Label: Bergdorf & Goodman Co. Fifth Avenue. New York
‘Miss Evelyn Laye’ and the model number are faintly written by hand on the label
Acquired from Evelyn Laye
This elegant evening outfit belonged to the distinguished stage and screen actress, Evelyn Laye. She donated the garment to the collection as an example from her wardrobe that she felt had made her look and feel tall in her youth, following a discussion with John Bright in a costume fitting on the ability of 1930s fashions to give the wearer an appearance of height.
Made from extremely soft and fluid satin, its style is in keeping with contemporary evening dresses. Its low-backed bodice comprises two bias-cut panels that are joined behind the neck and draped in a quasi-classical manner, crossing over one another and fastening at the centre back waist. Slinky, light coloured gowns with almost identical wrapover draped bodices were seen in the designs of, amongst others, Madeleine Vionnet and Jean Patou during the first half of the 1930s; unlike these gowns, however, the long bias cut skirt of this garment has been almost imperceptibly divided into two sections like wider-legged trousers. Such a sophisticated look of casual elegance was best carried off by someone with the confidence of a well-known actress.
See Related Item for more information on bifurcated garments.
Bergdorf & Goodman was a well known upmarket New York department store. The outfit was custom made in their workrooms rather than bought of the peg, and has a high degree of hand finishing. Evelyn Laye was presumably a satisfied customer of the store, and paid handsomely enough, to appear in a 1936 magazine advertisement endorsing it. Entitled ‘3.30 Any Afternoon in Bergdorf Goodman’, it was based on the conceit that famous stars, or their wives, were to be seen browsing for clothes in the store. Laye was photographed with the caption ‘ Here is Mr Goodman who insists on putting the last touch to Miss Evelyn Laye’s new ermine cape’. Advertising endorsements represented a symbiotic relationship between celebrities and shops and manufacturers, each providing the others with publicity.