Vintage Couture Heaven

I was searching online about my favorite vintage dealer, Didier Ludot, and stumbled upon this new video series by Hamish Bowles, world-class couture collector and Editor-at-Large at US Vogue Magazine.

It features Hamish traveling the world and visiting many of the top collections and vendors of vintage haute couture and ready-to-wear, curated by a true connoisseur. The series includes a visit to Didier Ludot’s shop.

You can find it here: http://video.vogue.com/watch/vintage-bowles-shopping-at-didier-ludot-in-paris?c=series

The series is classy and worth a look. I always enjoy Hamish Bowles’ writing in Vogue.

Didier Ludot’s tiny shop in the Palais Royal in Paris can only be described as a crammed museum of fashion, and if you’re lucky enough to charm him into having a look you can see some of the great works of 20th century haute couture. Across the courtyard, (former home of the author Colette, and a place with a checkered history that includes a number of duels) you’ll find Didier Ludot’s other shop, “La Petite Robe Noire” (The Little Black Dress) which sells vintage designer black dresses and his own line of clothing–a modern takes on vintage cocktail numbers. When you see stars on the red carpet coyly saying they’re wearing vintage “from Paris”, it’s probably from his shop.

Part of my story is that, as the wife of the lawyer for a number of big show-biz events, a couple of times a year I need to don a gown with a capital “G”. Shopping that should be fun is actually a pain, because modern eveningwear is expensive and awful.

About 15 years ago, my husband, (who unlike most American men has a good eye, an appreciation for good design, and no intimidation about shopping for his wife) spotted this dress as we were walking by Didier’s shop on the way to Juveniles Wine Bar, which is around the corner from the Palais Royal:

Late 50s Jean Patou Dress designed by Karl Lagerfeld.

Late 50s Jean Patou Dress designed by Karl Lagerfeld.

It was on a Barbie-waist-size mannequin, which coincidentally is not my size. When we looked in the shop, Didier, clad in what appeared to be Louis the 16th’s striped pajama bottoms and dancing slippers, was negotiating with a couple of Japanese guys over a 60s Hermes Kelly bag. My protests about the dress not fitting and being mortified went unbidden.

My husband shoved me in the shop, charmed Didier, and before you knew it, I was being shoveled into the hidden interior mesh and boned corset onto which the dress is loosely tacked. The dress itself was made of a heavily-woven iridescent aubergine silk, lined with silk organza, and it was so stiff it could almost stand by itself. The label was Jean Patou, which at that time was designed by Karl Lagerfeld, just starting his career.

Inside the streamlined exterior of the dress was miles of hand-sewing and more engineering than the Golden Gate. To get the corset closed, I would exhale forcefully, then have my husband do up the band of hooks and eyes on the back. After that he would zip up the zipper on the dress over the corset, and from then on I would not draw another full breath until the dress was off again.

I wore that dress to at least 10 events, because, unlike the very American concept of being cool by wearing “something new”, a dress that distinctive can be worn repeatedly, in the more European concept of something being a signature of your taste. The corset gave me a wasp-waist, wonderful posture, and then incredible internal distress as soon as I would eat something at dinner after the event. The last time I wore it, my son was three months old, and upon returning home to a squalling, hungry child and a dress that required ten minutes and a lady’s maid to remove, I hung it up for good. Oh, how I wish I had taken a picture of the interior before I sold it!

Since then, I’ve always made a point to peer in the vitrine of Didier’s shop while walking through the Palais Royal on the way to Juveniles, and once in awhile, I go in and pick something up.

I’ve seen that my blog has had visitors from Saudi Arabia, South Africa, the Netherlands and other points in Europe, New Zealand, Australia, India, Asia, US, Canada… Thank you for stopping by! Do you have a favorite “vintage” shopping place in your area? Please leave a comment; I’d love to hear about it.

9 thoughts on “Vintage Couture Heaven

  1. Hello, I too have been inside Didier Ludot except at the time I didn’t realize the significance of this . He was such a I nice man too. I was allowed to look inside some wonderful garments including a Schiaparelli “circus jacket” which was in parts . I am not sure of what the story was but I had a wonderful time . I then headed across the courtyard to an eccentric shop which sold military medals . The proprietor here was less than friendly . Marie Antoinette shopped for her gowns an
    D millinery at the Palais Royal . Rose Bertin had her shop on one of the outside corners in the Rue St Honore.its just about my favourite place in Paris I think.

    • Hello, Marianne, thanks for sharing those interesting tidbits about the Palais Royal. Oh, how I would have loved to look inside that Schiaparelli jacket! I do love walking around the Palais Royal, and when my son was little, he used to climb around on that installation of columns in the courtyard. The grouchy vendor of military medals is still there, as my husband found me a “medale maternelle” there (it’s the medal given to women in France who have five children or more, and it says something like “your country thanks you” on it). A number of more modern shops have moved in, such as Marc Jacobs, and Marie Antoinette probably would be shopping there now.

  2. And speaking of Schiaparelli, in upcoming posts I’ll be showing how I made a one-sleeve Schiaparelli wrap from a pattern by Decades of Style. Also, I just scored a Vogue Paris Original Schiaparelli pattern on Ebay, which I’ll be making up later this year.

  3. Luckygirl you! It used to be that you could thrift around here and find some amazing stuff, but not anymore. They have “sorters” that pick out the good stuff and send it to Paris!

    • Hi Carmen, I know, when I bought this dress from Didier 15 years ago, it wasn’t a bargain, but it was less by a lot than I would have paid for a not-so-nice dress off the rack at Neiman’s. Now the prices are crazy, but I’ve also sized out of these wasp-waist dresses anyway…
      I just remembered that I once spotted Hamish in another Paris vintage store called “Ragtime” near the Buci Market in the 6th, but was too shy to say anything. Now that I know he has this giant couture collection (apparently a warehouse full of stuff) he wouldn’t be able to get rid of me.

  4. I’ve never gone vintage shopping even though I love clothes from the 20s and 50s-70s. I want to one day. Aside from that, I LOVE your gown. That is one of my favourite colours ever.

    • Thanks, hon, sounds like you need to go to Paris! I think everybody should at some point.
      Nowadays I prefer to sew vintage rather than shop vintage. There are a number of retro websites, but We Sew Retro (http://wesewretro.com/) has a lot of fun sewing projects by people all over the world. Check it out!
      Also there are some great vintage places in L.A…including The Way We Wore (http://www.thewaywewore.com/) and Decades (http://www.decadesinc.com/). Do a little window shopping and it may inspire your sewing!

      • It’s been over a decade since I went to Paris – a bit before I started sewing. I think sewing vintage is something I would rather do because I like the techniques they used in the past.

        I will check out those LA places though. I know there is a store across from “The Fabric Store” that my friend likes to check out occasionally. It’s a few steps from “The Sycamore Kitchen”

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