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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 26, 2001

In the fall, a French fashion spectacular

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

Tom Klobe, director of the University of Hawai'i Art Gallery, sat in his office cubicle, crammed with books, files, papers and sundry artworks, and told the story of the "Theatre de la Mode," his most ambitious catch for the gallery so far, arriving in October.

"In 1945, the war was still going on, but Paris had been liberated," he began. (Liberation had come in May of that year.) "That's when the fashion industry came up with this idea to raise money to reconstruct France."

Although war-ravaged and drained of material resources, France was determined to re-establish itself as the world's fashion capital — even if it had to do so in miniature because of a lack of materials. In a burst of magnificent and extraordinary collaboration, French fashion and set designers went to work on one of the largest small exhibits the world had ever seen.

The show consisted of nine elaborate stage sets — one of which was 29 feet long and 20 feet wide — each filled with lifelike, 27-inch-tall fashion mannequins decked out in exquisite couture finery.

"They were so conscious of detail that even the underwear was there. The purses had compacts and lipsticks in them that were made to scale. The buttonholes were sewn so that they would work with miniature buttons."

The lavish exhibit took the fashion world by storm. It toured Europe and the United States in 1946 before it faded from view and was forgotten. The French lost track of it, and for decades presumed it was lost.

But in 1983, the pieces were rediscovered in storage in the private Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Wash., an obscure small exhibition space. They had been sent there for storage by a member of the Spreckels family, who happened to serve on the boards of the museum where the works had been shown in San Francisco, as well as on the Maryhill board. The exhibit was returned to Paris for restoration. From there, the show again went on world tour in the early 1990s and received wide acclaim.

Theatre de La Mode will begin its third world tour at the University of Hawai'i Art Gallery on Oct. 17. It will remain at the UH Art Gallery through Dec. 21.