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style From L-R: Hippocampe evening gown in black Dent de Lyon, decorated with a black feather bird with a rhinestone beak. L’Officiel de la mode, no. 152, April 1934. © Studio Dorvyne/Collection Sophie Rochas; Advertisement for the perfume Femme. © Collection Sophie Rochas; Hélène and Sophie Rochas wearing identical designs by Marcel Rochas, in the garden of the house on rue Barbet-de-Jouy, 1953. © Collection Sophie Rochas All images courtesy of Marcel Rochas: Designing French Glamour

“A

couture studio is like a painter’s atelier,” writes Sophie Rochas in the preface of her glossy new tome Marcel Rochas: Designing French Glamour. “When you visit it at a young age, the designs, colours and smells imprint themselves on you. You can simply close your eyes and let your memory wander, to recapture the images and sensations, ever intact. They stay under your skin and in your soul for the rest of your life.” A number of years in the making, Sophie’s research sprang from only one other book written about her father, supplemented by hours spent poring over library archives. The decision to release Marcel Rochas’ story – the youngest couturier in Paris at the age of 23 (before Yves Saint Laurent came along) – came from “a growing desire to give rebirth to him” she explains over the phone in charmingly emphatic Franglaise. “It is a story of love for my father who died when I was only 10. I wanted a beautiful story and it has been a journey of love to keep his memory alive. It is a portrait of a man, a father, a perfumer and a couturier.” The legacy of this “famous unknown”, has, unlike those of contemporaries Elsa Schiaparelli, Coco Chanel, and Yves Saint Laurent, become a blind spot in the narrative of fashion history. Each period, Sophie writes, “tends to embody itself in a figure whose name and marks stay in our memory. Chance plays its role here, as ever, governing our memories and their wanderings and awakenings… His name is familiar, his legend remains, but often the impression is vague, uncertain… My father is numbered among those dead poets whose work has dissolved like footprints in the sand.” Born in 1902, at first Marcel Rochas seemed destined to practice law, but after assisting a fabric manufacturer in order to pay for his bar studies, “the seeds of fortune had fallen on fertile ground”, and he switched careers upon his first marriage to Yvonne Coutanceau in 1924. “While other people may say that as children they always wanted to be a president, pilot, doctor, teacher, fireman or priest, my father became a couturier not by the grace of God, but by the grace of a woman,” writes Sophie. Setting up his own couture house in August 1925, he wanted to move away from the tomboy garçonne look of the time towards more feminine, sporty clothes for younger women. By 1927 he was employing cubist elements with pointed cuts and geometric designs, while maintaining flowing feminine lines. Over the next 30 years, he would continue to explore his art with audacity. “The man who

confessed… that he was more interested in innovation than in selling, proved his ability to combine lines, forms, material, and colours, with a boldness that inspired the names of one of his first perfumes, Audace,” Sophie surmises. After the rippling devastation of the Wall Street crash in 1929, Rochas showed a real eye for the market; while many houses cut back, he adopted a high-price policy and targeted a select clientele, charging on average 3,000 francs for a dress. In 1931, he played with printed fabrics dotted with birds and multi-coloured flowers, contrasting with Chanel’s head-to-toe black and French couturier Jean Patou’s dark blue periods. In 1934, inspired by 20th century painter Georges Braque, he had the idea of placing a white gull or a blackbird on the shoulder of a dress. And thus another of his signature designs, the Oiseau gown, was born. A keen traveller, he drew inspiration from Spain, Brazil, Hollywood and New York, and during the war he continued to launch collections in an occupied Paris

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Profile for Runwild Media Group

Vantage Magazine June 2015  

Welcome to the June edition of The Vantage magazine, celebrating the dynamism of the area and bringing you the latest features, articles and...

Vantage Magazine June 2015  

Welcome to the June edition of The Vantage magazine, celebrating the dynamism of the area and bringing you the latest features, articles and...

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