Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Madame Bruyere: 1930s French Couture in the U.S.

30s couture dress by Bruyere, Paris France
1930's Dress from Bruyere Couture of Paris

This 1930's dress was designed by a French woman who had formed her own couture house in about 1929.  Madame Bruyer (1881 – 1961) was raised in rural France, moving into Paris when she grew older.  As a young woman she worked for several known couture houses, Lanvin being the most famous. 

Although her business was young in 1932, she had a large enough following to be mentioned in an article in "Fortune" magazine that year.  At that time, the top couture designers were Vionnet, Lanvin, Chanel, Patou, Augustabernard, Mainboucher and Schiaparelli.  Bruyer was followed by the American crowd, becoming well known in New York, as official "adaptions" such as this dress were sold at the best stores on Fifth Avenue.

Her first salon was on Rue De Mondovi, as her label lists. An informal survey made in New York stores in the fall of 1931 showed that while Vionnet and Lanvin were the most popular labels for these "adaptions", the Bruyere label placed third.  This was more popular than Mainbocher, Schiaparelli or Chanel.  It was clear that Americans had their own look and preferred styles that differed from the well publicized top design houses.

30s Bruyere couture from Paris, France

These copies were gained by American store buyers in a complex process involving not only the couturier, but also an assistant called an commissionaire who steered the buyer though the purchase process.  Buying agencies were just beginning to be formed where the commissionaire's commission could be avoided.  The average price those department store buyers paid during the 1920's was often $500 cash for a dress design.  Then buyers would bring their couture design back to the U.S. and have it reproduced here for retail sale. Those design purchases were the couture designer's main profit for that design, as they did not earn percentages for sales in the overseas market.  Parisian salon customers and long time celebrity customers would pay much less than that for their designs, and seldom in cash in a Paris salon.

At one time Madame Bruyere stated that it took two months to create a collection.  She presented two shows annually.  Each garment in the nearly 200 garment group was given a name.   Later with her success, she would open a salon in 1937 at 22 place Vendome.  

couture dress from the 30s

In 1947, after the war ended, she participated in a U.S. gift presentation by the French called the Gratitude Train.  She was part of a project where fashion dolls were dressed in outfits from specific eras.  Her's was an 19th century style design.  At that time her employees numbered 328.  

In 1951, Madame Bruyere was contracted with an American dress company: Baron-Peters.  She would design outfits for this company that appealed to the U.S. customer, yet retained her design style, known for its simplicity.  This was her first pre-a-porter experience.  The retail prices ranged from $50 for a dress to $90 for a suit.  She achieved the price reduction by removing costly handwork and details usually found in couture.  In 1958 she was known for her "flowing lines and lady like clothes".  Her clients being well know celebrities and social matrons.  

30s couture dress, by Bruyere, back view shown

As for this dress, the silhouette is very like those worn in the early 1930's.  The brown crepe back satin and net embroidered in chinelle textiles have colors that seem to be like those in her collection for November 1932: inspired by a mountain scene, with maple brown, mist gray and cedar green.