Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Proust's Muse: THE COUNTESS GREFFULHE: Review by Polly Guerin

Elisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe
With Celebrity recognition The Museum at FIT's exhibition, introduces Proust's Muse, Elisabeth de Caraman-Chimay, the Countess Greffulhe (1860-1952). A famous beauty, she was known for her "aristocratic and artistic elegance, a fashion icon comparable to Daphne Guinness today. 
    The exhibit showcases some 40 garments and accessories once owned by the celebrated beauty, fashion icon, and patron of both arts and sciences.The Countess Greffulhe patronized the greatest couturiers of her day, Worth, the founder of the French Haute Couture, principal among them, known for the use of exquisite, and lush textiles.
    "The Countess Greffulhe believed in the artistic significance of fashion, " says Dr. Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT. "And although she patronized the greatest couturiers of her time, her style was very much her own. Today, when fashion is increasingly regarded as an art form, her attitude is especially relevant."
House of Worth Lily Dress, Photo by Paul Nadar
THE PROUST CONNECTION When Proust wrote his novel In Search of Lost Time (A la recherche du temps perdu), the Countess Greffulhe inspired his immortal character Oriane, The Dutchesse de Guermantes, of whom he wrote, "Each of her dresses seemed like the projection of a particular aspect of her soul." The Countess Greffulhe, like her counterpart. the novel's Duchesse de Guermantes, represented for Proust, the aristocrat as a work of art. "But elements of her style," noted Valerie Steele, "also influenced characters as diverse as the courtesan Odette de Crecy (later Madame Swann) and the Narrator's bourgeois lover, Albertine." Image right: "Lily Dress," 1896, attributed to Worth, black velvet application of ivory silk in the form of lilies, embroidered with pearls and sequins. But the Countess clearly contributed to  ideas about its design and decoration. 
The motif of the lilies refers to a poem in her honor by the dandy-poet Robert de Montesquiou, who served as the main inspiration for another of Proust's characters, the Baron de Charlus. In her correspondence with Montesquiou, Elisabeth Greffulhe confessed, "I don't think there is any pleasure in the world comparable to that of a woman who feels she is being looked at by everybody, and has joy and energy transmitted to her."                                                                                             THE COUNTESS'S AUDACIOUS STYLE
Robe de Ceremonie, Byzantine Empress Gown  
Another highlight of the exhibition is an exotic emerald green and blue "robe d'interieur"(1897) which epitomizes the countess's audacious style. She loved to wear green, which complemented her auburn hair.
    Image Left: One of the countess's most famous gowns was a sensational gold lame Byzantine empress gown, pearl-encrusted, fur-trimmed robe de ceremonie, that she wore to her daughter Elaine's wedding in 1904. It said that people in the crowd exclaimed, "My God, is that the mother of the Bride>" Although labeled Worth, it was probably created for the countess by the young Paul Poiret. 
SPONSOR OF THE BALLETS RUSSES. A pioneering fund-raiser, the countess was a major supporter of the Ballets Russes, and in the years prior to the First World War her fashions also gravitated toward avant-garde Orientalist styles. When Proust describes the exotic Fortuny gowns of his fictional Dutchesse de Guermantes, evoking "that Venice loaded with the gorgeous East," he was clearly inspired by the Countess Greffulhe.  Crafting her image like a work of art, she cultivated an elegant signature style that highlighted her svelte, wasp-waisted figure. Besides Charles Worth, Jeanne Lanvin, and Nina Ricci are among couturiers represented. There is also an ensemble inspired by the Countess Greffulhe created by contemporary fashion designer Rick Owens. In addition to the 28 garments on display are dozens of accessories, and a selection of photographs. Through Jan. 7, 2017, at The Museum at FIT, (FREE Admission) 27th street and Seventh Avenue.fitnyc.edu/museum. For information about the Proust Muse Fashion Symposium on Thursday, September 20th contact the museum.
   Ta Ta Darlings!! The exhibit is too, too marvelous, I am green with envy, but alas I do not have a wasp-waist. Polly welcomes fan mail atpollytalknyc.gmail.com.  Visit Polly's other Blogs at www.pollytalk.com and click on the links in the left-hand column.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Tight Lacing after John Collet 1777
It appears that there is really nothing new about how women and men have shaped their bodies into distinctive silhouettes in the name of fashion. The quest to create a new figure continues to inspire fashionistas. Even today women and men are determined to  reshape, retool and,  more often than not, they take plastic surgery to alter, improve but sometimes distort their bodies into a vision of controlled beauty.
  The historical significance of Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette is worth the trip uptown. The exhibition will be on display at the Bard Graduate Center, at 18 West 86th Street, from April 3 through July 26, 2015
   This extravagant display presents the novel devices and materials that women and men have used to shape their silhouettes from the 17th Century to today, including extra wide panniers draped in sumptuous fabrics and the underpinnings, that were necessary to support such extravagance. Corsets, crinolines, bustles, stomach belts, girdles, and push-up bras also get their due recognition. Note the image right: "Tight Lacing or Fashion before Ease," after John Collet in The Profession of the Proprietors, 1777. Hand-colored mezzotint published by Bowles and Carver. The Trustees of the British Museum.
   Beneath it all there is a world of intrigue and mystery and curator Denia Bruna, at the Musee des Arts decoratives and professor a the Ecole du Louvre, presents the history of "behind the scenes" in a well documented exhibition.
Winding  Up The Ladies ca 1828
The tricks for fashioning women's bodies have always confounded belief.  One wonders, what made these women and sometimes men allow themselves to be pulled, squashed and shaped into fashion?  Part of the answer may be the fact that the ability to engage in such body distortion, the minuscule waist, for example, required several people to pull you tight till your breath was nearly sucked out of your body.  Yet, the pain was worth it to be able to trump your nose at society and let them know that you were high-minded enough to afford such luxury even if achieving it meant by torturous results. Note the image "A Correct View of the New Machine for Winding Up the Ladies," ca. 1828. Hand;colored engraving, Courtesy of the Museum at FIT.
   A broad range of silhouette-shaping garments are featured that flattened the stomach, compressed the waist, lifted the breasts, added curves to the hips and curvature to the derriere.  As for men their vanity paralleled women's eccentricities and the perfectly curved leg of an seventeenth century gentleman would be padded to produce the perfect silhouette, Today men's underwear padding enhances the center of their charm as well as well-shaped buttocks.
The Bustle Contraption
   The exhibition is a rare insider view into the underpinnings of fashion that mirrored society's concept of one's superior status and perceived elegance.
   A series of black velvet mannequins illustrating a woman's silhouette throughout time invites the viewer to understand how a woman's body shape was altered to accommodate the extremes of fashion.
  TaTa darlings!!! I'm certainly glad that all I need to do is to go to the gym to keep in shape. Whew!!! Imagine the discomfort that women suffered wearing cages of different sizes and shapes to underscore the crinoline, to create a bustle or achieve exaggerated proportions of court dress.  Then too, men also wore girdles to enhance their posture and create a straight aristocratic silhouette.Fan mail welcome at pollytalknyc.gmail.com. Visit Polly's Blogs at www.pollytalk.com and click on the link that takes you to womendeterminedtosucceed, visonary men, poetryfromtheheart or hiddentreasures.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

PENN & FLETCHER, Master Artisans of Custom Embroidery By Polly Guerin

Throughout history hand crafted embroidery has been treasured, like “Fine Jewelry,” says Ernie Allen Smith, custom embroidery artisan of Penn & Fletcher, Inc. This is a firm that stands in league of its own, a one-of-a-kind establishment that fashions creative embroideries using patterns and techniques of antique vintage, the work far too fantastic in its scoop, too unique and complicated for others to produce.

TALENTED ARTISANS Today with its staff of 13 talented artisans, the company, located in Long Island City, is internationally renowned for creating custom embroidery for museums, artists, architects, interior designers, artistic directors of fashion houses, the theater and even exquisite costumes for epic movie productions such as The Aviator, Enchanted and Mirror Mirror. Private clientele and the ladies, who lunch, also engage Penn & Fletcher’s artisans to create high end embroidery pieces to adorn their most luxurious possessions.

EMBROIDERY JARGON Descriptive words like appliqué, couching, chenille, satin stitch, French knots, trap unto, cord work, crewel, soutache and passamenterie describe the diversified embroider’s techniques that adorn some of the firm’s commissioned pieces. “We use a combination of handiwork, hand-guided embroidery machinery equipment from the 1870’s, and computerized machines,” says Smith. All work is crafted by artisans who are a lost breed of visionaries determined to keep the art of embroidery flourishing for generations to come. To that end the firm has future plans to schedule adjunct embroidery classes for young artisans to learn the trade.

FOUNDING REMARKS While embroidery is an old, revered hand-crafted industry, Penn & Fletcher is relatively new. The company was formed in 1986 from the remnants of old embroidery studios and much of the company’s equipment, the architects of design and the embroidery heritage it maintains dates back to 1878 and earlier. Case in point, on view recently at GSMT, The General Society of Mechanics & Tradesman’s Lecture Series, was an embroidery machine in black metal with a mother-of-pearl inlay border. The architects of design of this embroidery machine made it to last and it is still used today in hand guided designs.

All the work, any size job and type of custom work, as well as historical pieces, is done in Penn & Fletcher’s Long Island City workroom at 21-07 41st Avenue, 5th Floor; 212.239.6868. http://www.pennandfletcher.com. For more information about the GSMT Lecture Series, held at 20West 44th Street contact the General Society at 212.840.1840, ext 2. Or e-mail the program director Karin Taylor at karin.taylor@generalsociety.org; visit www.generalsociety.org

Polly Guerin is author of the book: THE COOPER HEWITT DYNASTY OF NEW YORK (History Press 2012)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

GAULTIER, JEAN PAUL, Master of the Fashion Universe (c) By Polly Guerin

THE FASHION WORLD of JEAN PAUL GAULTIER FROM the SIDEWALK to the CATWALK: This theatrical spectacle, the first international exhibition celebrating the career of the legendary French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier, who has shaped the look of contemporary fashion with his avant-garde designs, makes its only east coast stop on an international tour, organized by the MMFA, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in collaboration with Maison Jean Paul Gaultier, Paris. Where? At the Brooklyn Museum on view through February 23, 2014. “I am proud and honored that this exhibition is presented here, where the true spirit of New York lives on. I was always fascinated by New York, its energy, the skyscrapers of Manhattan, that special view of the sky between the tall buildings,” said Gautier of the Brooklyn presentation where some mannequins seemingly come alive, their eyes blink, the lips move and the words uttered grip the viewer with uncanny realism.

THE COLLECTION This breath-taking overview of Gaultier’s extensive oeuvre includes exclusive material not exhibited in previous venues of the tour, such as pieces from his recent haute couture and ready-to-wear collections and stage costumes worn by Beyonce. The 150-piece lineup, curated by Thierry-Maxime Loriot, MMFA, includes some of Gaultier’s most iconic pieces, like Madonna’s original cone-bra bustiers and bare-breast suspenders, and looks from his collection inspired by Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. There are several piece that have never been exhibited before, including a glittery jumpsuit worn by Beyonce.

AVANT GARDE DESIGNS Distinctively different from traditional couture, Gaultier’savant-garde designs demonstrate a deep understand of the issues And preoccupations of today’s multicultural society. For inspiration he has turned to a variety of cultures and countercultures. The show is organized into seven thematic sections: The Odyssey, The Boudoir, Muses, Punk Cancan, Skin Deep, Metropolis, and Urban Jungle. Accompanying the designs are sketches, excerpts from films, concerts, and dance performances, and photographs by Richard Avedon, Any Warhol, Cindy Sherman, and others---all testifying to the daring genius of Jean Paul Gaultier.

AMAZING LIFE-LIKE MANNEQUINS You will need to take a second look as the fascinating mannequins seemingly talk the talk and flirt with you. Many of the mannequins used to display Gaultier’s designs revolve to reveal all angles of an ensemble. Some circulate on a continuously moving catwalk and many wear remarkable wigs and headdresses created by renowned hairstylist Odile Gilbert and her Atelier 68 team. Throughout the galleries, thirty-two of the mannequins come alive with interactive faces created by technologically ingenious high-definition audiovisual projections. A dozen celebrities, including Gaultier himself, model Eve Salvail, and bass player Melissa Auf de Maur, have lent their faces and their voices to this project. The production and staging of this dynamic audio-visual element is the work of Denis Marleau and Stephanie Jasmin of UBU/Compagnie de creation of Montreal. Jolicoeur International of Quebec realized all the custom-made mannequins with different skin tones and positions.

ORIGINS OF DESIGN As for inspiration Gaultier admits, “If I do fashion, it’s because of “Falbalas,” a movie from the 1940s, before I was born. It was about a couturier at a Paris couture house, inspired by a woman to give him the idea for a collection. He made a beautiful collection because he was in love with her. It was so explicit, so perfect in the description of the workings that when I started to work at Cardin and Jean Patou, I thought, ‘Oh, but I am in Falbalas.”’ One of the most adorable items in the show is Nana, Gaultier’s childhood teddy bear that, at age six, he customized with a cone-like bra made from newspaper pinned onto the stuffed animal. "It was before Madonna,” he said.

For his part, Gaultier hopes visitors will “not be bored but surprised and amused, and have a good time and fun.”

Polly Guerin is author of the book THE COOPER-HEWITT DYNASTY OF NEW YORK (History Press 2012).

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

ONLY AUTHENTICS Luxury Handbag Auction (c) By Polly Guerin

 Breaking News: A FABULOUS HANDBAG EVENT On view all this week through October 12th an extensive collection is offered for sale—Hermes, Birkins and Kellys plus Chanel featured classics to runway exclusives—co-sponsored by Alice Kwartler and Only Authentics, 445 Park Avenue (betw 56 & 57 Sts.)

THE HANDBAG SULTAN Only Authentics Virgil Rogers, who I call the Sultan of Handbags, showcases an extraordinary collection of luxury handbags, vintage and rare handbags that are truly investment fashion pieces from top luxury brands in mint condition and on-trend colors. The cognoscenti, savvy women are beginning to realize that the treasures they put in their closets have great future value.

HANDBAG S ON DEMAND Only Authentic collection offers women who want a particular bag instant access. Instead of being put on the wait list for a particular bag at this event Only Authenics presents a wide range of Hermes, Birkins, Kellys and Chanels that any fashionista or collector will cherish. Rogers’s next luxury handbag event is at the Upper East Side Jewelry Show, October 18-19 at the National Bohemian Hall, (The Czech Cultural Center) at 321 E. 73 St. (betw First and Second Ave) . For upcoming shows and events visit “onlyauthentics.com” or contact: onlyauthentics@gmail.com

Polly Guerin
Author: Cooper-Hewitt Dynasty History Press (2012)

Thursday, August 1, 2013


KIMONO by any other name would not be so beautiful or historical a fashion statement of status and wealth. The word ‘kimono’ literally means a thing to wear (ki “wear” and mono “thing) and was the Japanese word for clothing., but in more recent years it has come to refer specifically to the Japanese traditional garment which is a reflection of Japan’s evolving culture throughout history. The kimono in numerous incarnations in gorgeous antique silk textiles, embroideries, hand painting, gold leaf and appliqué is honored at an exhibition “Essence of Kimono,” a stunning new exhibit of 50 one-of-a-kind exquisite handmade kimonos that span two hundred years of history. Unmatched for its breadth and diversity the exhibit, the Alexander Collection, is culled from private collector’s treasure trove and is on view through August 23 at the Nippon Club, 145 West 57th Street.
KIMONO ARTISTRY The exhibit includes incredible historical silk textiles from the Edo, Meiji, Taisho and Showa periods. During the Kamakura period and Muromachi period, for example, both men and women wore brightly colored kimonos. Kimonos are secured by a sash called an obi, which is tied at the back and generally worn with traditional footwear and split-toe socks. Warriors were a sight and dressed in colors representing their leaders. You can imagine the battlefield was a giddy, gaudy fashion show. The pattern of the kimono can determine in which season it should be worn. Watery designs are common during the summer. A pattern with butterflies or cherry blossoms may be worn in spring. A popular autumn motif is the russet leaf of the Japanese maple, for winter, designs may include bamboo, pine trees and plum blossoms. Every stitch of silk thread and delicate brush stroke conveys the pride and dedication of the artist. A touch of gold leaf adds elegance, embroidery enriches the surface of design and hand-painted scenery provides a visual masterpiece.

A FAR REACHING INFLUENCE Visitors will discover the artistry and craftsmanship involved in creating the iconic symbol of Japan and at the same time realize the far reaching influence that the Japanese aesthetic has had on fashion, interior design and art in the Western world. Through a wide range of historical periods, decorative techniques and styles, these kimonos serve to unite the past and present with historical reverence to the artists who created them. The skills utilized in the couture creations on display are skills mastered over a lifetime and passed down through generations. This rare opportunity to view such a breathtaking collection serves as inspiration for designers in fashion, design and architecture.

KIMONO TODAY Kimonos as we know them today came into being during the Hein period (794-1192) when a new kimono-making technique was developed known as the straight-line-cut method. It involved cutting pieces of fabric in straight lines and sewing them together. With this technique, kimono makers did not have to concern themselves with the shape of the wearer’s body. The straight-line-cut had many advantages; they were easy to fold, could be worn in layers to provide warmth in winter and lighter fabrics such as breathable linen was comfortable for summer.


Friday, May 17, 2013


As the summer travel season draws near it reminds me of the student trips I planned for twenty young women from the Fashion Institute of Technology, 20 total, traveling with me to London, Paris/St. Tropez, Milano, Florence/Venice, and Barcelona. The trip was designated as a 3-credit summer course of exploration visiting the fashion capitals of Europe. Believe me it was a formidable task to be the sole professor escorting this sometimes unruly group of ‘in-no-sense’young women. However, my travel tips may also serve any woman planning such a trip even on her own.
A SAVVY TRAVELER I say that because before we would travel I always held meetings in which I discussed and distributed information on what to expect and how to travel sensibly. While so many of the young women seemed genuinely interested in the fashion aspects of the trip they did not heed my warning that this was a student trip and not a luxury vacation and that they would have to abide by the rules of deportment. Most important they could bring only one medium-size roll-on suitcase and one combination handbag/carryon bag. The girls who did not comply wound up with great difficulties during the trip, but they were forewarned. Often porters are not so handy so several ‘in-no-sense’ girls who decided to bring their summer wardrobe had to fend for themselves when it came to lugging extra suitcases down or up stairs at various stations or airports.
FASHIONABLE ATTIRE Five easy pieces is what I recommended. That means packing minimally with color- coordinated pieces in easy-care fabrics. Five easy pieces include a (1) a classic stretch-linen-like jacket, (2) a printed blouse or printed sleeveless shell, (3) one solid-color microfiber dress, (4) one pair microfiber pants and (5) one pencil slim skirt. Easy-care fabrics make it easy to wash an item during the trip. Always include a pair of comfortable walking shoes, which you can wear with your travel outfit, but pack one pair of heels which will look perfect with the dress, glitter or pearls. Navy blue is always an easy color scheme to coordinate. Brown/beige with coral is another alternative, but always stick to one color scheme. Matching accessories such as a silk Hermes-inspired scarf and a colorful Pashmina printed shawl can add panache to the ensemble as do costume jewelry earrings and necklaces. If you want to relieve yourself of any theft concern never travel with genuine jewelry. However, you should also pack a collapsible tote just in case your retail therapy goes wild with extra purchases.
CHIC NECESSITIES It’s a good idea to put personal necessities in your combination carryon/handbag, in which you can pack a small purse with shoulder strap. This item can be used as an evening accessory or to use on lighter days when you do museum hopping. You can utilize this small purse in your suitcase to stash cosmetics and hair necessities. Keep lingerie to a minimum wash-and-wear status. Toss in a bikini bathing suit with a matching cover-up that can serve as a nightgown, and pair of flip-flops. When we took the Chunnel from London to Paris (a first class experience) another 'in-no-sense' girl piped up, “I thought that you said that we were going first class?” Obviously she did not recognize the classy décor and lamps
DOCUMENTS BE SAFE As for documents I always suggest that you make a copy of your passport and place it safely inside your suitcase, so heavens, if the original gets lost you will have the information for a replacement at the local U.S. Consulate. Always keep a copy of the travel itinerary with you at all times and at each hotel remember when you go out in the evening, if you do not take the itinerary with you, be sure to pick up a business card with the hotel’s name and address. Many a night I had a frantic concern when several girls did not show up because they couldn’t remember the hotel in which they were staying.
DINING AL FRESCO Often meal plans were included on the trip and we even accommodated vegetarian requests. However, some girls were not adventurous when it came to dining and much to my dismay in Venice I saw several students in a MacDonald’s. When I appeared and wondered what they were doing there. They announced, “This is the best meal we have had on the trip.” So much for trying to broaden one’s taste palate. When it came to the old pension in Florence, where students from other universities were also staying, some of the ‘in-no-sense’ students complained bitterly about the ancient elevator that accommodated one person at a time. Although the atmosphere in the place had a convent-like austerity, alas, most of us thought the experience was quaint.