Theatre de la Mode

Theatre de la Mode

Way out in the Columbia River Gorge near the bluffs on the Washington side, lies a place called the Maryhill Museum. It’s in the middle of nowhere and was built by an interesting fellow named Sam Hill. It was originally meant to be a mansion where Sam and his wife, Mary could entertain his school friend, King Albert I of Belgium. The museum now houses an eclectic collection including works by August Rodin, furniture and icons from Queen Marie of Romania, over 300 chess sets from around the world, memorabilia of dancer, Loie Fuller and more. It is also the home of the “Theatre de la Mode.”

I have long wanted to do a post about “Theatre de la Mode” because the more I learned about how it had come about, the more inspiring I found it to be. I find the story to be a great example of how ingenious and resourceful people can be, especially in hard times. I’ll just give a brief overview here and also supply a link to a Wikipedia page for anyone interested in learning more.

At the end of WWII, Paris was wanting to reestablish itself as the fashion center of the world. Money and supplies were scarce to say the least. There was no way the fashion houses or jewelry makers could supply the needed materials to put on a big show. Someone came up with the idea of using 1/3 scale mannequins with miniature sets to do a show. That way, enough fabric could be rounded up and small jewelry could be donated. The mannequins were fashioned from wire, padding and small doll heads. The clothes and accessories were fashioned with intricate detail. The buttons really buttoned. The purses had working clasps and there were even little items inside the purses (which wouldn’t be seen). Artists designed and painted background sets. The whole thing was done as a way to raise money for war survivors as well as for national pride. A show was launched at the Louvre in March of 1945. The show had 100,000 visitors and raised 1,000,000 francs for war relief. The 15 sets and 237 mannequins then toured Europe and in 1946, with new fashions, the United States. After the last show in San Francisco, the mannequins and sets were left behind in the basement of a department store called “City of Paris.” The sets were somehow lost, but the mannequins were eventually collected and sent to the Maryhill Museum in the 1950’s. In 1988, Paris’s Musee de la Mode Textile restored the mannequins and painstakingly recreated the sets. The “Theatre de la Mode” is now on display at the museum featuring different sets in rotation each year.

Here is a few links about the Theatre de la Mode and about Maryhill Museum:

I visited the museum two different times and would love to go again. Below are some photos from a trip in 2010 and another in 2015. I wish I had taken more photos. It was tricky to get good shots, as it was dark and the displays were behind glass. I got a few though. Click on a photo if you’d like to see it larger and then exit to get back to the post. Since I’m me, I’m also including some abstract ICM photos at the end. 🙂

I don’t know the names of all the different sets, but this first one was designed by Jean Cocteau and is called, “Tribute to Rene Clair: I Married a Witch”

“Tribute to Rene Clair: I Married a Witch”
“I Married a Witch” detail

This next set seems to be Paris street scenes. I added one complete scene and also some details from that scene.

Streets of Paris
Detail 2
Another view

This next photo is a scene depicting the assembly of the mannequins.

Some assembly required

Since it was dark, I decided to try some intentional camera movement (ICM) photos. Why wouldn’t I?

Street scene ICM
Street scene ICM 2
Street scene ICM 3

That’s it! Thanks for having a look. I hope you find it inspiring and moving like I did. See you next time!

6 thoughts on “Theatre de la Mode

  1. very cool I was reminded of the Barbie doll clothes that mom had made for me when I got my first doll the lady had made a green wool coat with working buttons. I think that there was other things but even that young I remember the coat and how much work it must have taken.

    1. It’s funny, but I actually remember that green coat. I was impressed by the buttons in particular. You must have had it for a few years.

  2. Thank you so much for doing this and your informative blog. I looked for several minutes before I noticed that all the models are wearing hats…and WHAT HATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. I had fun doing it, as it’s been on my mind for some time. The hats are definitely impressive.

  3. That was fascinating. As I looked at the photos, I realized I had heard of this before, but I never knew the story behind it. Very cool.
    And perhaps a little freaky, too. Something about the mannequins’ faces. They remind me a little bit of a Twilight Zone episode. Do-do-do-do Do-do-do-do Do-do-do-do Dooooooo!

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