Clotho, Couture and Choices

January 4, 2010

Back in January 2009, for an Artist’s Date, I viewed an exhibition organised by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London that was touring Australia: The Golden Age of Couture.

As an aside, last night I watched a DVD, The Young Victoria, a period-costume extravaganza which got me thinking about Empresses and their dresses, and my Edwardian maternal grandmother, who was a dressmaker known for the exquisiteness of her work.

The Golden Age of Couture explored one of the most glamorous and remarkable decades in fashion history. It examines the world of couture, highlighting the work of Christian Dior, Christobal Balenciaga, Hubert de Givenchy and Pierre Balmain in Paris and their London counterparts Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies. Other successful designers of the time – such as Jacques Fath, Jacques Griffe, Victor Stiebel and Michael of London – featue in a broad survey of the decade.

More than 100 dress were on display including daywear, cocktail and evening dresses made for society and royalty and while photos were not permitted, I did scribble down notes .

“An ethereal appearance is only achieved by elaborate workmanship” – Christian Dior

Among the delights of this exhibition was the Miss Virginia Lachasse fashion doll, based on Virginia Woodford, the leading model of the Lachasse couture house.   She certainly put “Barbie” in the shade!

Towards the end of the war, in a time of great hardship, the Paris couturiers created the Theatre de la Mode; an exhibition of about 200 dolls, dressed in the latest styles and arranged in theatre sets. The Theatre toured to Britain, Scandinavia and the USA between 1945-6, raising funds for war victims and promoting French Fashion. 

Miss Virginia Lachasse

Miss Virginia Lachasse was created for a touring exhibition to raise money for the Greater London Fund for the Blind. Her exquisite wardrobe of miniature fashionable dresses would never be appreciated by the recipients of the fund she was brought forth to support – what irony!

It was about this stage that I realised that Fashion was something more than pretty frocks and while marvelling at the absolutely fabulous display, I was particularly struck by the insight that the fashion designers worshipped at the Temple of Venus-Aphrodite.

Fortunately, I have found an external link for The Golden Age of Couture which features some of the gowns that I saw last January.

Charles Creed (1909-66) of the House of Creed, lamented the lack of skilled needlewoman in England saying, “French girls are born with threads of sewing silk running in their veins”.

I was born with threads of sewing silk running in my veins, yet my mother didn’t encourage my interest in formally studying Textiles and Dressmaking.  She felt that I would end up working in a factory and, I suppose, memories of her own impoverished childhood as the daughter of a small country town dressmaker, prejudiced her ambitions for me.  Mum couldn’t see past the choices that my grandmother had made. Last year I saw through the choices that my mother had made for me and chose to stop shaping my life based on the echo of those choices, which were made for all the wrong reasons.

Flowers of the Fields of France

Norman Hartnell (1901-79), Flowers of the Field of France, ceremonial gown for Queen Elizabeth II for her state visit to Paris in 1957.  Embroidery/beads: poppies, fleur-de-lis, wheat sheaves and bees.

CLOTHO: Youngest of the three Fates: Known as The Spinner, she spins the Thread of Life that controls your destiny. It’s slender and delicate, but extremely tough stuff. You could use it for mountaineering. But sometimes it can get very tangled.



  1. Oh… my… I’m having a costume ::swoon:: moment… Textiles aren’t in my blood like they are yours – oh, I hope you grew up playing with scraps of silk and metallic braid! – but they are in my DNA nevertheless. I get excited just thinking about fabric and trim and other wonders. You lucky, lucky lady to have viewed these pieces up close!

    Sadly, amazing exhibits like this never pass through my spot on the map. The closest I’ve gotten was the Marilyn Monroe exhibit last year. Then again, even those few items had me hyperventilating, so maybe it’s for the best 😉

    I’ll be dreaming of the Fields of France tonight.

  2. The Fields of France cloth is so beautiful! Do you do any embroidery or needlework as a hobby? In the past, I’ve dabbled in cross-stitch, which is pretty paint-by-numbers as an art form, but I enjoyed it!

  3. Submerina: Yes, I did grow up playing with silks, satins, beads and braid and all other sorts of treasures. Most of which I still have, including a bolt of black French velvet that must be around 80 years old now.

    Debra: I used to do embroidery, tapestries and cross-stitch. Was knitting by the time I was six, then settled into quiltmaking in the late 80s. Have always been an Alchemist: turning base materials into something more precious.

  4. Get the spare bedroom ready, I’m coming to invade your privacy (and play with your treasures!) 😀

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