L’age D’or and Dior

Last week I seemed to spend most of my time at the V and A museum (not a bad thing at all!) One of the study sessions I went to was about the legend that was Dior.

I’ll start with a little quotation on the man from Cecil Beaton:
“Like a bland country curate made of pink marzipan”

This is one thing I love greatly about Dior, his unassuming appearance. Dior was like any other middle aged man; slightly portly, balding and quite frankly plain looking. He hid behind this exterior one of the greatest fashion brains of the 20th century. Unlike many designers of today his appearance wasn’t showy, allowing his designs to do the talking. Maybe some designers could learn something from this today…

It difficult to know what to say about Dior, partly because a lot of it has been said before. So I will just share a few of my favorite Dior snippets of information.

1) Dior couldn’t sew.
Popular to contrary belief Dior was no expert tailor. He was a skilled designer who understood the female form perhaps better than any other man of the 20th century yet; he relied on his assistants to turn his fairytale ideas on paper into real life creations. His assistant Mme Carre was head of workrooms and responsible for bringing his ideas from paper to fabric. It is interesting therefore to note that this picture, one of the most famous of Dior is almost certainly staged. Unlike his contemporary Jacques Fath (swoon) who liked to work by draping the fabric on his model Dior was a designer who liked to work from sketches.


2) Dior and his “golden stick”.
Dior was well known for his gold tipped cane he carried around with him. This cane was used to prod his models (sometimes in appreciation, sometimes in disapproval) and to select the fabrics and designs he liked best.


3) Dior had three mothers.
He called his three key assistants his “mothers”. Mme Carre whom I mentioned previously was one. Mme Raymonde was poached from Lelong where she had been working for 25 years. She was his right hand woman and always checked all of the mannequins (models). His final mother was Mme Bricard who was his muse. She was an incredibly naughty woman who worked almost as his stylist. Dior said “Madame Bricard is one of the rare people for whom elegance is their sole reason for living.”


4) Dior always liked to wear his white lab coat
This makes me think of him like a chemist (or even an alchemist!) mixing together his potion of designs to create the perfect formula of feminine beauty. I can’t find any reason anywhere for why he did this, but I like to think it suggests the perfection of his designs.

5) Dior always new that Women would make him money.
At the age of 14 a fortuneteller told Dior that he would be involved a lot with women and they would make him a lot of money. How very true!

6) Dior never wanted to be AS successful as he was
Dior was incredibly ambitious this is without doubt, but his aim had never been to be THE designer of a generation. Boussac, his backer, initially needed a designer to take over the failing couturier Philippe Gaston. At the time this was one of the big couture houses, always noted in Vogue, yet having fallen a little out of favour. Boussac had Dior in mind to take over, but Dior did not want to work under another designers name and wanted Boussac to back him in his own couture house instead. Boussac was impressed by Dior’s driven attitude and agreed to back him. Dior had high hopes for a very successful yet small house. He had no inclination that his first collection would have the massive impact it did. He said at the time that he woke up the day after his first show “a famous man”.

7) Only 18 American journalists turned up to Dior’s first show.
Dior was the final show of Paris fashion week, and many American journalists decided to go home early rather than go and see the new kid on the block. Those who had chosen to go home early soon regretted their mistake and many were made to turn back and return to Paris to go and see the collection after the show.

8) Dior created 5% of France’s GDP.
Couture throughout the 20th century has been a huge part of France’s GDP but in the 50’s it really was integral. Couture at the time was 1/3 of France’s GDP and Dior created 5% of France’s GDP on his own, it now seems almost unfathomable that a single man could have bought so much wealth into a nation by himself, and this really is a credit to his design prowess.

Rayne shoes: Icons of the 20th century

After the talk about couture shoes Nick Rayne of the Rayne family spoke to us. He was completely inspiring and SUCH a great speaker. I never previously understood quite how important Rayne are in terms of tracking the history of the shoe in the 20th century, but he really showed quite how innovative the company were in their day.

The Rayne company began in 1885 as theatre outfitters, started by Henry and Mary Rayne. There were many new theatres built in the late 1800’s and the family cashed in on this. Their first shop was located close to the theatres on Shaftesbury avenue which had been a slum clearance

The theatres inevitably led to the ballet and dance and hence dance shoes. This was where their first links came with the company they would later come to be. Adeline Genee was one of the first to promote the company. She was very famous in Europe and in 1897 came to England for what was meant to be six weeks and stayed for 10 years. Rayne provided all of her shoes and costumes when she first came over to the U.K.

It is thought that a lot of the costumes for the Ballet Russes also came from Rayne. Although, this is simply speculation as the costumes tended not to be marked and the only evidence comes from company invoices. Diaghilev was very difficult to deal with and was notorious for doing runners to Paris when he did not want to pay!

In the 1920’s Charles Rayne saw a gap in the market and realised that shoe design may be the next avenue for the company. The new store opened on 58 New Bond street. The logo that is now synonymous with Rayne was also designed around this time. They used a lot of American production techniques, this included using American soles to make the shoes more comfortable and flexible. The sizes and fittings were also based on American sizes. Rayne had designers based in America. Many of these people were first generation Italians so had instilled in them the ideas of Italian superior craftsmanship.

The company then went from strength to strength gaining their first royal warrant in the 1930’s after Queen Mary had the brand recommend to her by one of her ladies in waiting.

It is probably the designs of the 1950’s though which Rayne are best remembered for, elegant, expertly crafted and presented in their iconic yellow boxes. I have come across quite a few pairs of 50s Rayne shoes on my vintage travels and goodness me they tend to be good quality! It was during this period that Rayne had many iconic designers working with them including importantly Roger Vivier, who designed the shoes for both the Queens wedding and Coronation with the Rayne brand.

One of the things that interested me most was their collaboration with Wedgewood in 1958. This was a series of shoes designed in a number of fabrics (satin and leather formed the bulk of the range) with real solid china heels. At the time there was an advertisement where they stood a London bus on top of the heels and they didn’t break! Nick said that to his knowledge none were ever retuned for chipping or breaking. The china was incredibly solid.

The 1950’s also saw them move to a new store on Old Bond Street. The interior design was by the renowned theatre designer Oliver Messel. The store was decorated in the regency style with Japanese silk wallpaper. The sad ending is that whilst his was a beautiful building and one of the few examples of Messel’s work the Whole building was sledge hammered in 1987. The company who owned it had to destroy it over one weekend before it became a listed building on the Monday. It is so sad the lengths people will go to simply to gain better access to office space!

Images from Victoria and Albert museum and wikipedia

The couture shoe

This week has literally been mental not only have I been working a crazy amount, I’ve also been on 4 courses at the V and A. I just wanted to share with everyone some of the amazing information I learnt!

My course on Thursday was all about the history of the couture shoe. Fiona Campbell was the speaker.

The concept of couture began with Charles Frederick Worth an English designer who was based in Paris at the end of the 19th century. The term couture comes from the French- Haute Couture- meaning High sewing. Worth was not just a designer but also a craftsman and an artist who completely revolutionised design. Although my focus here is not on his dresses (wonderful as they were), but rather the shoes that were worn underneath his and other couturiers dresses.

Under these beautiful couture dresses to begin with women were still wearing long lace up boots. These boots were made of fine kidskin and commissioned through the couturiers. This was when the shoemaker was yet to come into their own as ankles were still completely covered up. The idea of the couture shoe had yet to arrive.

Pinet, now a largely forgotten name was the man to change all of this. The Louis heel had been popular for decades, but he bought in a new heel shape the Pinet heel. This heel was a little bit higher and narrower than the Louis heel. He established that shoe designers no longer had to follow the exact whims of the clothing designers and could actually establish their own creative businesses.

It was the shoes designed Perugia (another forgotten name!) who really established the concept of the fashion or “art” shoe. He came from a long line of shoemakers. He started working with the family company at 16 and soon complained that the company was all about making and not about design. He decided that he wanted to carve his own name for himself and took is work to Nice. Here he managed to get a showcase in the Negresso hotel to display his shoes.

One of his first customers saw the shoes here and was dressed by Poiret. Poiret saw his customer wearing the shoes and loved them. He asked Perugia to come to Paris and work with him. Unfortunately due to World War One Perugia couldn’t go. Although this came to be a good thing as during the war Perugia worked in engineering and managed to put many of the practices he learnt into designing more avant-garde shoes.

After World War One finished he finally had the opportunity to work with Poiret and many of the motifs he was using on his shoes related directly with Poiret’s clothing. His shoes during this period showed how he was inspired by the art movement surrounding him, something that would again be important in his later career.
His shoes during the 1920’s were completely lavish and he really met the spirit of the times as hemlines had risen and finally shoes were shown off used to complete and compliment an outfit. He was well known for using lavish embroidery and covering shoes completely in clawed rhinestones.

This pair of shoes are one of my favourite by Perugia. These shoes are from 1931 (I think they look modern even by today’s standards) and were inspired by George Braque.

This pair of shoes I think has to be my favourite. (I think) they were created for Mistinguett in 1948. If you took a quick glance at them though you could quite easily be mistaken for thinking they were Christian Louboutin’s and from a far later date! Perugia was well known for designing shoes with up to 7in heels.

The other designer who was discussed in detail was Ferragamo. He was just 9 years old when he was apprenticed to a Naples shoemaker and at 10 he set up his own workshop and repaired locals shoes. Aged 16 he moved to America where he was closely located to the American film company and with a brother working in film costume he managed to establish links with the company. In 1923 Ferragamo designed all the footwear for the film the Ten Commandments by Cecil Bde Mille. This film helped to bring about a new trend in shoes. At this time women were still wearing very high cut shoes, but this film bought about a craze for sandals.

Ferragamo designed shoes fro many of the leading lights in the entertainment world throughout the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s including Greta Garbo and Audrey Hepburn. Although the design style he is probably best remembered for is his wedge sole. He started designing these in 1936 (trying to bridge the gap between comfort and elegance) and within two years 86% of all shoes in America had wedge soles!

Images from the Met museum collection database and