History,  Museum exhibitions

A Parisian’s Closet-A Saleswoman’s Story at Carnavalet

Anonyme Femme à l’écharpe1900
Anonyme©Droits réservés Photo©Musée Carnavalet/Roger Viollet

One day, I walked into a saleswoman’s closet, figuratively speaking, at the Carnavalet Museum. On display until March 16, 2014 are hundreds of pieces of her clothing and her records. It is a step into the everyday world of a saleswoman’s life.

As the curator says, the collection reads like a novel. With some imagination, it could. Alice Alleaume kept all of her record books, inventory of her clothes and records when and where she bought them and wore them, the accessories and her clientele records. The Musée Carnavalet and the Palais Galliera, the City of Paris Fashion Museum, call this exhibit “Roman d’une garde-robe, le chic d’une parisienne de la Belle Epoque aux années 30” (“The Novel of a Wardrobe, The Parisian Chic from the Belle Epoque to the 1930s“).

As you enter Alice’s “closet” at Carnavalet,  a mannequin is dressed in Alice’s evening dress. Timeless scarves (one could wear them today) dating from 1830s to 1870s are hanging on wood dowels, are fresh with wrinkles. The dates would correspond to her mother or sister, both of whom introduced Alice to the working world of high fashion.

Alice worked as a sales girl at the Chéruit fashion house between 1912-1923. Her records are a diary based on her sales, alterations, her comments; archives that tell a “passionate story”. The “Roman d’une garde-robe” exhibit is the history of a family, a Parisian, a lead saleswoman at a once-famous fashion house. Alice’s mother introduced her to working with high fashion. Her sister introduced her to working at the high fashion houses.

The exhibit whisks you back to a time rarely spoken of: A married, working woman with a child, part of the haute couture crowd, socially and commercially.

Usually exhibits of this kind are about women it could be hard to identify with: So high up the social ladder as to be unreachable. This is a unique exhibit and a story that covers a “dressy” era (1871-the late 1930s). With its 400 pieces, dresses, accessories, textile samples, paintings, prints, photographs, sales ledgers, manuscripts and albums, the exhibit covers the highs and lows of the neckline, waistline and hemline of labels and prêt-à-porter (ready-to-wear), of someone who loved to dress well.

I highly recommend that you take a copy of the English-language document “The novel of a wardrobe, Parisian chic from the Belle Epoque to the 1930s“. It will make this fascinating exhibit, which is in French, even more interesting.

Alice Alleaume (1881-1969)’s Influences
From an early age, Alice fell under the influence of fashion and preserving records from her mother, Adèle. In one of the early display cases is her couturière en robes, an elegant red lace dress Alice wore at the age of 4.

Alice’s sister, Hortense, fourteen years her senior, stimulated an interest in high fashion. Hortense met Paul Poiret when he was a beginning designer at the House of Worth. Imagine, meeting Jean-Paul Gaultier in the Bastille, when he was barely known. Hortense worked as lead saleswoman at Worth and influenced Alice to travel to England between 1902 and 1906. In between, Alice worked at several of Paris’s leading fashion houses under the watchful eye of Hortense. Her English helped in sales to the wealthy British and other international clientele visiting Paris.

In 1911, Alice married banker/philanthropist, continued working and moved to the Chéruit fashion house in 1912. Over the span of Alice Alleaume’s career, she had over six hundred clients, including the Queen Victoria Eugenie of Spain, the Infante Beatrice of Spain, the Queen Marie of Romania, the Princess Elisabeth of Romania, the Duchess of Arion and the Duchess de Gramont.

The Palais Galliera recently acquired Alice’s wardrobe, with additional pieces from her sister and her daughter. These are the contemporary fashion worn by her older sister, Hortense, (1867-1932) head saleswoman at Worth 7, rue de la Paix, the fashion center in Paris, and their mother, Adèle-Baudron née Joly (1839-1909), a fashion seamstress. Those pieces not worn by either Alice Alleaume (1881-1969), Hortense or Adèleare are noted with the words: Ce modèle n’a pas été porté par Alice (This piece was not worn by Alice). The pieces are, however, from the same period.

CATALOGUE available in French

Le Chic d’une Parisienne de la Belle Époque aux années 30 Format: 17 x 23 cm, 224 pages VAT Price: 35 € ISBN: 978-2-7596-0229-2
Roman d’une garde-robe, le chic d’une parisienne de la Belle Epoque aux années 30 until March 16, 2014
Musée Carnavalet (Histoire de Paris)
23, rue de Sévigne 75003 Paris
Open Tuesday to Sunday 10 am to 6 pm, Closed Monday and holidays