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In My Fashion

In My Fashion

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In My Fashion

387 pages
6 hours
Mar 28, 2017


Bettina Ballard, Paris-based correspondent and later Fashion Editor for US Vogue, was at the centre of the fashion world from the 1930s to the ’50s and an intimate of Coco Chanel, Cristóbal Balenciaga and Elsa Schiaparelli. With journalistic flair, she captures the spirit of pre-war Paris, the working methods of the fashion greats and the transformation of the post-war fashion industry with the arrival of Dior.
Mar 28, 2017

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In My Fashion - Bettina Ballard



My fashion career was an accident. I wrote a piece for The New Yorker taking off an article in Vogue by Cecil Beaton on a Tunisian trip he had made and Vogue promptly offered me a job in their fashion department. It wasn’t quite as non sequitur as it sounds. I had been doing odd bits of writing for Vogue in 1934, but I had come under the disapproval of Condé Nast’s secretary – the guardian of Vogue’s sanctity – for giving, so she said, the impression that I worked for Vogue. I thought my chances with Vogue were over forever, but I didn’t know Edna Woolman Chase. Her reasoning was that if I was good enough to be published in The New Yorker, Vogue might be missing something.

I had nothing against Mr Beaton. We just hadn’t seen Tunisia with the same eyes. In rereading his article recently, I was very impressed with the clarity of the picture he made with his fine collection of adjectives, metaphors, and similes. But then I could only contrast his experiences with mine. He said that the thing to do was to leave Kairouan, the Holy City of Tunisia, before sunrise. ‘Through the filigree leaves of the olive and pepper trees, the homes of waking birds, the crescent moon shines bright in the sky. The sun has not yet risen, silver pale, cold gold clouds are islands of tulle, gauze and lamé’ My departure from Kairouan was a little different. As the train, crowded with Arabs, pulled out of a dusty station, the ragged Arab who had pursued us for days with a scorpion in a matchbox that he offered to eat each day for a little less money was running beside the train holding the scorpion over his mouth and yelling, ‘Manger, manger, cinq francs’ in awful Arab French that would have frightened away any of those waking birds.

Then Mr Beaton said: ‘Arab urchins, like monkeys, run up the palms that have feathery branches shooting from their trunks, like spurting fireworks, to cut the bunches of ripe dates that hang on orange-coloured stalks.’ There were certainly Arab urchins and they did run up the palms, but mostly they ran after the visitors, pulling at their clothes, for money. The doorman at the hotel in Nefta brandished a huge whip over his head all day to keep the same little urchins from tearing the guests to pieces. My article in The New Yorker wasn’t very brilliant, but it brought me a job that I kept for twenty years. Cecil Beaton never forgave me.

There were some formalities about my entrance into Vogue, principally an interview with Edna Woolman Chase, the editor. I dressed very carefully for this in my greyish-pink tweed Elizabeth Hawes suit and a matching hat of the same tweed that I had made myself. For the first time I went beyond the Elsie de Wolfe-decorated reception room with its false-front books, down the corridor with three turnings, which I was to walk for years, always in a hurry, always with a feeling of expectancy that some new excitement, a new decision, a new emergency was waiting in my office. At the end of the third turn, in a big pale green office, I met Mrs Chase. Everything about her is so familiar to me now, after years of confidence and affection, that I cannot separate from the whole my first impression. I can only remember that she was not terrifying and that she said, ‘You have an easy pen, my child, and there is always a place for that on a magazine.’ Then she asked a few questions about my education and experience. She was pleased that I spoke French. ‘French is very useful in fashion work, so much of fashion comes from France. I always have regretted that I had no time to learn French.’ I remember feeling that it was important to tell her that I knew Elizabeth Hawes, who was a controversial designer at that moment and my only connection with fashion. She let out a ‘Humph – she is better at making publicity than clothes,’ and I shrank inside of my pink tweed suit in fear that she would recognize it.

I was given a desk, but not told what to do. This seemed to be a Condé Nast procedure at the time, particularly with pretty young girls whom Mr Nast would meet at parties and send in to work, which did not include me. His theory, expressed to me later, was that the world was divided into ‘gatherers and scatterers.’ If you were a gatherer, you would find work to do and be part of Vogue. If you were a scatterer, you wouldn’t, and that would lead to your drifting out of Vogue. I saw many come and go, and some stay, and, on the whole, Mr Nast’s theory seemed to work quite well.

My own progress and happiness at Vogue were due a great deal to the unpopularity of one of Mr Nast’s pretty dinner-party ‘finds’ who swept into Vogue in a mink coat about the time that I came. She had a breathless way of talking that made all of her ideas particularly obnoxious to the editors. She had blond, perfectly waved hair, an extremely pretty face, beautiful legs and feet, and a pink-and-white Dresden-china look. She never used a telephone book but only the Social Register, which infuriated everyone, as she wasn’t in it herself. The months she was at Vogue she produced only two features: one on hands and one on feet. She kept running into Mr Nast’s office with bright ideas, which was fatal in her relations to the staff. She sat part of the time in Mrs Chase’s office as a bright prospect to train for a future top editor. Many people sat in Mrs Chase’s office as a prospect for high office during the years I was at Vogue. None ever remained permanently on the staff. Anyway, it was because all the editors disliked the affectations of the other new girl so much that they were kind to me and gave me a good deal of work to do.

I did all kinds of work. At that time Vogue had no big central copy office and each editor was more or less responsible for her own copy. I would write copy for any editor who asked me, mostly for Janet Chatfield-Taylor. She was a pretty, dark-haired editor with eyebrows that she soaped and combed into horizontal question marks. She would call me to her desk to read the lines that I had written, but just as I approached her desk she would pick up the telephone and start a long conversation, twirling one dark curl in her fingers. I would stand with my copy, filled with curiosity about the exciting outside life that was coming over the telephone, and humiliated at being made to stand listening. When she looked at my copy she would say: ‘Do you think ‘fluttering organdie’ is exactly the expression for that collar? Why don’t you go away and think up another expression?’ and I would go away, nervous and discouraged, as it was torture for me to fit words into rigid caption spaces, and the torture became hopeless when I had to juggle words around. Since those days, I have always felt that copy writers should come ready equipped with strait jackets to slip into when editors say, ‘Try for another lead – I don’t think this quite expresses it,’ and another piece of deathless prose goes into the wastebasket. Editors sometimes take a sadistic pleasure in torturing a fashion copy writer who is there to interpret what is in an editor’s mind, not to create on her own, and all too often editors cannot express what is in their minds.

My favourite work was going on photographic sittings with the elegant, pretty, shoe-button-eyed Emmy Ives, the fashion editor. She had no memory at all and wrote long lists of everything on a lined yellow pad that she was always misplacing. When we took a taxi to go to Edward Steichen’s studio, she would sit with every muscle tense trying to remember what she had forgotten. When I would make conversation (I longed to talk to her because her life seemed so exciting to me) she would say, ‘Now, Betsy, don’t talk or I’ll jump out of my skin.’ I unpacked clothes at the studio, hooked up the dresses on the mannequins or personalities as Emmy’s hands were too nervous, and watched everything that went on with fascinated eyes.

A studio was the most exciting place I had ever known. I have never outgrown the love of working with a good photographer, looking at images in a camera, correcting all the visible flaws before the picture is taken and seeing the results of our efforts on proofs the next day. It is by far the most exciting part of fashion editing and any editor who has never felt the thrill of translating fashion to paper through a photographer or artist hasn’t really a vocation for fashion editing.

Steichen, at that time, was tired of taking Vogue pictures. He really hated straight fashion sittings and the vain, uninteresting personalities of the mannequins. Most mannequins were terrified of him. Editors made him nervous. He would say to Emmy Ives, ‘The models are dressed now. You can run along. Leave me the girl. She’ll pick up.’ I was ‘the girl.’ That is all he has ever called me. I would sit quietly in his studio watching him work, always ready with a pin or a comb. He would muss my hair at the end of the sitting and sometimes say, ‘Good girl.’ As a particular mark of approval, he would give me, occasionally, one long stately stalk of perfect delphinium, prize plants of which he grew in his garden in the country, I adored him, particularly when we did fashions on personalities. Then he changed completely, as he understood the challenge of great personalities and was wonderful with them. Marlene Dietrich came with Brian Aherne in tow; he, very elegant, from The Barretts of Wimpole Street. We had a huge black hat for her to wear. Steichen was soft and intimate with her, as if they were speaking a special language. She looked at him long and meltingly before she told him where to put the lights, ‘shining straight down on me,’ she said, and he did it that way. A few years later she came again with Jean Gabin. She posed in a tailored suit this time and she and Steichen again worked out the lights together. Gabin, in that husky, tough, Paris street voice of his, asked me how I liked the gold box that he fished from deep in the pocket of his rumpled tweeds. It was an antique gold box, which I thought was very unlike Gabin, and this must have shown in my face. He laughed and said, ‘She give it to me – to the wrong person, I think.’

It was a mark of fame to have your picture taken by Steichen. He did many personalities for Vanity Fair, some for Vogue, and they are among the most brilliant portraits of this century. Steichen outgrew Vogue long before Vogue had a chance to outgrow him. It was with desperate irritation that he took his last pictures for them. The final series was to illustrate the ‘Four Freedoms’ during the war, on which I worked with him. I still have a proof of ‘Freedom of Religion’ (which was never used) and it is a tender, wonderful document. I remember the sitting so well because my niece was one of the children dressed in a flannel nightgown listening to a grandmother reading Bible stories. Steichen turned a soft glow of light on them and sat himself for a while listening to the story. When he started photographing the two children were lost in the story, in a ‘turkey dream,’ as Mother used to say. The mood was a little sad, as is always the case when people lose themselves in what they are hearing. Steichen had a talent for making people drop their affectations and pretensions so that what came through on his film were true portraits, whether that was what the sitter wanted or not. Steichen himself was incapable of pretence.

Clare Luce was a perennial subject for Vogue photographers, beginning with Steichen and continuing through the years with every top photographer. She had worked on Vanity Fair and occasionally wrote for Vogue. Condé Nast, Frank Crowninshield, and Dr Agha, the art director, all adored her for her wit and intelligence as well as for her lovely face. When she would come into Vogue’s office, all the editors’ backs would stiffen like cats watching a confident dog stroll by – all except Margaret Case, who had a Good-Man-Friday devotion to her that has endured. Clare had a hypnotic effect on me when she came to be photographed. I could hear myself saying idiotic things that I wasn’t conscious of thinking and, if I tried to say what I meant, I would get deeper in the sticky mess – as if my words were taffy candy that wasn’t cooked enough to pull. I suspected that it amused her to see me flounder. I didn’t blame her for this; she didn’t like women very much, nor did I at that time. I would have liked to have had the same wit and power as she had, and I would have had no desire to use it in a more gentle way.

During the war I saw Clare Luce under more equal and more amusing circumstances when she no longer wanted to disconcert me. I was included in her wit and I found her, of course, fascinating. I let down every defence, even laughing with her about my early Clare Luce terrors. It was a relaxed, confident hand that I held out to her one night to have her read my palm. After looking at my palm intently for a long time, she said, ‘Why, Bettina, how extraordinary! Yes, there it is. I can see it clearly,’ pointing to the raised bumps at the top of my hand. ‘There is no doubt about it – if you had ever had any education, which of course you haven’t, you might have been a good writer.’ I was quite happy to have her run true to form and to know that my early tremors had not been for nothing.

There were several star photographers at Vogue, most of them working in the small studio on the nineteenth floor of the Graybar Building. Photographers then were terrific prima donnas. Unlike today, there were few fashion photographers and most of them had been developed and ‘coddled by Vogue. Baron Hoyningen-Huené was the most difficult star. He would walk into a sitting late, take one withering look at the models standing nervously in the dresses he was to photograph, turn to the editor in charge, and say, ‘Is this what you expect me to photograph?’ snap the camera a few times, and walk away. Everyone was terrified of him except Mrs Chase.

Toni Frissell, at this time, was snapping everything in sight and showing huge blow-ups to each editor to enlist her support. She had the persistency of an Egyptian rug merchant in selling her own wares. I asked her once how she learned to photograph. ‘By ruining thousands of feet of Condé Nast film,’ she told me. Condé had brought her into Vogue, but her gawky long legs never settled down at any desk, so he gave her a camera and let her learn to be a photographer on Vogue time. With her social connections, her passion for skiing that took her to Switzerland every winter, and her willingness to travel any place at any time, she was a valuable combination editor-photographer for the magazine.

Cecil Beaton was Vogue’s star of stars in the thirties. He could draw, write, and photograph, and was adored by society on both sides of the Atlantic, which was important to Vogue in those days. Also, he was one of the few photographers permitted to photograph the English royal family. Vogue pages reeled with glowing adjectives about the places Beaton visited when he travelled, articles illustrated with his own sketches or snapshots. His favourite women were drawn in full colour in ‘Conversation Pieces’ in their own homes, surrounded by their own particular taste in luxury – Mrs Harrison Williams, Mrs Mario Pansa, Lady Mendl. He was like a one-man orchestra capable of producing all the sounds and sensations necessary for a luxury magazine such as Vogue. He came to New York from London for a short visit each year. He would photograph only girls of his choice and, when I first went to work for Vogue, ‘Mimsie’ Taylor, the glamour girl of the moment, was his favourite. Mimsie never smiled when she was before the camera, and expressed bored indifference to the affected poses directed by Beaton. Sometimes her hand would be held out to a stuffed white dove, sometimes it would be parting a tulle curtain or caressing a flower or gesturing to thin air – all equally meaningless, but, with some innate instinct for fashion, Mimsie brought a sophisticated snobbish elegance to the pages of Vogue that has never been equalled by professional mannequins. It was a ridiculous period of posing – the dying-swan era – but she added a Pavlova touch to it.

Any sitting with Beaton meant a studio filled with tulle and flowers and stuffed white doves, and the air was filled with ‘darling,’ ‘divine,’ and ‘too, too lovely.’ One day he had been asked to do a family portrait of Mimi Richardson, a great beauty of the day, her mother, and sister. I was there to unpack the clothes and pack them up again, a job at which I was proficient and even won praise from Nettie Rosenstein for never leaving out a belt. I’m sure that this was what brought me to the attention of Mrs Chase and started me up in the fashion world. Anyway, the three nervous women were posing, Mimi making very effete Beaton gestures, copying the Mimsie Taylor pictures she had seen. Cecil was saying, ‘Mimi, that’s divine, too divine – don’t move,’ when her mother looked at her daughter and said, ‘Mimi, you stop that right now. You look ridiculous!’ Beaton, in those days, never gave any sign that he knew that I existed.

There were not very many editors on Vogue then. Aside from Emmy Ives, the fashion editor, and Janet Chatfield-Taylor, there was Martha Stout. She looked as if she had just finished baking a successful apple pie, always flushed and happy and unbelievably wholesome for Vogue. She left early every Friday with the most terrible conscience to drive far away in Connecticut for the weekend, so she worked with a glorious bustle and confusion the rest of the week to make up for it. When I went on sittings with Martha, generally with Toni Frissell as the photographer, there were always five times more clothes than we could possibly photograph. She edited on location rather than before and, I suspect, took so much because it made the wholesalers happy to have her ask for their clothes. Then there was Edith Symington, who did the older women’s pages and lots of personalities. She had beautiful blue eyes that were always laughing and she made jokes about everything. She had been very rich and social but now she was not so rich but still in demand for her gaiety and charm. She had the best time of anyone I know. Condé Nast loved her and she could say anything to him, even laugh at Vogue’s snobbishness.

The other staff member who laughed quite a lot at Vogue was Marya Mannes, the feature editor, who first asked me to write for Vogue. She would come around the office with funny titles for pages which she spent more time composing than real titles. I remember one, when Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe, the decorator) had posed in an inexpensive Seventh Avenue ball dress. Under the picture Marya had written, ‘De Wolfe in Cheap Clothing.’ She was a rebel who despised the principles of fashion. She longed to write a great play, and tried. She would have liked to have been a great sculptress, a great musician like her father, David Mannes, or a great actress. She had a fascinating mind that never gave her any peace. Her life was full of interesting men and she was always in a storm centre of drama.

I saw little of Margaret Case, the society editor, in those days. I heard her talking about Condés parties with Emmy Ives and I wondered if I would ever be invited. Society still counted then and Margaret kept society pouring into Vogue. Now that I have known her for years, I feel that she never should have been sidetracked by society as she has one of the best fashion minds in the magazine world. She really believes in fashion and is very articulate on the subject. She has spent a frustrating life in the corridors of Vogue with a handful of pictures of smart women, trying to keep the relationship between fashion and society alive in a day when fashion and business are what make a magazine pay.

The only man I had anything to do with, although Mr Nast and Mr Crowninshield, the adored editor of Vanity Fair, always bowed and spoke in the halls in the most courtly way, was Dr Agha. He was the art director and the first Turk I had ever known. He hated Vogue women – was sick to death of them – and loved to make them squirm. He particularly picked on Margaret Case because she was the society editor and believed in it. He was so smart that he could turn what the editors said into exactly what they didn’t mean, which used to befuddle the jangled nerves of Emmy Ives until she couldn’t remember what she wanted to say in the first place. Then he would sit back with his small mouth rounding in a maddening chuckle. Because I was the lowest of them all, he teased me less. I loved his complex mind and the way he would take a small germ of an idea and turn it into a workable, effective layout. He gave me a taste for the layout department that lasted all of my editing days.

After a few months I was given Shop Hound copy to write, which every editor seems to take a stab at on her way up. I grew to hate the small paragraphs that had to contain information with little room for fantasy. Mrs Chase read all Shop Hound copy and would make critical but to-the-point remarks on the margin, often killing my favourite phrases. Remembering these marginal criticisms in later years when I had to OK copy, I tried to be a little funny or gay in my remarks. I doubt if any copy writer outgrows being stabbed a little at each criticism.

I could take any criticism from Mrs Chase, if only as proof that she was aware of my existence. She was very much aware, as I found out the first time I was ill and stayed away from the office. She called me at home and said, ‘Now, my child, you stay right in bed and I will send you some broth and a doctor,’ and she did. This made me feel part of the Condé Nast family, a family in which Mr Nast was the father, Mrs Chase the mother, and Mr Crowninshield the indulgent witty uncle who visited the offices and spoiled everyone with compliments and amusing presents. Vogue was a democracy and everyone had a voice in it – even the lowest member, which I certainly was. Edna Chase wanted every thought, every heart, and every voice to be for the thing she loved most in the world, which was Vogue magazine.

It was hard not to let Vogue go to my head. One day Emmy Ives stopped me in the hall and said, ‘Betsy, you are a good girl, but don’t throw your Vogue weight around on Seventh Avenue. A wholesaler asked me who the superior young girl was who came to see him the other day, and it was you. Don’t ever be superior. Just be yourself and they will like and respect you. That is the best way you can serve Vogue.’ That was when I started making lifelong Seventh Avenue friends.

My social life at this time was very much like that of any presentable extra girl in a gregarious city like New York. It revolved around the telephone. Whenever I turned the key in my lock, I was sure I could hear the telephone ringing and I would rush in to find no one on the line. One of the great compensations of being married is not to have to listen for telephone calls all of the time. Mine rang frequently enough to keep me moving from cocktail party to cocktail party, with enough free dinners and weekends in the country with my sister, who had moved there to raise a family, to stretch my meagre salary into a living one. The cocktail party was essential to keep me in circulation. My system was to walk in, look around carefully, choose someone attractive to concentrate on, and talk straight at him without shifting my eyes to see who else was walking in. The restless cocktail party guest who kept her eyes on the door never seemed to gather quite as many contacts as the concentrated listener or talker, I discovered. I had found myself a walk-up apartment and painted it mulberry and blue, which seemed daring at the time. I was quite happy, except for those sinking moments when I was stuck home alone and had to cook an egg.

The editors at Vogue used me as an extra girl sometimes. Emmy Ives took me to Port Washington for a weekend at Raoul Fleischmann’s where she and her husband were spending the summer. This was terrific – The New Yorker crowd within touching distance. We went to Sunday lunch at Neysa McMein and Jack Baragwanath’s, who were married but always spoken of this way. There were crowds of people, all of them famous. Cole Porter was lying under a tree far out on the lawn with what looked like nothing on, composing something, I was told. Alexander Woollcott was playing croquet in an old pyjama bottom and a loose flapping dressing gown, his pendulous stomach hanging as he leaned over to make a shot. He was playing against Herbert Bayard Swope, who wore meticulous white flannels. Dorothy Parker, Heywood Broun, Moss Hart, and Robert Sherwood threw verbal darts at one another on the porch. It was a completely closed-circuit conversation into which I had no chance of entering. Badminton started after lunch, which they played with the same wicked skill with which they talked. Someone asked me to play, and I was so flattered to be included in anything that I said yes. Emmy Ives rushed for me, after a few hopeless strokes, like a governess who has found her charge throwing stones. ‘Don’t be a little fool. Can’t you see these people are sharks?’ I had read what these people had written, accepting it as the gospel of sophistication, I had heard their music, laughed at their humour, and I longed to be just like them. Face to face with them, I was as muffled as if my head was in a rubber bag.

I had been at Vogue less than a year when Mrs Chase spoke to me one noon in the ladies’ room. ‘Bettina, would you be free to go to Paris for a while?’ ‘Yes, Mrs Chase,’ I replied, as if she had asked me if my copy was finished. The idea of Paris was too big, too exciting to think about in the ladies’ room. I thought about it every minute from then on. I asked Emmy Ives what it was all about, as she was a sort of godmother to me. She laughed and said, ‘Well, well, did Edna say something to you? Condé wants to bring Babs and René Willaumez over here for good. I suggested sending you as you are the only one who speaks French, but I didn’t, think she took me seriously.’

Comte and Comtesse Willaumez had come over from the Paris office for a visit in the spring. Babs Willaumez had seemed very exciting to me as she came into the office wearing fantastic hats, beautiful suits with lots of jewellery, followed by her red cocker spaniel. I had seen a picture of her in the paper at a Condé Nast party wearing an Alix dress with a bare midriff, which was fashion at its most daring. She was the fashion editor of Vogue’s Paris office and her husband was one of Vogue’s two top artists. He was handsome, with very long eyelashes, spoke no English, and hated coming to the Vogue office.

Nothing more was said about Paris for two weeks while I became bleak with discouragement. Finally Mrs Chase sent for me.

‘Bettina, you speak French, I hear, and you are very industrious. You have an easy pen and the girls say you are good in the studio. We must have someone in the Paris office immediately. We would like you to leave next week.’

There was no more fuss than that. I bought a checked tweed suit, a matching claret red felt hat, claret shoes, and a claret bag. Later, Martha Stout said she didn’t have the heart to tell me how pathetically un-Vogue I looked in that heavily matched costume, but I wish she had. She would have saved me a bad entrance into the Paris office. I have a passport picture in that outfit to remind me just how bad it must have been.


Paris was more familiar to me than any city I had ever known. I had arrived there to study, when I was eighteen, with a copy of George Moore’s Confessions of a Young Man under my arm. There are certain books that are milestones in my life, and this is one. It gave me the most violent curiosity about Paris. I learned Paris by heart. As I devoured French history, I would go through the streets, book in hand, tracing the houses and palaces in which the people in the history books had lived. I even followed them to their graves in Père-Lachaise Cemetery or to the kings’ tombs at St-Denis. Through their books, Madame de Sèvigne’s and St Simon’s friends were more familiar to me the first winter than my own. I discovered Manet’s Olympia hanging amongst the Courbets and Delacroix in the Louvre, which made shivers of excitement run up and down my spine, whether because Olympia was so boldly naked or whether because Manet’s painting had excited me, I wasn’t sure. Then I discovered, hidden away on the third floor of the Louve in the Comondo collection, open only on Tuesdays and Thursdays from two to five, the other impressionists; the Degas laundresses yawning over the rising steam of hot irons and wet cloth, the Cezanne card players, Manet’s boy with the fife, the apple-cheeked Renoirs, the Monet Rouen Cathedral studies. My heart beat so fast that could hardly breathe. There was never anyone in these rooms – the pictures were mine, a hidden cache to which I returned over and over, like a child to his collection of marbles. Today when I see these pictures hanging in the Orangerie, recognized masterpieces surrounded by admiring crowds, I still have the same proud feeling of possession: they are mine, pictures I stumbled on and loved without having any foreknowledge that I should love them. This was a period of intense absorption in learning, as if every pore were open for knowledge. My studies at Madame de la Chenelière’s, where I lived, and at the Sorbonne, were only important as they supplemented my own way of learning through curiosity. When I go to a new place today, I feel, with nostalgia, some faint echo of this intense curiosity that I felt about Paris.

In the next two summers there were vacationing American college boys with whom to share this curiosity. We discovered Montmartre, and the Lapin Agile with its poetry recitations and cherries in small glasses of brandy. We walked through the narrow streets at night, foolishly unafraid, and we speculated on what went on behind the closed shutters of all the small hotels that lined the streets. We went to Zelli’s, the night club where cocottes were very understanding with the American college boy in the late twenties. We went to the markets at Les Halles where we drank rum in hot milk at dawn, and to the Bals Musettes, where we danced with anyone who asked us – the best dancing of my life. The men in the Bals Musettes rarely talked to the women, kept their caps on, and whirled to gavottes with lightness and pleasure. Paris came into my life when I was young, greedy, and energetic and when I had very little real supervision to hamper me. I was the first American girl at Madame de la Chenelière’s pension, and she preferred me to the giggling English girls or the expressionless Swedish girls who sat around and ate cakes. She also had a great deal of confidence in what she called my ‘bon sens’

After nearly three years of studying and exploring in Paris, the idea of going home to California seemed like exile to me. That was the period when I tried to be a mannequin at Chanel’s so that I could support myself in Paris. I read an advertisement in the Paris Herald that Chanel wanted American mannequins. I put on my hat and went to the rue Cambon to offer myself. I can’t remember ever looking in the mirror to see what my figure was like or having the slightest doubt that I was a logical candidate. I never gave my figure much thought anyway, other than to resent being called skinny. Mother laughed about the ‘saltcellars’ in my bony neck, the ‘wings’ in my back, and my brothers teased me about my ‘mosquito-bite busts,’ but this was all part of family teasing. Chanel needed an American mannequin and I wanted to stay in Paris, so I went to her couture house on the rue Cambon to get the job.

When I reached the top of Chanel’s mirrored stairs, I wasn’t quite so confident. Vendeuses in black dresses were

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