Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Vintage Mystery: Alix Barton, Mme. Gres and Marcelle Tizeau

The split skirt dress I showed you on Monday is from Autumn,1941.  It was shown by the House of Alix.  Note that I did not say it was designed by Alix, now more commonly known as Mme. Gres,  because, quite frankly, I'm not sure who designed this dress.  It's a long story, but let me explain.

Germaine Barton apprenticed with Premet before striking out on her own.  She changed her first name to Alix and opened Alix Barton Couture at 83, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore in 1934.  However, Alix was only part owner of the firm.  She had difficulties with her silent partners and left "6 years later" according to Caroline Rennolds Milbank in "Couture, The Great Designers."  That would put Mme. Gres leaving Alix Barton Couture sometime in 1940, but I cannot confirm an actual date.

In October 1941, this full page ad appears in a French fashion magazine.  Alix Couture, 83, rue de Faubourg Saint Honore, Paris.  Translation of the writing in the lower right: "Each day, from 11 to 3, presentation of the new collection."  Note the missing name Barton.  The photos below show garments from this new collection.

An Alix daytime dress, quilted vest and coat, Fall 1941.

An Alix draped jersey gown from Fall 1941, that is distinctively Mme. Gres,
but is it her original design or simply a copy of her earlier work?

An at-home lounging robe by Alix, Fall 1941.

Alix Barton adopted the name Mme. Gres (an anagram of her new husband's first name) and opened her new couture business, the House of Gres, in 1942 at 1, rue de la Paix during the height of the German occupation. Her house was almost immediately shut down by the Nazis for showing a collection done in red, white and blue silks, the colors of the French flag.  She reopened in 1943 and her designs are once again featured in fashion magazines under the name Mme. Gres.

Gown by Mme. Gres, 1943.

Enter Marcelle Tizeau.

Gown, Marcel Tizeau, 1935.
Marcelle Tizeau opened her couture house in 1935 at 101, boulevard Haussmann in Paris.  (That's a short 8 minute walk from rue de Faubourg Saint-Honore where Alix Barton Couture was located.)  Did Tizeau and Alix Barton know each other?  We'll never know for sure, but it's quite likely.

Gown, Alix Marcelle Tizeau, 1942.
In 1942, French fashion magazines stop referring to Alix, instead calling the design house Alix Marcelle Tizeau.  It would seem that the silent partners of the House of Alix hired Marcelle Tizeau to design the line.  Or perhaps Tizeau was one of the silent partners.

Jersey dress, Alix Marcelle Tizeau, 1942.
While Marcelle Tizeau did design her own distinctive look for Alix, she also worked a lot with draped jersey in designs that were clearly inspired by Mme. Gres, such as the dress shown above.  By the summer of 1944, the name of the house has changed yet again, now being known simply as Marcelle Alix.

      Draped jersey dress by Mme. Gres, 1945.                         Draped jersey dress by Marcelle Alix, 1945.

I can only imagine how irked Mme. Gres must have been to see her techniques being copied and labeled with her original Alix name!  But Mme. Gres prevailed.  The Marcelle Alix line disappears from mention in 1947, while Mme. Gres continued to design couture into the 1970s.

Draped jersey gown, Mme. Gres, 1948.
So, back to our original question:  Who designed the split skirt dress shown in the first photo at the top of this post?  It was either Mme. Gres or Marcelle Tizeau, but it's one of those vintage mysteries.  We'll never know for sure!