My colleague Eva and I went to Marjorie Merriweather Post's estate and museum Hillwood today. We went to attend an interesting lecture about Callot Soeurs, a design house started by four sisters in Paris in 1895.
The lecture and tour was given by Mr. Kurtz who curates and maintains all of the clothing and textile collections at the estate/museum. The man is a walking textbook and very patient and eager to answer questions.
According to Mr. Kurtz, the sisters mother was a seamstress and their father dealt in antique fabrics and laces so they had a fabulous grounding for the venture. At the time they started their workroom Charles Worth was at the end of his career and due to their fantastic designs and the quality of their work, they were able to take his place as the premier design house.
The oldest sister, Marie did all of the design work, Margaret ran the workroom, Regina handled all of the finances and business details and Josephine handled the appointments and clients. By 1920, Regina and Josephine had left the business and Marie became the sole proprietor of the business with Margaret remaining to run the workroom.
At the time the sisters started Callot Soeurs, many of the design houses were beginning to bring in sewing machines to the workrooms. Callet Soeurs sewed every stitch of every garment by hand until 1933 when Marie passed away and her sons took over the house. By 1914, they employed 600 people in the workroom to bead, embroider and stitch and at their peak, they had 800 employees.
After the lecture we were led to Marjorie's dressing rooms (yes, plural!) where we were able to get up close and personal with the three extant gowns created for her by Callet Soeurs. The quality and workmanship was incredible and left me almost breathless thinking of the time and skill required to achieve those exquisite results.
If any of you ever have an opportunity to visit Hillwood Estate and Museum, do it! The grounds are fabulous, full of gardening ideas, the house is a treasure trove of Russian artwork, the house is a maze of rooms each more fantastic than the last and of course, there are the clothes, jewels, accessories, portraits and collections of everything under the sun.
I left feeling inspired by the designs and workmanship. I also felt a sense of responsibility to carry on the traditions of quality design and workmanship to share with all of you.