Post on June 9th, 2010 in 70 years of Fashion, Art, and Fabric.
As our first feature in the Gallery section of the website, we have carefully scanned my mother’s scrapbooks of Ascher Fabrics in the fashions of 1958. They are an amazing glimpse of 1950s Haute Couture and Alta Moda fashion. My memories of summer in the 1950s are more clear than ever.
Each summer throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, I spent a few weeks at my nanny’s family’s working farm on the Mayo/Galway border. The farmhouse was typically Irish – concrete floors, a large turf (peat) burning fireplace with giant cast iron pots hanging on large hooks, no running water, no electricity, unheated bedrooms, chickens in the yard. The nearest village, Ballindine, was two miles away, reached by a prewar donkey cart with large wooden wheels. Once every two weeks, a van would stop by piled high with unimaginable and invariably unaffordable luxuries, such as silk stockings, jam rolls, and shoelaces. The kids I played with had a style of their own, dressed in heavy woolen shorts and shirts enhanced by the odd waistcoat, clothes homemade from odd pieces of fabric. Their farmyard skills seemed to be fully developed by the age of 8 or 9, something that I soon took for granted. I was often left to my own resources, luxuriating in a freedom unknown at home in London.
By mid July, it was time to say goodbye to my Irish friends and head off to Paris to my other life. A six hour train ride across Ireland, often sandwiched between stern looking nuns, followed by a long BEA flight to Paris via London, chaperoned by matronly air hostesses. Reunited with my mother at Le Bourget, we would head off to our home away from home, the La Tremoille Hotel, just off Avenue Georges V. After a hot bath, soft white towels, a comfortable mattress I had a nap under a goose down filled eiderdown. As I admired the Tour Eiffel from my hotel balcony and listened to the cacophony of car horns in the street below, my transformation was complete. Dinner was at Chez Andre in the company of the Harpers Bazaar editor, Ann Scott-James. The dinner conversation focused on which Couturiers were featuring ASCHER fabrics; this proved to be a lengthy dinner because in July 1958 every Paris Couturier had several models in Ascher fabrics – such was the appeal of the new coat weight Mohair, introduced in 1957 and now available in a range of large scale monotone prints. Vogue famously described Paris that summer as having been “Ascherized”.
The next few days followed a familiar pattern; two or three Couture shows a day in the elaborate showrooms on Avenue Georges V - Balenciaga, Dior, Mme Gres, Lanvin-Castillo and the important new upstart Pierre Cardin. Children were not normally permitted to attend the Couture shows, nor were they expected to be seen at the rather long and boozy lunches and dinners with the fashion editors that would ensure that Ascher was prominently mentioned in the worldwide reports of the Paris Couture Shows. It was also an opportunity to show influential members of the press Ascher’s newest fabrics and scarves in our Paris showroom on the Rue St Honore, I remember that the showroom was decorated that summer by a huge bouquet of over 50 long stemmed flowers made entirely from the newest Ascher Mohairs.
I am often asked what I remember of my time attending these shows. Half a century later I realize how influential these trips to Paris were in the development of my own taste level and my appreciation of the importance of good design and well made products, something I have been able to pass on to my three sons; this has helped us all survive and prosper in the disposable age that we now find ourselves in. As an eight year old in Paris that summer, my clearest memory is not of the fine and beautifully colored fabrics and garments, nor of the elegant Louis XIV chairs, nor the abundance of wonderfully imaginative hats, but simply of being fortunate enough to be sitting in the back row with a wonderful view of the finely shaped mannequins as they shed one complicated outfit after another. I was the only person in the audience free to look over his shoulder without creating a major scandal. I felt like I was the luckiest person in the world.