Couture clients invested time and effort into commissioning their wardrobes and the relationship with the designer was an intimate one. At fittings a customer would be able to express her desires as the position and finish of many details. The whole process was a harmonious cooperation between designer, tailor and customer.
Designed by Edwin Hardy Amies
Museum no. T.38&A-1966
Given by Mrs Benita Armstrong
This suit is a British interpretation of Christian Dior's 'New Look'. The suit's full skirt and softly padded hips contrast starkly with the war-time thriftiness of clothes designed just a year earlier. Here, Amies has tempered Dior's fulsome hip padding and economised on the quantity of fabric, resulting in a more moderate silhouette.
Hardy Amies skilfully overcame the continuing shortages and regulations governing the availability and use of materials in the early post-war period. This superbly tailored double-breasted jacket has a nipped-in waist and pockets with deep flaps which curve over and accentuate the hips. The positioning of the large pewter buttons further emphasise the tiny waist. The long bias-cut skirt has soft pleats at the front right and the back left, which creates a flattering garment that also economises on fabric.
Designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972)
Wool tweed lined with taffeta and silk
Museum no. T.128&A-1970
Given by Miss Catherine Hunt
This suit, comprising a loose-fitting jacket and a slim-line skirt, was shown in Balenciaga's Winter collection in 1950 as model No 24. It reveals Balenciaga’s debt to his training in tailoring in Spainand is an early example of the loose-fitting styles which he refined over the 20 years after the Second World War. The magyar sleeve (a sleeve cut in one with the body) reveals how adept Balenciaga was at less traditional forms of construction. He was renowned in the trade for inspecting and resetting sleeves that were not perfect. The slubbed nature of the tweed conceals the beauty of the cut whereas in the original mannequin parade, it was clearly visible because plain wool was used. Tweed was a sturdy woollen fabric that appealed to Balenciaga because of the optical illusions created by the two or more colours in the indistinct flecked pattern.
From 1947 onwards Balenciaga offered two styles: the first fitted and in line with the hour-glass shape of Dior's ‘New Look’, the second semi- fitted or loose. This easy alternative became increasingly fashionable towards the end of the decade. In the early 1950s, a made-to-measure woollen suit from Balenciaga cost about 110,000 francs (£112), a sum well beyond the reach of most consumers (equivalent to about £2,000 today).
Photograph of mandarin hat (felt and velvet) with veil
Designed by Erik and modelled by Anne Gunning
Photography by John French
V&A John French Archive
Dress and petticoat
Designed by Pierre Balmain (1914-82)
Silk grosgrain with embroidery (dress) with silk net and whalebone (petticoat)
Museum no. T.349&A-1975
Given by Mrs G Sachet
Pierre Balmain opened his couture house in 1945. He had previously trained alongside Christian Dior at the couture house of Lucien Lelong. Balmain became one of the most successful couturiers of his generation and by 1956 his house employed 600 workers, with 12 couture workrooms and in-house fur and millinery ateliers.
Photograph of cotton pique jacket with grosgrain collar and cuffs designed by Christian Dior
Pillbox hat designed by Simone Mirman
Modelled by Barbara Miura
Photography by John French for Harper's Bazaar
John French Archive, V&A
Bar suit & hat
Designed by Christian Dior (1905-1957)
Plain weave silk tussore and pleated wool crepe mounted on stiffened taffeta; straw hat
Museum no. T.376&A-1960
Given by Christian Dior Paris
This suit is possibly a 1950s remake of the famous 1947 Bar, possibly for Christian Dior's lecture at the Sorbonne. The 'Bar' suit was one of the most popular models in Dior's first collection which he called 'La Ligne Corolle'. The press dubbed it the 'New Look'; and the name endured. Dior took the softer feminine shape - round sloping shoulder-line, narrow waist and spreading skirts - to the extreme. Despite official complaints, it was a resounding success. 'Harper's Bazaar' published detailed line drawings of the New Look's construction and 'Bar' was also illustrated in 'Vogue' and 'L'Officiel'. To record the designs for his collections, Dior created first notebooks, then charts. At this stage they simply included a sketch and technical specifications for the type and quantity of fabric, though later they became more complex. This information helped Dior to price the designs. 'Bar' cost 59,000 francs. The jacket required 3.7 metres of silk shantung and was fastened with five hand-stitched buttons.
Photograph of dress designed by Hardy Amies and modelled by Barbara Goalen
Photography by John French
John French Archive, V&A
Designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga
Tweed lined with silk
Museum no. T.128&A-1982
Given by Mrs D M Haynes and Mrs M Clark
This suit comprises a fitted jacket and slim-fitting skirt with a kick pleat at the back. It was shown in Balenciaga's Winter collection in 1954 as model no. 55. It reveals Balenciaga’s debt to his training in tailoring in Spain and his capacity for choosing fabrics fit for purpose. His suits were highly regarded and commanded high prices. In the early 1950s, a made-to-measure woollen suit from Balenciaga cost about £112, a sum well beyond the reach of most consumers.
He was adept at manipulating firm fabrics. The style of jacket relies for effect on careful fitting to the body in front and gentle fullness at the back, and in the setting of the sleeves. Balenciaga was renowned in the trade for inspecting and resetting sleeves that were not perfect. Tweed was a sturdy woollen fabric that appealed to Balenciaga because of the optical illusions created by the two or more colours in the indistinct flecked pattern.
In a survey of French couture houses compiled at this time, Celia Bertin wrote of Balenciaga, ‘I noticed long ago that women who wear his tailored suits seem to have them moulded on to their bodies, so much do the jackets appear wedded to their figures, while leaving them complete freedom of movement’.