Marcel Rochas: Designing French Glamour didn't get much publicity and hype upon its release in April 2015. It was a relatively quiet affair lightly documented in a few fashion publications - not nearly enough this tome and the man who inspired it truly deserve.
Written by Sophie Rochas, Marcel's daughter, this is a beautiful, nostalgic, sincere, intimate and loving memoir about a fashion designer who created alongside Chanel and Schiaparelli and yet became somewhat of a fashion ghost for the future generations - he died suddenly aged 53 leaving the house to his third wife, Helene who kept it afloat without taking enough care of preserving her husband's full name or ensuring that the legacy of 30 years of work is remembered and appreciated. She believed that "everything has already been said..." and "everyone knows him". The remark left yet another crack in a relationship between her and her daughter whom Helen even tried to sue in order to stop this book from being published.
"Marcel Rochas is a famous unknown. His name is familiar, his legend remains, but often the impression is vague, uncertain...
Chance plays its role here, as ever, governing our memories and their wanderings and reawakening. One man will stay alive as a name that gradually becomes a word, and this word engenders a formless crystallisation the original of which gradually fades.
One day my father's first name disappeared from the perfume brand. It is a sad fact that Marcel Rochas has even disappeared from dictionaries. My father is numbered among those dead poets whose work has dissolved like footprints in the sand..." wrote Sophie Rochas in the preface.
For her, Designing french glamour was "a duty of remembrance". For us, it is a beautiful story about a Parisian couturier who was the youngest fashion designer before Yves Saint Laurent, a visionary who strived to achieve harmony and perfection in everything, a poet, an interior decorator, an architect of fashion and elegance who built the house codes on the idea of eternal femininity combined with simplicity, and ingenious use of colour, lines and details such as birds and lace some of which serves as inspiration for other designers, one of the first ever designers to use advertising campaigns, a couturier to the royalty and Hollywood, the inventor of "guepiere", a piece of chic undergarment that replaced corset and even inspired a Jean Paul Gaultier perfume bottle, creator of Femme, a perfume inspired by his wife and one of the best fragrances in the history of perfumery, and a loving father to Francois and Sophie who adored him to pieces.
The book filled with photographs from both the family albums and house of Rochas archives follows Marcel Rochas from the moment his was born in February 1902 - a beautiful boy with olive skin and velvet eyes who passionately hated any rituals that involved being dressed-up and yet, even as a child, had an eye for beauty and style who once disobeyed his parents orders to greet a lady (something that was unheard of!) because, as he put it, "she was dreadfully badly dressed".
He never thought about becoming a couturier - a layer or novelist seemed like a better and much more appropriate idea until the moment the law student who part-timed as an assistant with a fabric manufacturer met a beautiful girl called Yvonne. She spotted his talent and taste and convinced him to become a couturier. Love served as a powerful inspiration and soon the 23-year old Marcel was designing stunning gowns including a wedding dress for his young and beautiful bride. Although the couple divorced four years later, in 1929, Rochas had a house, which he registered as "couture" in 1934, a different life and even a new wife, Rena, whom Rochas married in 1930.
The story continues through the 1930s and 1940s, the happy years and the years of war and shortage, the endless travels and bounds of inspiration, another divorced, third marriage to Helene and birth of children, the fame and moments of doubts about the future of couture as the house of Rochas evolved and became a small but powerful empire that produced couture, hats, accessories, lingerie, perfumes and cosmetics.
There's a wonderful chapter about Le Theatre de la Mode which is written so wonderfully, you can easily picture the atmosphere of the exhibition aimed to restore of image of haute couture after the war. And another one - about the perfumes some of which have been lost and others, like Femme, that remain loved and cherished by many.
It ends with a story titled The Missed Kiss... About the night when Marcel Rochas passed away as a heartbreaking and loving farewell to a man who knew how to be both a one-of-a-kind couturier and the best father a child could possibly wish for.
Photo source: Marcel Rochas: Designing French Glamour, Oiseau evening gown in Harper's Bazaar April 1934, Sophie Rochas with her mother Helene Rochas wearing identical designs by Marcel Rochas 1953, Sophie Rochas with Marcel Rochas, silk roses detail of Marcel Rochas tulle dress 1951, Lisa Fossagrives wearing Marcel Rochas Sirene dress photographed by Irving Penn for Vogue US September 1950, details of Marcel Rochas original guepiere, Tamara de Lempicka wearing Marcel Rochas evening gown 1931, Marcel Rochas Femme perfume