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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Millinery by Madame Suzy

Hat by Madame Suzy, c. 1944, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas and Melva McCart, 1980.131.001a-b
This distinctive hat - with a structured red brim contrasting the soft drape of the black tassel - made a unique journey across the Atlantic to the Goldstein Museum of Design. It began in 1944 and was previously written about on the GMD blog:
Madame Suzy, herself, made a similar trans-Atlantic journey a few years earlier. A New York Times article (1941) describes the milliner's visit to New York. The article notes that, "thirty-five of her millinery marvels were shown by Bergdorf Goodman at a cocktail hour preview in the pent house of Edwin Goodman," the then owner of the famed luxury department store. Her collection consisted primarily of small hats that were "oval rather than round" and "shot up at the back and sloped into shallowness at the front or side."

Clip of New York Times article on Madame Suzy (Tuesday, March 25, 1941)
This forward-sloped design is reflected in the GMD hat. Museums like the Met and the V&A also have a few of Madame Suzy's creations in their collections (shown below), which capture the superb skills of "one of Paris's most distinguished creators of millinery" (New York Times, 1941).

1930s and 1940s Hats by Madame Suzy: (left & center) Metropolitan Museums of Art collection, 2009.300.1444 & 2009.300.1893, (right) Victoria and Albert Museum collection, T.62-1967
Madame Suzy's atelier, which was open from the 1920s through the 1950s, was located at 5 rue de la Paix. This street has been home to some of the most well-known designers in Paris since the 19th century. Charles Worth, the father of haute couture, opened his business at 7 rue de la Paix in the 1850s. The street later held the houses of designers like Jeanne Paquin and Elsa Schiaparelli - although the latter would eventually move her shop to the nearby Place Vendôme (the shop mentioned in the GMD donor's letter). Sadly, all of these houses would close their doors during the 1950s. Today, signs of these designers along this street have largely faded - seen in the contrasting images below. However the legacies of Worth, Paquin, Schiaparelli, and Madame Suzy are kept alive in the costume collections of Museums like the Met, the V & A, and GMD.

 House of Paquin (1910) on the left and Rue de la Paix today on the right.
Reference: Pope, V (March 25, 1941). Hat show reveals Mms. Suzy's skill. New York Times, pp. 21L.

Pajamas for the Beach

In the hot summer months ahead, many women will be slipping into swimsuits and heading off to the beach to lounge in the sun. But would any of them wear pajamas like the ensemble featured below from the Goldstein Museum of Design's collection?

Beach pajamas, 1933, Gift of Marian Eliason, 1992.004.021
Today, we think of PJs as something we put on before we climb into bed but in the 1930s pajamas, or pyjamas as they were often spelled, were worn for all kind of occasions. A 1931 Vogue article called "Pyjamas - when are they worn?" declares that:
"The convention, ruling for a time, that the pyjama's place is in the home is now dead and buried. A woman may and does wear pajamas to quite formal dinners in her own house, to other people's dinners in town or country if you know them well, and the younger and more iconoclastic members of the female sex even wear them to the theater" (June 1 1931, pp. 70-71).
The illustrated fashion spread includes styles for the beach, boudoir, lounging, and informal or formal dinners. All of the ensembles include wide-legged pants and soft, draped bodices. Fabrics are used to differentiate between the various occasions, as well as to distinguish them from similar styles worn in more intimate settings. As the FIDM blog notes, quoting a New York Times article from 1932, women had to be careful, "when purchasing beach or lounging pajamas, as anything 'that faintly suggests the boudoir is taboo.' Lace or silk satin indicated nighttime pajamas, while a more rustic fabric like silk shantung, linen or cotton was appropriate for beach and lounging pajamas" (, 2010).

"Pyjamas - when are they worn?" from Vogue (June 1, 1931)
This fashion was one of the early instances of women's public adoption of pants. Efforts to encourage the acceptance of this bifurcated fashion are apparent in the Vogue article, equating it to contemporary evening dresses. The article notes, "Really, there is no difference between the new long evening pyjamas and the new long evening cannot see that one has a skirt and one has two skirts - for the new full trousers amount to that" (p. 110).

Harem pants and sultan dress by Poiret (left), Coco Chanel in evening pajamas (center), Greta Garbo in pajamas by Adrian (right)
It is difficult to attribute this style to one person. Paul Poiret's harem trousers from 1911 could be viewed a forerunner of the casual bifurcated fashion. Yet, Coco Chanel is often credited with introducing pajamas for women in the 1920s. Films, which have often incited and encouraged new fashions, also played a role. For example, in The Single Standard (1929) costume and fashion designer Adrian created a pair of stripped pajamas for Greta Garbo.

Louis Vuitton 2012 Resort Collection (left and center) and Caroline Sieber in Louis Vuitton (right)
This fashion was revived during the 1960s - as "hostess pajamas" - and again in recent years. In 2012, Louis Vuitton's resort runway collection featured a number of printed silk pajamas for public settings. Will this loungewear make its way back to the beach?
Pyjamas - when are they worn (June 1, 1931). Vogue, 71, pp. 70-71, 110.
Lounge pajamas, c. 1935 (April 30, 2010). FIDM museum blog. Retrieved from