Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mad about the Girls

All too often in the world of Haute Couture names come and go. Some are revered as gods to the craft while others sink into oblivion only to come alive in museum retrospectives or on blogs like mine.

Mad Carpentier is one such name. The brainchild of two of Vionnet’s employees (who was talking of retirement in 1939) the house was created in 1940 by Mad Maltezos and Suzie Carpentier. With the advent of war and the subsequent occupation, this was extremely risky. However, with the void that was left with Vionnet’s closing, the business prospered.

These two women represented the continual evolution of Vionnet’s style and ensured its survival. Through the war years there was a certain mystique of these women as Mary Brooks Picken and Dora Loues Miller, authors of Dressmakers of France: The Who, How, and Why of the French Couture (New York, 1956) passionately enthused, "When it was almost impossible to think of luxury, of the richness of colors, of the beauty of fabrics, in a city without joy and without light…these two talented women carried on.”

The Vionnet style still continued and was sustained however two new distinct directions totally autonomous from this style were pursued. Mad Carpentier created incredibly beautiful evening dresses of extraordinary historical fantasy that were pre-runners to Dior’s new look of 1947. These gowns did not achieve the same flamboyant success of Fath and Dior because the Mad Carpentier gowns are too redolent of the past and failed to capture the spirit of the "new" necessary to the marketing and imagination of the postwar era

The other direction taken and perhaps the lasting legacy of the house were the remarkable coats for both day and evening wear. In all manner of shapes, silhouettes and textures these became virtually the hallmark of the house and were widely copied everywhere rivaling the sway that Balenciaga had achieved.

Women's Wear Daily (14 April 1948) commented, "the firm has gone its quiet way, and now ranks as a house for clothes of distinctive character rather than one taking an active or publicized role in the general development of the Paris couture. Carpentier clothes have the handmade air of Vionnet, but do not always follow the bias technique of that school of dressmaking."

Closing in 1957 Mad Carpentier turned out to be a house of traditional clothes bordering on the genteel, however offset by sensational coats. Its understated, highly proper sensibility was at odds with advanced and aggressive postwar fashion and only in the exuberance of its sculptural coats did the imagination and reputation soar.

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