The Nina Hyde Collection: an interview with Vionnet, age 98

Madeleine Vionnet and fashion journalist Nina Hyde with the miniature mannequin used by the designer to drape her toiles in the round, 1974.

Culling through the collection a few weeks ago in preparation for a patron researching Madeleine Vionnet, I was delighted to find Nina Hyde’s original notes from a 1974 interview with the renowned couturière.  Vionnet, who was 98 at the time, was to die less than eight months later, making this interview with The Washington Post fashion journalist, Hyde, one of her very last.  While Vionnet was bed-ridden at the time—”She rests in bed in a corner of the room near the window-propped up on pillows with pink covers and fagotting detail, pink sheets, pink mohair blanket wearing a pink knitted bed jacket-a gift from Balenciaga,”—Hyde’s notes reveal a still-keen mind that was not above making jests about her advanced years, “You don’t realize how old I am. I am 98.  That’s a 9 followed by an 8!”

Highlights from the interview include:

On Coco Chanel: “She was a person of good taste.  I saw her at meetings, but we never spoke.  She only called to one taste, but to please many women you must appeal to many tastes.”

On Paul Poiret: “Poiret, he was not a couturier, he was a fantasiste.  Not a couturier, and not a costumer, a dilettante.”

On menswear: “I never designed for men… It was sufficient to create for women.  I made enough.  Did you want me to dress all of France?”

On her working method: “There were about 100 pieces in each collection.  I personally made the toiles for each.  That’s all I did.”

“I worked from this little doll, always.  In muslin.  No drawing.  Never, never, NEVER and I won’t do it and it musn’t be done that way.  When you make a model you must have the real stuff or that linen (muslin).  It is soft enough and firm enough and you can do what you like with it.  All my models were made like that.  The I gave it to my workrooms and they made it in the size of the models or the client.”

“I showed a collection twice a year.  The sketches were made afterwards.”

On the secret to her longevity: “I’m always well.  You know 98 and to be as strong as I am. No secrets.  I am made very solid.  My father was Jurassien [from the French-Comte region of Jura], and moi aussi.  There are no secrets.  Surely I don’t stay away from wine, what a frightful thought!  I have a good maître d’hôtel—when I ask her for something  that is not good for me, she doesn’t give it to me.”

This gem of an interview with one of the great fashion innovators of the twentieth century is only a sliver of what the Nina Hyde Collection has to offer.  Hyde, who covered society and fashion for the The Washington Post from 1972 and 1990, kept copious notes, records, clippings and designer files that comprise the collection held by SPARC.  The collection is especially strong in its materials related to Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, the First Ladies (Nixon to Clinton), the punk movement, Geoffrey Beene, Fendi, Calvin Klein, Princess Diana, Valentino and articles written by fellow fashion journalist Eugenia Sheppard.  More information on the collection as well as a detailed finding aid can be found here.

A special thank you to Caroline Evans for sharing my enthusiasm over this interview and encouraging me to share it with all of you on Material Mode!