three trips over the course of about five years before I found the collection on display. For me, it was worth the effort.


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