In 1945, France celebrated victory at the end of World War II, but it faced an urgent economic dilemma. After four years of German occupation, every possible commodity was in short supply. The French fashion industry, eager to raise funds for war relief as well as to rekindle its stature at home and abroad, conceived of Théâtre de la Mode – fashion collections on miniature mannequins placed within elaborate stage sets.
Théâtre de la Mode debuted in Paris and attracted nearly 100,000 visitors. The show then traveled to London, Leeds, Barcelona, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Vienna. In 1946, Théâtre de la Mode visited New York and finally San Francisco. Upon the completion of the worldwide tour, the jewelry was returned to Paris, but the costumed mannequins and accessories remained in San Francisco. Through the efforts of art patron Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington, acquired the mannequins in 1952. However, the original sets were lost or destroyed.
In 1988, the mannequins traveled to Paris’s Musée des Arts de la Mode, where they underwent extensive documentation and restoration. The original designers helped recreate nine of the 12 sets for a new world tour. The installation at Phoenix Art Museum features three of the original scenes from the historic collection on loan from the Maryhill Museum including La grotte enchantée (The Enchanted Grotto), Le jardin merveilleux (The Marvelous Garden) and Le Palais-Royal (The Royal Palace).
“Théâtre de la Mode isa timeless story of hope and survival and an opportunity to study excellent examples of mid-20th century fashion design,” commented Dennita Sewell, curator of fashion design, Phoenix Art Museum. “Although the clothes were created for one-third human size mannequins, they were made using the same techniques, fabrics and details of full scale couture garments. Displayed in elaborate sets created by the best theatre designers in Paris, Théâtre de la Mode united fashion designers, jewelers, shoemakers, milliners and hairdressers.”
André Dignimont, French (1891-1965) Le palais royal, 1945. Recreated by Anne Surgers. Lent by Maryhill Museum of Art. Photo by Laurent Scully Jaulmes.