A woman can be overdressed, never over-elegant. ~ Coco Chanel
Women dominated the modern Parisian couture industry from World War I to the onset of World War II—a phenomenon not seen before, or since. One such example is Ana de Pombo, who was hired in 1937 as the chief designer at Paquin, the venerated maison de couture that flourished during the Belle Époque. A native of Spain, de Pombo studied the piano and danced flamenco before becoming a clothing designer. Her theatrical style is reflected in this richly embroidered linen gown with corselet and bolero.
Of note is that this ensemble was made for one of the era’s best dressed women of style, Aimée de Heeren (1903-2006). Brazilian-born Mrs. De Heeren was among an elite group of Latin American women who inspired fashion trends around the world. Patricia Mears discusses in her essay The Arc of Modernity: Part Two (from the exhibition’s accompanying publication) that Latin America was one of a number of important fashion localities that existed outside of Paris. Others included London, New York, Hollywood, and Shanghai.
The Brazilian Aimée de Heeren moved to New York in the late 1930s and quickly became a fixture in the city’s high-society circles. Patricia Mears elaborates:
Noted for her charm and beauty, she married Rodman Arturo de Heeren, an heir to the Wanamaker department store fortune, in 1941, the same year she was named on the International Best Dressed List. Even before attaining such recognition, Aimée de Heeren had been a leading couture client – of Vionnet, Alix, and Augustabernard.
Elegance in an Age of Crisis features a number of garments owned by De Heeren.
Mrs. de Heeren also patronized the noted Viennese tailoring house of Knize, which had a branch in Paris. Her Knize suit (above), made of tweed, is not only a rare example from this noted firm, it is also an extremely fine example of sports clothing (the culottes are made for hiking) that, with its scalloped collar and pockets, is also feminine and charming.
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The original sketch of this evening dress, designed by Ana de Pombo for the house of Paquin, is in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum. Thank you to Daniel Milford-Cottam for sharing the sketch with us!
See the original sketch online at the V&A’s online collections.