Roger Vivier, Milliner? Yep, For a Short Time During World War II, the Shoemaker Set Up a Hat Shop in New York City
Most everyone—OK, let’s just make that everyone—knows Roger Vivier for shoes. The Paris-born designer got his start crafting shoes for performers Josephine Baker and Mistinguett, opened Maison Vivier in the center of Paris on the Place Vendome in 1937, and was quickly associated with the leading couturiers: Christian Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli and Madame Grès, as well as the Bally Shoe Company. He developed Dior’s shoes for the New Look, and is often credited, somewhat generously, with the invention of the stiletto.
But here’s a little known fact: When World War II broke out and the Nazis invaded Paris, the designer emigrated to the United States, let an apartment at 25 W 55th Street and on this day in 1943, opened a millinery with partner Suzanne Remy (a colleague from his Schiaparelli days), at 24 East 64th Street, the same spot where the Pucci boutique stands today. It’s not that Vivier couldn’t find a job making shoes once stateside; upon arrival he was promptly snapped up by Delman shoes, a thriving New York shoemaker, and remained in its employ for some time. But the designer was harboring a dam of untapped creativity, and Suzanne et Roger filled the void. The business was a quiet success, attracting editors from Vogue and discreet celebrities, drawn to the “unusually exquisite hats that somehow managed to defy wartime regulations,” according to journalist James Kirkup. Vivier’s shoes for Delman were conservative by comparison; it’s as if the designer funneled all of his sartorial fantasies into the hats, and patiently waited for peacetime.
Once the Nazis fled Paris and returned the city to the Parisians, Vivier returned. It was during this time that he, like Dior, purged his creativity into astounding artistic innovations. Again, from Kirkup: “Using skillfully engineered metal structures, Vivier produced graceful cantilever and lightweight shoes with a distinctive high stiletto heel, a style that changed women’s appearance in a dramatic way, for they almost had to learn a new manner of walking and standing around. There had been previous attempts to popularise the dizzying heights of such heels, but they were not so well engineered and were made usually of wood, so that the most slender makes often snapped.”
Or take the shoes Vivier created to complement Dior’s “Corelle” collection, aka the New Look. The high heels emphasized a shapely calf and created high drama to a woman’s entire silhouette. Many styles were so unique and sumptuously embellished they hearkened jewelry, earning him the moniker, the “Fragonard of the shoe” and his shoes, “the Fabergé of Footwear.” For Yves Saint Laurent, Vivier created square-heeled mocassins; Catherine Deneuve created a sensation when she wore his Puritan-buckle shoes in Belle du Jour.
But that was all still to come. On January 7, 1943, Vivier and Remy entertained the press in the afternoon and a specially selected group of clients in the evening. They proudly displayed their collection of hats for spring, and patiently explained the thinking behind the new designs. A fresh season was ahead, and with it, advised the two partners, were hats worn far forward, felts in diminutive Homburgs and their specialty, “cradles,” a sleek silhouette that curved gently upward at the front and back. Hats, they told the press, should above all refresh women with verve and gayety. After all, there was a war on. —Ali Basye
Note: I had little luck finding decent images of Suzanne et Roger hats, but pictures of Vivier’s beautiful post-WWII shoes are in abundance. If you have photos of Suzanne et Roger hats, feel free to attach them in the comments!
Credits: From top: Red and pink satin dinner hat by Suzanne et Roger, October 15, 1944, by John Rawlings, found at Live Journal.Pink shoe featuring a comma heel, and Roger Vivier striped purse and shoe set c.1966-68, both from The Bata Shoe Museum. Gold braid and glass beads shoe by Roger Vivier for Christian Dior, Paris 1952-4; Blue shoe, and Pink satin Roger Vivier for Christian Dior shoe embroidered with metal thread and sequins, Paris about 1958, both from V&A Museum. Catherine Deneuve wearing Roger Vivier shoes in Belle du Jour.