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 Read More »

What’s Her Line? Lilly Daché was the Most Famous Milliner in America

How many modern-day milliners can you name? One? None? The name Mme. Lilly Daché is unknown to 21st century fashionistas, but the milliner was so well known in her day that she appeared, voice disguised, on the popular game show, “What’s My Line?,” where panelists asked a series of yes-or-no questions to guess the identity of the celebrity mystery guest. Daché, who died on this day in 1989 at age 97, was a name not only “known coast to coast,” as panelist Arlene Francis queries in the video of the designer’s “What’s My Line?” segment (see below), but controlled a multi-million empire, including ownership of the Lilly Daché Building, nine stories at 78 East 56th Street, that served as her salon, business headquarters and garden apartment from 1937 to 1967. Through the 1930s and into the early 1960s, every stylish woman with an extra few dollars bought a Lilly Daché hat—particularly the colorful turbans she perfected by shaping them right on the model’s head—before they bought a new dress.

“I would talk to the woman, ask her where she planned to wear the hat, what kind of dress she would wear it with,” Daché told an interviewer late in her career. “If she thought her nose was too long, I would make a hat with a brim and pull it down so you couldn’t see the nose so much. I made everything with love, affection and Read More »

The Power of Accessories

The tradition of using clothing as a marker of rank, class and distinction goes at least as far back as the ancient Romans and the varying manners of tying a toga. In visual records, fine and rich clothing and jewels were and are easy markers of wealth and prestige. But even in seemingly casual and random scenes, artists have very purposefully featured certain items of apparel as a way of creating identities for their subjects.

In 1881, Auguste Renoir, one of the leading Impressionist painters of the day, painted one of his most famous canvases. “The Luncheon of the Boating Party” is a friendly and seemingly relaxed scene. It is as if Renoir were dining with his friends and he has simply pulled away for a second, glanced back over his shoulder and spotted a scene with the perfect light and the perfect lightness; a scene which perfectly encapsulated the fleeting quality of Impressionism. And yet, everything about Renoir’s painting is deliberate and the artist isn’t just interested in the moment. This is evidenced by the way he pays particular attention to each of his subjects’ hats.

In fact, only one (maybe two, it is hard to tell as his head and body are mostly obscured) person in the entire scene does not wear a hat. Because of this, he becomes the most ambiguous character in the party. We can tell who the other sitters Read More »

Happy St. Catherine’s Day, Patron Saint of Milliners!

Today, November 25, marks the day where single French ladies celebrate the steadfast resolve of a fourth-century gal named Catherine of Alexandria, today our Patron Saint of Milliners and Couture. The story goes that Roman Emperor Maxentius had his eye on Catherine, but she refused to marry him and was promptly executed. (Another story, by way of the church, says she was executed for spreading Christianity across Europe.) Either way, Catherine was named the patron saint of unmarried women nine centuries later, and on this day, gals around France place hats on their heads—traditionally a starched cap on the eldest unmarried woman in town and paper bonnets on the heads of the others—and spend the day praying to St. Catherine for a worthy husband. The tradition of hats is what led to Catherine landing the patronage of millinery, as well as launching the term “Catherinette,” meaning an unmarried woman age 25 or older, and a French saying, “to do St. Catherine’s hair,” meaning “to remain an old maid.” Charming!

Thankfully, this holiday has morphed through the years from a humiliating experience for single women to one embraced as a kicky holiday by French couture and design houses and milliners. Young seamstresses traditionally shut the shop doors to the public and have an all-day party with champagne, dancing and sweets, while making elaborate and outrageous Read More »

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