Saturday, 29 March 2014

Paris Album 1900- 1914 by Jean Cocteau

published in French as Portraits-Souvenir in 1935
this translation by Margaret Crosland published 1956




A vital signature has made its mark on the light heart of the town. The signature of Paul Poiret. 

Already the stiffness… has relaxed. The corsets are unlaced… The Duchesses are ready for Paul Poiret to dress them, undress them and put them in costume. There is no question yet of pushing out the stomach, walking like a crab and a praying mantis, putting one hand on the hip and making the jaw-line cruel and disdainful. It is a question of being an almeh, a bag of silk and fur, a lamp shade, a cushion from the harem of a fashionable sultan. A pale sultan, an emir with a chestnut beard and protruding eyes, an actor like Nero, changing women into odalisques and capable himself of incarnating innumerable types with the rags that he picks up round about him.



observations: In an earlier entry (which should be read with this one), Jean Cocteau considered the way fashions change. At the end of the book, he becomes very specific about the new freedoms which women will find at the time of the first world war: they will also be dancing the foxtrot (a dance which apparently premiered in 1914). Both almehs (Egyptian) and odalisques (Turkish) were exotically-imagined women of the east.

He is very interested in appearances and describes clothes a lot, and wonderfully well, in this book. He even manages to describe the eye makeup of the music hall star Mistinguett:
with her ‘bicycles’, the makeup she always used, which consisted of drawing the spokes of a wheel in blue pencil to imitate the shadow of the eyelashes between her eyebrows and the rim of her eyes. 



(This sounds quite similar to Twiggy’s makeup style, which she describes in her autobiography - on the blog recently.)

Cocteau seems to have been a very good-looking and advanced young man, who attracted the attention of a lot of people. He writes of them with great affection: particularly the comtesse who, after a heated discussion of religion, chased him out of her apartment, then leant over the bannisters shouting ‘In any case, it’s straightforward. If God exists, I would be the first person to be told.’

As we said in the earlier entry, it is an absolutely delightful book, full of great stories and great writing.

Poiret’s liberating new designs also featured in Eva Ibbotson’s Madensky Square, here, and the blog is very fond of this picture of some of his evening coats:



The top picture is a Poiret design from a fashion magazine of 1912.

8 comments:

  1. Moira - Oh, yes! I remember your entry about this. So interesting to think about the way fashions have been limiting or restrictive. From hobble skirts to 'flapper dresses' in such a very short time (just to take one example) is to me fascinating. And I like his descriptive style, too.

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    1. Yes he had a good eye both for fashion, and for what it could mean for women. Most impressive.

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  2. Interesting, but not my thing. You noted in the first post that Cocteau had many talents. He must have been fascinating to know.

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    1. I love the idea of someone so multi-talented and eccentric, but who also sounds kind and charming and interested in everything.

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  3. The Foxtrot is actually a 1914 name given to an earlier dance called the Bunny Hug... so not exactly a 1914 premiere, but a rename. (I mention it briefly in my new book!)

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    1. Oh thanks - that's really interesting. I've vaguely heard of the Bunny Hug in books of the era, but would never have guessed it was also the foxtrot....

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  4. I'm surprised he had time to write, what with all his under water exploring!

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    1. Ba-boom. Well that pays me back for Les Miserables, but also cheered up my Monday morning....

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