Couture Confidential

A muse inspires and a model flatters. But no woman matters more to Paris fashion than the saleswoman or vendeuse. These elite employees are the direct links between customers and creator. A vendeuse has to personify style. But, unlike models or celebrities, she must also be discreet. Her job is to win her label faithful clients—and retain them.

From 1902 through the late 1920s, this was the job of Parisienne Alice Alleaume. It was no accident; Alice was born to couture. Her mother had been a modiste (fine dressmaker) since the Second Empire, and both her older sisters were already vendeuses. The oldest, Hortense, worked at Worth—the house that was famous for having invented couture.

The story of this Paris fashion family is extraordinary, as is the new exhibition created to tell it. “The Novel of A Wardrobe,” at Musée Carnavalet, delivers just what it promises. A romance told by dresses, hats, shoes and jewels, it should appeal to girls of any age. The wardrobe at its center belonged to Alice Alleaume but those of her mother, sisters and daughter enhance it.

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