Blog 81 12/05/2019 Couturiers of the Belle Époque: Jeanne Hallée
Couturiers of the Belle Époque: Jeanne Hallée
Very little is known about the French designer, Jeanne Hallée (1880-1914) yet during the Belle Époque, she was regarded as one of the most important designers of her day. Jeanne was apprenticed to the designer, Jacques Doucet. She was both a designer and a seamstress and is most famous for her silk chiffon/lace dresses. Examples of her work are extremely rare. The Met. houses a collection and others are in private collections. Sadly, she died at the height of her career and the company was taken over by M. Kamp and his wife, Madame Suzanne, who made a great success of restoring the establishment.
After her death, her designs continued to be copied by other seamstresses and establishments. One such person was Elizabeth Handley Seymour, (1867-1948). Madame Handley-Seymour, a skilled dressmaker, opened her atelier in 1908/9 at 47 New Bond Street, London. During the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, her gowns were in high demand by high-ranking socialites. It was Elizabeth Handley- Seymour who designed the wedding dress for the Duchess of York (later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother). She also made her Coronation dress. When she started her career in 1908, she had a staff of four. When she retired in 1938, the staff totalled 200.
As was the practice of the day, especially outside of France, sketches of the most stylish and up-to-date garments would be shown to prospective fashion-conscious clients for approval. Many sketches depicted Paris models designed by leading French couturiers of the day and the practice was so widespread that the original designer’s name was still on the sketches. From the late 19th c. to the 1920’s many dressmakers openly copied couture gowns for their customers at a price lower than those charged by the couturiers such as the House of Worth or equivalent establishments. Indeed, many designers started their careers by copying gowns from the fashion houses of Vionnet and Chanel and they rarely changed a thing, including using identical fabrics. Very early designs by Paul Poiret, Callot Soeurs, Doucet, Paquin, Chanel, Edward Molyneux and Lanvin also appear in the albums.
The Royal dressmaker, Norman Hartnell (1901-1979), who opened his dress business in London in the 1920s, lamented the way English fashions came a poor second next to those of Paris. He later recalled how clients would look at his designs, approve the style and fabrics, take a fitting, and after casually enquiring who had designed it, promptly cancel the order if they discovered it was not a Paris model by Lelong or Patou. He described this as “the unforgivable disadvantage of being English in England”.
After Elizabeth Handley-Seymour’s death over 4000 sketches which provide us with an accurate overview of the most desirable creations of her time were donated to the V & A Museum by her daughter, Mrs Joyce Whitehouse.