This photograph by Max Dupain (22 Apr 1911 – 27 Jul 1992), signed and dated 1936, is from the archive of Madame Louise Lamoureux, who ran a Sydney fashion house specialising in embroidery and hand-beading. The model is thought to be the photographer’s cousin, Lucille Dupain[i], who also appeared in contemporary local theatre productions.
The strong vertical format of the composition emphasises the streamlined figure of the woman and the large brandy balloon adds a perfect symmetrical curve, echoing the machine form aesthetic of the modernist era. Similar glass vessels appeared in other photographs by Max Dupain, two of which can be seen in the Art Gallery of New South Wales collection. Dupain went on to specialise in architectural photography, but described his pre-WW2 commercial and fashion images as some of his best illustrative work.
Fashion and photography were heavily influenced by Hollywood in the 1920s and 30s with the rise in popularity of films and their stylishly dressed stars. The dramatic top and side lighting used in this shot was known as ‘Hollywood’ lighting and the sequinned evening gown, of the type designed and sold by Madame Lamoureux, is similar to the Adrian creation worn by Joan Crawford in The Bride Wore Red, a film released in the same year. In the United States Hollywood style fashions were often the result of collaborations between designers, manufacturers and studios that ensured that garments would be available for retail sale in time for the release of a film. A Lamoureux gown, complete with a cape like the one in the film and embellished with more than 200,000 sequins was shown in a 1936 article published in the Australian Women’s Weekly.
Madame Louise Emilienne Lamoureux worked with Callot Soeurs in Paris and other fashion houses in Europe before coming to Australia in 1927. She employed the Lunéville technique for the hand-sewing of sequins or beads onto fabric. In her city salon, she trained a small number of women in this and in Cornely machine embroidery, methods little known in Australia at the time. Using her original designs, Madame Lamoureux and her staff embellished garments and accessories for leading dressmakers and stores in Sydney and interstate. The enterprising embroiderer also advertised evening classes in Lunéville, offering members of the public the opportunity to train in an ‘artistic’ trade with the only expert in Australia.
The technique originated in the French town of Lunéville in 1867 when a worker added a small crochet, or hook, to the traditional embroidery needle which had a large elongated eye and a blunted point. The traditional hand embroiderers of the time (mainteuses) worked on the outside of the fabric to sew on rhinestones, beads, sequins, braid or metallic thread. The Lunévilleuses worked on the reverse side of the fabric, a quicker method that consequently reduced costs.
The numbers of beads or sequins used to make gowns like the one in the photograph and the high level of manual skill involved were often the focus of articles about Madame Lamoureux. Gowns that bore 125,000 sequins and 240,000 beads respectively appeared in advertisements for her salon. She imported garments from France, such as the evening dress that is now part of the MAAS collection, as resources for bead and sequins when these were unobtainable locally.
Madame Lamoureux was photographed wearing one of her own designs to promote what the newspapers described as a ‘novel’ competition run by the Australian British Aeroplane company in July/August 1934. The dress was also displayed at Grace Brothers where the French designer appeared on Fridays between 3pm and 9pm with other fashion items from her studio in the weeks preceding the draw. The person who correctly guessed the number of sequins on the gown, which was valued at 50 guineas, would win a selection of accessories from Madame Lamoureux, valued at £2/2-, £1/15/- and £1/10-.
There was a great deal of local pride in the production garments of such high quality incorporating traditional European techniques:
‘Bit by bit this new country of ours is adopting industries which have become almost historical in the older countries. Beading, which was formerly an exclusive work of the French, is being started in Sydney. Already hundreds of bags, collars, yokes, cuffs and laces of exquisite hand workmanship, have found their way into city shops. In fact, the majority of beadings worn to-day are locally made.’
All That Glitters. The Sunday Sun and Guardian, April 15, 1934
Mme Lamoureux’s staff were praised by the press as being ‘as good as the French’ in their mastery of the intricacies of the Lunéville technique and when she advertised for employees, her business was described as ‘high class’.
Other photographs from the archive of Madame Lamoureux are currently on display in Carmen and Mr John in the Executive Level 4 corridor (part of the MAAS Centre for Fashion) until May 2017.
[i] Thanks to Sally McInerney
Kathy Hackett, Photo Librarian, 10 April 2017