Paris after the liberati.., p.29
Paris: After the Liberation 1944-1949, p.29Antony Beevor
During that diplomatic summer, the centre of Paris had started to lose the look of wartime privation. The bicycle-powered vélo-taxis were a conveyance of the past. Five thousand proper taxis were now available in Paris. Before, only people with a government pass or a doctor’s certificate could use one. Now they were available to anybody who could afford the hefty fare. In the Tuileries gardens, children enjoyed rides on donkeys, or in little carts pulled by goats with jingling harnesses. Baby-carriages had also reappeared, having taken a considerable battering during the Occupation, when they were used for the transport of everything fromlogs and coal to turnips.
The great hit of the season was the musical Auprès de ma blonde, with Yvonne Printemps and her husband, Pierre Fresnay. It was a sophisticated comedy of family manners – with lavish costumes by Lanvin – working backwards in time from the 1930s to the belle époque of the 1890s.
As August approached, the centre of Paris became almost empty with the departure of 750,000 Parisians on summer holiday – a further sign of the gradual return to normality. The influx of foreigners was not entirely due to the conference. The Golden Arrow train service, from Victoria Station in London to the Gare du Nord, had been resumed in April; and an air terminal had been opened at the Invalides, heralding a new era of travel.
The great assembly of diplomats and journalists from around the world provided trade for more than hotels and restaurants and nightclubs. Nancy Mitford wrote to one of her sisters: ‘I’m told the maquereaux [pimps] stop the Peace Conference people practically as they leave the Luxembourg and offer them l’Amour Atomique. Aren’t they heaven?’
The entertainment circuit swung into action once again. On 9 August, Bogomolov gave a party for Molotov with ‘more class distinction than ever’. The top thirty guests were ushered into ‘a cul-de-sac room shut tightly against all others’ with Molotov and the Americans and British ‘cracking jokes over the vodka’ like the members of ‘an exclusive gentlemen’s club’, until Vyshinsky spoilt the impression by getting extremely drunk.
The following day Cy Sulzberger organized a lunch in honour of Senator Tom Connally in a private room at La Rue’s. He asked Mrs Connally for suggestions about possible menus. It appeared that there was only one: dry martinis, steak, French fries. Sulzberger also invited Raymond Offroy from the Quai d’Orsay. “‘Old Tawm” cheered up a bit with the cocktails,’ Sulzberger wrote later, ‘but still seemed somewhat sulky, although looking most impressive with his black string tie and white mane of hair.’ When ‘a real steak’ arrived, he ‘warmed perceptibly. After a few munches he turned to me solemnly and asked: “Cy, where’s Westphalia?”
“‘Why, in Germany, Senator.”
“‘They signed a treaty there, didn’t they?” (Offroy was watching, fascinated, awaiting a clue to American policy and wisdom.)
“‘Yes, sir, the Treaty of Westphalia. It ended the Thirty Years War in 1648.”
“‘Yup,” said Tawm. “That’s where Napoleon was whipped.” Offroy gulped.’
The other great senator, Arthur Vandenberg, managed to have a similar effect on another senior official of the Quai d’Orsay. ‘Senator Vandenberg beside me,’ wrote Jacques Dumaine after a lunch given by the Conseil Municipal de Paris, ‘could not take his eyes off the beaming face of Maurice Thorez and kept repeating: “How can such a healthy-looking man be a Communist!”’
Hervé Alphand’s brilliant mimicry of Byrnes, Bevin and Molotov reduced dinner parties, such as the Duchess of Windsor’s, to helpless laughter. This proved a slightly double-edged talent. Duff Cooper, who was a friend of Alphand’s, wrote in his diary: ‘It is odd how Alphand inspires dislike and distrust in Englishmen. I think it is because being a highly skilled civil servant and inspecteur des finances he looks and behaves like an actor. No English civil servant could ever be persuaded to take Noël Coward seriously.’
The peace conference, for all its tedium, had surprising devotees. All through the ‘Turkish bath weather’ Momo Marriott, one of the daughters of Otto Kahn, went every day to follow the proceedings as if it were a fascinating murder trial. But few trials lasted as long. The five peace treaties were not finally signed until 10 February 1947, with Italy, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland. The process took the whole day, so Duff Cooper read Graham Greene’s A Gun for Sale during the intervals. The final ceremony took place in the Salon de l’Horloge of the Quai d’Orsay, on the table where the suicidally wounded Robespierre had been laid before he was guillotined.
For all the outward signs of a return to normality in the summer, a general sense of unease returned in the autumn of 1946. Yet spy-mania and the fear of Communism produced a number of comic moments. The Windsors, wrote Nancy Mitford to Evelyn Waugh, were telling everyone that ‘France is on the verge of Communism and they must put their jewels in a safe place.’ Also that October, word spread that Bogomolov, the Soviet ambassador, was not only showing great admiration for Princess Ghislaine de Polignac, but was having an affair with her. The princess was very amused by the rumour, particularly when Eric Duncannon rushed round to ask her to spy on Bogomolov for the British.
The appointment of the pro-Communist General Petit as Deputy Military Governor of Paris caused alarm in sensitive circles. General Revers, not an entirely reliable source because of his extreme anti-Communism, claimed that Thorez had arranged it.
In London, the War Office and the Foreign Office consistently opposed staff talks with the French throughout this period, to Duff Cooper’s exasperation. Suspicions about the French inability to maintain effective security went back to the disastrous Dakar expedition in 1940, and had been greatly compounded by exaggerated fears of Communist infiltration through FFI officers.
In the autumn of 1946, the Foreign Office wanted to have wireless transmitters concealed in consulates around France ‘in case of trouble’, whether a coup d’état or an invasion by the Red Army. The ambassador vigorously opposed this suggestion, put forward by William Hayter, then chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. He felt that the measure would succeed only in upsetting the French.
The nascent Cold War had also begun to affect literary life. Arthur Koestler, who was living in Wales at this time, came to Paris on 1 October 1946 to attend the rehearsals of his play Twilight Bar, produced as Bar du Soleil by Jean Vilar at the Théâtre de Clichy.
One day very soon after his arrival he visited the Hotel Pont-Royal and went over to Sartre in the downstairs bar to introduce himself. ‘Bonjour, je suis Koestler.’ The famille Sartre found him full of life and interested in everything – Sartre, especially, became fond of Koestler – but his competitive bumptiousness, encouraged by his great success with Darkness at Noon, which had sold nearly 250,000 copies in France, rather irked them.* Simone de Beauvoir soon had another reason to be irritated when, after one of the many nights on which she had drunk too much, she woke up in Koestler’s bed.
She and Sartre had another unpredictable evening with Koestler some time later. On 31 October, Koestler and his beautiful companion, Mamaine Paget, whom he married not long afterwards, took them out to dinner at an Arab bistro with Albert and Francine Camus. Sartre had to give a UNESCO lecture the next day, so hoped for an early bed. But after dinner they went on to ‘a little dancing with blue and pink neon lights and men with hats on dancing with girls with very short skirts’. Mamaine described ‘the engaging spectacle’ of Koestler ‘lugging Castor (who has I think hardly ever danced in her life) round the floor’ while Sartre, with a similar lack of experience, ‘lugged Mme Camus’.
Koestler insisted that they all go on to the Schéhérazade nightclub, a White Russian establishment which German officers had loved during the Occupation. The combination of Russian Tzigane music, almost total darkness, vodka, champagne and zakouski combined to make his guests forget the next day’s commitments.
Koestler seemed to find the Schéhérazade an appropriate spot for launching into an anti-Soviet tirade. The more they argued, the more they drank. Soon only Camus and
At eight o’clock in the morning, half-blinded by the sunlight, Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre found themselves in a pitiful state, weeping dilute vodka, on one of the bridges over the Seine. They wondered out loud whether to throw themselves in. Yet despite only two hours’ sleep, Sartre managed to write and deliver his lecture.
Koestler was feeling under threat at the time. He had become a major hate figure for Stalinists, and, like all lapsed party members, he was vilified even more than a committed fascist. He returned to Wales almost immediately after the night at the Schéhérazade. Not long afterwards, Les Temps modernes published Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s attack on Koestler under the title ‘Le Yogi et le Prolétaire’. In this piece Merleau Ponty, professor of philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure, set out to excuse the 1936 Moscow show trials on the grounds that the Soviet Union, isolated and threatened, could only save its revolution at the cost of a monolithic firmness; ‘objectively’, in the Marxist-Leninist sense of the term, opposition was treason. ‘He subordinated morality to history, much more resolutely than any existentialist yet,’ wrote Simone de Beauvoir in a revealing passage. ‘We took this leap with him– without yet letting go – conscious that moralizing was the last defence of bourgeois idealism.’
Camus was outraged by the article and by the decision of the editorial committee to publish it. An argument broke out at a party given by the writer and jazz player Boris Vian and his wife, Michelle. Camus arrived late, towards eleven o’clock in the evening. He had just returned from a journey to the South of France. He immediately attacked Merleau-Ponty for his article, accusing him of justifying the Moscow show trials. Merleau-Ponty defended himself and Sartre supported him. Camus was appalled and left, slamming the door. Sartre hurried after him and caught up with himin the street. He tried to persuade Camus to return to the party, but Camus refused.
This marked the beginning of the rift in Camus’s relationship with Sartre, which finally exploded in a celebrated exchange of correspondence in Les Temps modernes a few years later. His friendship with Simone de Beauvoir, on the other hand, had never been particularly warm. She had long suspected Camus’s political ambivalence, ever since November 1945 during the ministerial crisis. Camus had defended de Gaulle’s position. Camus, unlike Koestler at this time, was no Gaullist, but in Beauvoir’s eyes he had revealed his true anti-Communist colours.
Sartre and Castor also began to fall out with Raymond Aron in the autumn of 1946. Sartre’s play about the Resistance, Men without Shadows, opened at around the same time as Jean-Louis Barrault was producing Les Nuits de la colère, Salacrou’s play on the same subject (about which Sartre allegedly remarked that the author knew his collabos better than his résistants). On the first night of Men without Shadows, the torture scenes – though off-stage – became too much for Raymond Aron’s wife, who was not well. Aron took her home. Simone de Beauvoir, even more than Sartre, refused to accept his wife’s illness as a valid excuse for leaving.
Whatever Beauvoir’s stand on such issues, one must not forget that Sartre was still regarded with deep distrust, even enmity, by the Communists. On encountering Sartre at a literary lunch soon afterwards, Ilya Ehrenburg strongly criticized him for depicting members of the Resistance as ‘cowards and schemers’. Sartre retorted that Ehrenburg clearly had not read the play in its entirety. His previous plays had also been attacked on political grounds. In The Respectful Prostitute, for example, he had failed to present the black victim as ‘a true fighter’. And his next major play, Dirty Hands, was to bring down upon him virtually every insult in the (admittedly rather limited) dictionary of Stalinist obloquy.
Over the next few years, with the onset of the Cold War, Sartre began to shift his position on politics and artistic expression. ‘The Communists are right,’ he later wrote in a compromise formula which was strikingly short on philosophical rigour. ‘I was not wrong. For people who are crushed and exhausted, hope is always necessary. They had all too many occasions to despair. But one should also strive to work without illusions.’
The Fashionable World
During the Occupation, even Communists had regarded Parisian fashion as a weapon of resistance. Lise Deharme, the Surrealist hostess, wrote in Les Lettres françaises: ‘Yes, true Parisiennes were supremely elegant during the four years; they had the elegance of racehorses. With a tear in the eye but a smile on the lips, beautiful, perfectly made-up, discreet and insolent, they exasperated the Germans. The beauty of their hair, of their complexion… their slimness as opposed to the fat ugliness of those overgrown trouts packaged in grey [the German servicewomen], yes, that provoked them. These Parisiennes were part of the Resistance.’
Haute couture had emerged from the war in much the same shape as the elegant Parisian women: slimmed to the point of emaciation, but still defiantly maintaining the standards of French taste and craftsmanship. Yet if the Germans had had their way, the French fashion industry would not have survived at all. In August 1940, they warned Lucien Lelong, head of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture, that all the great French designers, plus the skilled workers of their ateliers, would be transferred to Berlin. With their knowledge and expertise, Berlin and Vienna would become the centres of fashion in the New Europe, while Paris dwindled into insignificance.
‘You can impose what you will by force,’ wrote Lelong in response, ‘but Paris’s haute couture is not transferable, either en bloc or bit by bit. It exists in Paris or it does not exist at all.’ This was not merely spirited talk. The industry employed some 13,000 skilled artisans. The fabrics and trimmings they worked with were the product of highly specialized workshops that had developed in France over generations; it would be impossible to transfer an industry so widely spread and so deeply rooted. The Germans were forced to agree, but they were still determined to break the power of Paris fashion. The industry was forbidden to export its goods. Each major fashion house could produce only forty models in each collection instead of 150 and was subjected to the severest rationing of cloth. Many folded during the Occupation, but the industry did not die because there was still a demand for its work. It is often supposed that the principal customers for luxury clothes were the occupiers themselves; yet the ration cards known as cartes couture, issued to buyers, proved otherwise. The Germans took only 200 per year out of a total which dwindled from 20,000 in 1941 to 13,000 in 1944.
At the Liberation, Lelong called for a comité interprofessionnel d’épu-ration for the couture industry. The committee looked into fifty-five cases of collaboration, most of which had to do with textile handling rather than the running of the great couture houses. It was a remarkably mild épuration, for one simple reason. Rich women all over the world, particularly in the Americas, were willing to pay a fortune for fine clothes; and France was desperately short of foreign currency.
French haute couture, however, was no longer in the commanding position it had enjoyed before the war, when fashion was dictated from Paris. American designers in particular had found their own style and expanded their markets in the four years they had been cut off from France, and they had been encouraged by the belief that Paris haute couture was dead. After the Liberation, something had to be done to show the world that the vitality of French fashion was as strong as ever and that it was ready for business.
In the autumn of 1944 an idea arose which was to relaunch the French fashion industry in a most spectacular way. The spark, curiously enough, came from Entr’Aide Française – an umbrella organization for French war charities. Its president, Raoul Dautry, suggested that the couture industries put on a fund-raising exhibition.
Robert Ricci, the son of t
Christian Bérard was appointed artistic director of the exhibition and he gathered together a remarkable group of artists to paint backdrops for the models. Among the painters, sculptors and set-designers involved were Bérard’s lover Boris Kochno, Jean Cocteau, Grau-Sala, Georges Geffroy, the young André Beaurepaire, and Jean Saint-Martin, who specialized in wire sculptures and had made the dolls from Éliane Bonabel’s design. All gave their services free.
The image that was to unify the whole exhibition came from Ricci: ‘I finally had the idea of a little theatre in which each of the artists would construct a set and we would put on the stage dolls dressed by the couturiers.’
Each couture house had to produce between one and five models. Christian Dior is thought to have been responsible for two of the miniature dresses presented by Lucien Lelong, for whom he worked as designer. With their nipped-in waists and full skirts, they stand apart from much of post-war fashion, which had not yet shaken off the war years.
The couture houses set to work with a will. Throughout that winter, in freezing studios, seamstresses, shoemakers, milliners and glovers warmed their fingers every few minutes over candle flames and plied their craft in miniature, and such was the rivalry between the couture houses that no trouble was too great. Patou had one fabric specially woven so that it would fold properly on the model. The striped fabric on a Carven dress called ‘Sucre d’orge’ was cut up and resewn to make the stripes sufficiently small.
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