Schulenberg’s Page: Talkin’ Bout a Revolution

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Last week I wrote about the early 20th century couturier Paul Poiret, who revolutionized women’s fashion before the First World War and it sent me reminiscing about a time when I was living in Paris.

My third day in France I was introduced to Lola Mouloudji while with friends at the legendary Hotel du Cap d’Antibes. She had been at the hotel’s Eden Roc swimming pool and, still wearing a bathing suit and wrapped in a huge towel, joined us for drinks. She was a well known agent and manager of theater and movie actors and even though I did not yet speak French I was doing my best trying to follow the conversation.

Learning that I was a visiting American, Lola invited me to use her Paris office address as my own mailing address so I wouldn’t have to deal with American Express.  We very soon became friends and I credit her with my learning french out of necessity.

So on a summer day in 1963 she invited me to drive with her to the country where she had to see two of her clients. They had country houses in the Forest of Saint Germain -en-Laye which was about 13 miles west of Paris.

She hadn’t told me who we’d be visiting so I was surprised when the first stop was the home of choreographer Roland Petit and his beautiful wife, Renée “Zizi” Jeanmaire, the star of Music Halls and Petit’s own ballet company!

She and Lola were obviously close longtime friends, even resembling each other, and I remembered having read about her sensational success in Petit’s scandalously sensual ballet, Carmen.  She’d given herself a severe kind of crew cut which had influenced fashion internationally!  She was also a close friend of Yves Saint Laurent, who designed her costumes and personal wardrobe.

It was a short but enjoyable visit and I had to keep reminding myself that our hostess was an international legend having even made a few Hollywood movies (Hans Christian Anderson, Anything Goes, et al).

Our next stop was to see Nicolas “Nick” Vogel, an actor who was recognizable from American films since he spoke perfect American English.

He was at his mother’s house, la Faisanderie (faisan = pheasant), and while he and Lola were busily occupied I was entertained by his mother, Cosette.

Here’s where Poiret comes in.

I had long been fascinated by the art and fashion of the early 20th century and especially how in France there was an alliance of the two. I’d admired the legendary and very collectible Gazette du Bon Ton wherein artists and illustrators were commissioned to paint artistic renderings of couture pieces.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Cosette and her husband Lucien had invented la Gazette du Bon Ton and Cosette, having been the first editor-in-chief of french VOGUE, must have known Poiret and his family very well!

His son Nicolas bore a striking resemblance to his father. Lucien also invented the French magazine, Jardin des Modes!

Cosette and Lucien Vogel.

Cosette was born into the de Brunhoff family and her sister-in-law told her children bedtime stories about a little elephant named Babar! Her husband, Jean de Brunhoff, an illustrator, thought the stories so charming that he illustrated and in 1931 published them! Babar books became international classics!

Cosette’s father Maurice de Brunhoff published the first poster of Sarah Bernhardt by Alphonse Mucha.

I wish that I could go back in time and spend the day with Cosette again but this time I’d be prepared!  I could have talked with her for weeks!

I was watching The Mike Douglas Show on television and the ballet dancer, Dennis Wayne, was being interviewed.

He was speaking about forming his own ballet company sponsored by Joanne Woodward, who was a longtime lover of ballet!

I was fascinated and still thinking about the Ballets Russes formed by the early 20th century impresario Sergei Diaghilev — the ballets that had so much influence on fashion and the general cultural life of the early pre-WWI period. I wrote about this last week.

Vaslav Nijinsky and Sergei Diaghilev in Nice, 1911.

Among the lasting artifacts of the company are the photographs of Adolpf “Baron” de Meyer. The quotation marks are used because it appears that his noble title was given to him by himself!

That’s ShoBiz as that’s what it was!

Photograph of Nijinsky as faun in the premiere of ballet L’après-midi d’un faune (Afternoon of a Faun) taken by Adolph de Meyer, May 29, 1912.

I had this wild idea of approaching someone involved with the company and presenting myself as a volunteer photographer to document the new company! I showed some of my more theatrical photos and was accepted!

Barbra Streisand and Phyllis Diller backstage at the Bon Soir, 1961; photographed by Bob Schulenberg.

The new ballet company was called (Dennis Wayne’s) Dancers and used what I still think is a brilliant tag line: “We’re known by the company we keep!”

The studio occupied the second floor of a building on Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village. I went downtown to see what was going on and saw members of the company getting the space ready.

I’m assuming that this was quite a different thing than Diaghilev’s ballet troupe, but times change.

My close friend Mara Lepmanis was a dancer and toured with a ballet company in Germany so I met with her to fill her in with the current events. There were a lot!

We met at the German bakery/restaurant on Second Avenue near my apartment and I told her about the new ballet company. She was aware of the work of so many of the dancers in the group and was impressed — and that was encouraging.

We also talked about the ongoing fabric jewelry project that I’d started with Ric Mendez (who was also a dancer).

My friend Bill Rilling was a Creative Director at Stern’s Department Store and he’d given me a display piece that I could use to show the jewelry.

I’d seen a decorative pushcart in Stern’s window display and since there were so many street sellers along Fifth Avenue I wondered if it might be a novel way to sell our stuff!

Mara even volunteered to help!

It was turning out to be a very busy time!

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