Mad Men Era 1: The Old Guard I

Mona Sterling Talia Balsam Betty Draper January Jones “Ladies Room” Mad Men Season 1
Mona Sterling (Talia Balsam) and Betty Draper (January Jones) in “Ladies Room” (Mad Men, Season 1)

To kick off my series on Mad Men-era designer patterns, we’ll be looking at four established couturiers who released designs through Vogue Patterns in the early 1960s: Jacques Heim, Madame Grès, Jo Mattli, and Jean Dessès. All four are associated with Paris and presided over a fashion house before the Second World War.

The series will proceed in roughly chronological order, based on when the designer established his or her fashion house. For each designer, I’ll include one standout pattern from the period 1960-1965 together with a brief biographical note.

Jacques Heim (1899-1967)

Jacques Heim got his start in fashion with his parents’ fur business, the Isadore & Jeanne Heim Fur House. In 1920 the young Monsieur Heim became manager of the family business. Five years later he introduced a clothing line; by 1929 he had established his own couture house. The designer launched a juniors line in 1937 and later, in the postwar period, a chain of Heim boutiques. Jacques Heim was President of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne from 1958 until his resignation in 1962.

Vogue 1333, modelled by Jean Shrimpton, is a short evening dress with draped over-tunic. (Click on the image to see the technical drawing.) My mother, who is about Jean Shrimpton’s age, made this dress in silk lining fabric when the pattern first came out. Although this Vogue Paris Original shows the usual credit, ‘Photographed in Paris,’ the marble-panelled walls in the photo evoke a neoclassical Italian villa in the style of Fellini. I half-expect Anouk Aimée to walk into the frame:

1960s Jacques Heim evening dress pattern - Vogue 1333
Vogue 1333 by Jacques Heim (1964) Evening dress. Model: Jean Shrimpton. Image via The Blue Gardenia.

Mme Grès (1903-1993)

Although the house of Grès was not established until the early 1940s, Alix Grès (born Germaine Emilie Krebs) was designer for the earlier house of Alix in the 1930s. While apprenticing at Premet she changed her name from Germaine to Alix. Alix was so successful in her next position, as assistant to the couturier Julie Barton, that her employer changed the house’s name to Alix. The designer became Alix Grès with her 1937 marriage: the name Grès, an anagram of Serge, is the name her painter husband used to sign his work. Alix Grès had fled Nazi-occupied Paris in 1940 but returned in 1941 to open her own couture house. She was elected President of the Chambre Syndicale in 1972. Grès is famous for her mastery of cut.

Vogue 1507, modelled by Simone D’Aillencourt, is a beautifully cut bias dress. All pieces but the neckline band are cut on the bias; seaming detail shapes the garment through the upper body, six points converging below the neckline. (Click on the image to see the technical drawing.)

1960s Grès bias dress pattern - Vogue 1507
Vogue 1507 by Grès (1965) Bias dress. Model: Simone D’Aillencourt. Image via The Blue Gardenia.

Mattli (1907-1982)

The Swiss-born Guiseppe Gustavo Mattli is credited as Mattli of England and, later, Jo Mattli on Vogue patterns. Mattli, who had moved to London in 1926, trained at the house of Premet in the late 1920s before establishing the house of Mattli in London in 1934. The house moved to Paris in 1938. Four years later, Mattli became the founding member of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers. Although the house’s couture branch closed in 1955, Mattli ready-to-wear continued into the 1970s.

Vogue 1343, a sleeveless cocktail dress and matching coat with fur collar and kimono sleeves, is the design for this week that’s most in keeping with Mad Men. It’s very much in the style of Trudy Campbell:

1960s Jo Mattli coat and dress pattern - Vogue 1343
Vogue 1343 by Jo Mattli (1964) Coat and dress. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

Jean Dessès (1904-1970)

The Egyptian-born Jean Dessès worked as assistant to the couturier Jane before establishing his own house in 1937. The house of Dessès enjoyed great success in the 1950s, and both Guy Laroche and Valentino worked at Jean Dessès before launching their own labels. Jean Dessès retired from the fashion business in the mid-1960s.

Vogue 1189, a design from the early 1960s, is an elegant cocktail or evening dress with raised waistline and gathered bodice. The straps continue into back ties that secure the bloused back panel. (Click on the image to see the back views.) The evening-length version is very regal:

1960s Dessès evening gown pattern- Vogue 1189
Vogue 1189 by Dessès (c. 1962) Cocktail or evening dress. Image via the Vintage Patterns Wiki.

It’s unusual to see evening wear with such distinctive details on Mad Men; the characters generally favour simpler silhouettes. For this period, it’s reasonable to assume that the Vogue designs are from haute couture collections. And yet these patterns were available to purchase for a few dollars apiece…

Next week: The Old Guard II, featuring four more designers: Griffe, Trigère, Balmain, and Cardin.

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