One never tires of visiting these rooms and contemplating these showcases where the many objects used for women's and men's clothing are displayed in their most graceful and complete detail.
Before showing us the fabric made, the Exhibition first shows us the fabrics in their primordial state.
As far as fabrics are concerned, Mr. Emile Blémont has given technical details in the Rappel that we will read with interest.
Let us see how animal or vegetable fibre is made into yarn, and from the yarn into fabric.
First of all, each textile material requires a special preparation. The preparation of silk consists of two main operations: reeling and milling, which are carried out in a more or less analogous manner in all sericultural countries. The photographs, which show the European-style workshops recently set up in Japan, prove how quickly industrial processes are becoming generalised down to the smallest details and the latest improvements.
These faded and crude images are in stark contrast to the earlier paintings exhibited alongside them, which show the old spacious workrooms with their large windows opening onto the foliage in bright and harmonious colours. Once it was an idyll, now there is only a factory.
It is the worm itself, as we know, that spins the silk and winds it around the cocoon, as if on a reel. So there is no longer any need to spin it; there is only need to reel it. This is the purpose of the reeling.
The silk thus obtained is called raw silk; it is not yet suitable for weaving. It must be regularised and solidified by twisting. This is the purpose of the milling process.
The principle of the silk twisting mill, which is also the principle of the flax, hemp, cotton and wool spinning looms, is to be found in the spinning wheel, which has been used for so long and so universally, but which has been neglected nowadays.
The first instrument used for spinning was the spindle, a small cylindrical wooden rod, swollen in the middle and bearing a spiral groove at one end. The spinner attaches to it a few stretched strands of the yarn with which her cattail is furnished, and, giving the spindle a rapid turning movement with her fingers, lets it turn on itself and twist the stretched strands into yarn. This is the primitive process found at the origin of the first civilisations. In Greek and Roman mythology, the Fates kept the spindle as an attribute. The Odyssey speaks of Penelope's spindle.
When was the spinning wheel invented? Who invented it? It is not possible to give a precise answer. In any case, the invention is ancient, and the poet was able to celebrate the spinning wheel of Omphale:
It is in the atrium, the beautiful ivory spinning wheel,
The agile wheel is white and the distaff is black:
The distaff is of ebony inlaid with lapis.
It is in the atrium on a rich carpet.
The inventor must have been considered a demigod, for the progress he made was admirable. Our modern machines are nothing more than ever more extensive, ingenious and perfected applications of the simple and marvellous mechanism imagined by this unknown man. We know the ancient device: a coil, pierced along its axis, is placed on an iron rod or spindle, which receives a lively rotational movement by means of a rope passing over a wheel moved by the crank or the pedal. The rod supporting the bobbin is fitted with wire fins ending in rings. The spinner pulls the yarn from the cattail, then passes it through the flyer, which twists it as it turns and winds it onto the reel with a movement similar to that of a propeller.
Silk milling is done in a similar way. There are cylinders, reels and vanes over which the end of the bundle of threads from the dubbing is passed. The spindles rotate rapidly on themselves, while the reeling takes place, and act as a rotating clamp. As for the other parts of the machine and the driving force, there is no need to say that they are of modern invention; they constitute immense improvements from the practical point of view.
For linen and hemp, the preparation is more complicated. Flax and hemp were not mechanically spun until more than a quarter of a century after cotton and wool. These fibres, by their dry and hard nature, seemed resistant to the new processes. Napoleon I, in an attempt to create an industry in France to rival the flourishing cotton industry in England, created a prize of one million for the inventor of the best flax spinning machine. From 1810 to 1815, Philippe de Girard took out patents for inventions and improvements. The Restoration was so unfavourable to him that after having founded the first flax spinning mill in Paris, rue Meslay, in 1813, he saw his discovery contested, could not obtain the first liard of the promised million and was reduced to offering his services to foreign governments. He went successively to Austria, Saxony, Russia, and came back to Paris to die poor, in 1845, at the time when a society of industrialists was making him an annuity of six thousand francs, and the government was preparing to recognize his rights belatedly.
During his exile, the English had surprised his secret and usurped processes abandoned in France. It was only in the early years of the July Monarchy that some French industrialists, struck by the results obtained on the other side of the Straits, brought back from across the Channel the machine invented by their compatriot. Poor French inventors!
Or persecute them, or kill them,
Except, after a slow examination,
To erect a statue to them
For the glory of the human race.
Before spinning cotton, the types are mixed, the textile material is opened and beaten to give the compressed filaments their elasticity back; it is carded on cylinders with leather blades fitted with small curved metal teeth and moving in opposite directions with unequal speed, in order to straighten, develop, parallelise, stagger and purify the fibres. Twice, there is doubling, drawing and rolling. After the cotton has been twisted on the spindle bed, it is transferred to the spinning machine.
Either the "continuous spinning" or the so-called "Mule-Jenny" loom is used. The former has a system similar to that of the silk loom and the flax or hemp spinning machine.
The Mule-Jenny was named by the English workers. A large number of female spinners were called Jenny, and they called the mechanical spinner by this name. Mule was added, because the first machines of this kind, invented in 1769 in Nottingham, by Hargreaves, were set in motion by a mule. Other etymologies are also given. The perfected Jenny Mule is called Self-acting or self-twisting loom. The twisting device consists of a mobile carriage, which, sliding on rails, moves alternately away from and towards the rack carrying the cotton to be spun. The carriage carries a series of inclined spindles which are rotated rapidly by a drum and on which bobbins rotate with friction. The end of a thread is attached to each spindle. The carriage moves away from the rack, from which each spindle pulls a needle. As it moves away, the spindles turn and twist the switch. When it reaches the end of the rails, it stops and turns back. As it returns, a special mechanism winds the pulled and twisted switch coil regularly.
After sorting, destuffing and threshing, the wools are oiled to make it easier and more useful to pass through the three successive carding machines: the breaking card, the ironing card and the finishing card. From there the long wools go to the combing machine, and the short wools to the spinning machine.
The combing machine, invented around 1848 by Heilman, brought about a revolution in the wool industry: an iron-toothed jaw draws the woolen sliver into a day box when closing, and lets it fall, when reopening, onto a cylinder lined alternately with a metal comb segment and a smooth leather segment. The ribbon is combed and then slides from the leather segment between two cylinders, one of which is grooved and which, rotating in the opposite direction, carry it to the funnel, to the rolling mill and to the sheet metal pot serving as a container.
For his part, M. Talandier wrote in the same newspaper about the garment in some humorous and charming lines that rightfully belong to the history of the Exhibition:
Everyone knows - for to ignore it one would have to have not read the Bible - that the young Eve having allowed the serpent, who was the finest of all the animals, to abuse her innocence and lead her to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge which was in the middle of Eden, she also made her husband eat of it, and that, - singular effect of the digestion of this extraordinary fruit! - As soon as they had eaten of it, their eyes were opened, and they knew... that they were naked; then they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves belts. Whereupon the Eternal Father, who was not pleased that Eve and Adam had eaten of that fruit which, it seemed, should make them as learned as himself, cursed the serpent, cursed the woman, cursed the man, cursed the earth, and finding that mere fig leaves were not sufficient to hide the shame of such cursed people as these, Then he made Adam and his wife robes of skins, and clothed them in them, and drove them out of the earthly paradise, and to make sure that they would not come and touch the tree of life, as they had touched the tree of knowledge, put cherubim at the gate of Eden, with a sword of fire to defend the entrance.
This is all that Moses tells about the origin of modesty and clothing, and it is already quite nice, since the skinners of animals and the tailors can learn, in a book whose assertions cannot be doubted, that the first master and inventor of their trades was none other than the Eternal One himself. However, this is not the whole story. Moses only knew what God was pleased to reveal to him; but we have received other confidences, and here are some unpublished details of what happened between Adam, Eve and the serpent, when they were driven out of Paradise.
At first the serpent began to laugh and hiss like a spectator who finds the play ridiculous, and Adam and Eve were very scandalized and thought that the serpent was going to be cut in four and roasted by the sword of fire of the cherubim. But the cherubim were satisfied with a few gestures of indignation, and our three outcasts decided to leave, Eve weeping, Adam cursing and the serpent mocking both of them.
However, one cannot always cry, and the serpent having told Eve that she was badly dressed in her beastly skin, Eve at first replied that she did not care; but at the first fountain she met, she glanced at the trembling mirror, and, although she did not think herself too bad, she was of the opinion that perhaps something better could be devised than the robe of skins with which the Lord had clothed her. The serpent did not fail to notice this first glance of coquetry, and he took advantage of it very cleverly to ask Eve if she regretted knowing that she was beautiful. She blushed, looked at herself again in the fountain, and called Adam to go and bathe with her.
They stood there for some time looking at each other in the liquid mirror, and when they looked away it was to look at each other again as if they were seeing each other for the first time. I leave you to think what ideas they might have had. What I can tell you is that when the snake had disappeared, Eve asked Adam to forgive her for having been the cause of their being driven out of Paradise. Adam said to her that this was no doubt very unfortunate, but that since he had no other property than her, and she him, the best thing they could do was to forgive each other and console each other as best they could, which they did; after which, tired of these emotions of all kinds, they went to sleep. Then the serpent, who had not gone far, came nearer, and whispering in the ear of the sleeping Eve, he said to her:
"Do not think, Eve, that the necessity of providing for yourselves by your labour is a curse to Adam, to you, and to the mortals who are born of you; No, the intelligence which was born in you from a vague unfulfilled desire, will become in your descendants genius and love, and, after many struggles, many wars between your children first, then between them and the children of other Eves, yellow, red, black or olive, all will unite their forces to subdue nature, to wrest from it its secrets and to make of the whole earth a paradise more beautiful a thousand times than the Eden you have just left. You and Adam will become in your descendants a beauty of which you have no idea at present, and your power over nature will equal that beauty. Here, look!"
And lifting a corner of the veil of night, the serpent showed Eve, in a splendid distance of light, some of the wonders of our civilisation. But Eve saw that in the midst of all these splendours there were still unfortunate people, and big tears flowed from her eyes onto her oppressed chest; and then, in a reproachful tone, she said to the serpent: "No, this is not yet what you promised me, what tempted me. Then the serpent lifted the corner of the veil of the night again, and in a distance even more splendid than the first, but much more distant, he made appear to the eyes of the dazzled Eve a fraternal society where all were free and equal; and from the depths of the horizon came a murmur of voices which said: "Eva! Eva! Glory to her who first laid a bold hand on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; glory to her who taught man to lay down the yoke of servitude!
Eve was still listening to this voice of the future, and the veil of night had already fallen over this vision. When she awoke, she saw Adam leaning over her, examining her features with a worried eye: "What was wrong with you," he said; "what happened to you while you were sleeping? - I will tell you," said Eve, taking his hand and smiling tenderly. And then she rose, and, leaning on Adam's arm, the first prophetess told the first man of our race the future destined for future generations. Then, comforted by these words, our first parents bravely began human life, the life of work and science, of freedom and responsibility.
Where do we stand today in this life? This is the very complex question to which the Universal Exhibition answers, in which each of those whom Recall has chosen for this work must study from some special point of view the progress made by human intelligence and work. I, for my part, have to examine what has become, through infinite transformations, of the foliage belt which was the first garment.
One thing is certain: the more carefully one examines the objects exhibited in the clothing galleries of the Champ de Mars Palace, the more one is led to recognise that, contrary to what exists among animals and savages, where it is generally the male who is the most beautiful, among the peoples of Western Europe there is an obvious tendency for clothing to become, for women, more and more beautiful, and for men more and more ugly. Should such a tendency last and be exaggerated? We hope not; but it is impossible not to notice it, for it is the general fact which strikes the eye of every attentive spectator.
Have you ever seen, dear reader, for it is you we are about to talk about, young peasants and young peasant women dressed in their best clothes and going barefoot to the festival in the neighbouring village, carrying in their hands or on their shoulders, at the end of their sticks, the well-polished shoes they will put on when they are a few hundred paces away from the place where the fraternity is held? This is a singular habit, and one which is tending to be absolutely lost in France, for, thanks to the great industrial manufacture which works, as our English neighbours say, for the million, the shoe, the boot even, are no longer luxury objects for the mass of the inhabitants of France, but objects of primary necessity.
This has not been the case for long. People who are now in their fifties remember very well that when they were children, even a well-to-do person in the provinces generally had only one pair of boots, which he or she kept carefully, putting them on only on holidays and wearing large laced shoes during the week, and clogs in the country. For the poor, the one pair of shoes was a precious object that was rarely worn. When the poor people in the country did not wear clogs, they went barefoot. There are many countries where this is still the case and where the workers, the negroes for example, do not even have clogs. There are other countries where it is forbidden for people of the lowest classes to wear any kind of footwear. In a charming story, Le Charmeur de serpents, published in the Journal de la Jeunesse, M. Louis Rousselet recalls, in a very piquant way, the prohibition imposed by the Brahmins on the poor Nats to wear shoes, unless a special dispensation was granted by the Church.
How many traces there still remain, even in our egalitarian and civilised society, of these caste distinctions which survive by force of habit, the feudal regulations which had them established! We remember having laughed many times, in the provinces, at the perplexities of a very intelligent young craftswoman, who, in spite of her desire to do so, never dared to replace her little worker's bonnet by a lady's hat, although her husband urged her to do so. Her bonnet was prettier than the hat she could have worn; but she wanted the hat, and yet she never dared to wear one, for fear of the neighbours' jeers. It is enough for a custom to be a sign of distinction for that custom, however absurd, however painful, to take root with almost indestructible force.
Everyone knows today that the little feet of the ladies of Chinese high society are the result of an awful torture; it is as ugly as it is monstrous, and there would not be enough hissing for the sculptor or the painter who would dare to represent the stumps of these ladies' feet in the nude; But such is the empire of social mores and prejudices, that most Indian girls of the lower classes doubtless look with despair at their charming unmutilated feet, and bitterly regret that they could not have been crippled too. Our French girls, on the other hand, on seeing in the Chinese exhibition the little embroidered silk boots of the Chinese ladies, and finding that they vary in length from 8 to 12 or 13 centimetres, will laugh at these little feet, the secret of which is a mutilation; but, - and this is what I wanted to get at - could the French women tell us why, if they do not want to follow in the footsteps of the Chinese ladies, they wear boots whose heels are ten, twelve, and even fifteen centimetres high? This is insane. Such a position, prolonged, must enormously tire not only the feet and legs, but the waist, the bust, the loins, and cause in the long run inconveniences, and even very serious accidents.
The French exhibition of women's footwear is delightful, and would deserve, in a way, to be celebrated in verse. French shoemakers can boast of having, not figuratively, but truly, put the whole world at the feet of the beautiful. After seeing such an exhibition, one should no longer ask what the shoes of the elegant ladies of the nineteenth century are made of; they are made of everything. Leather is no more than an accessory, or rather a base destined to support a small work of art to which all the kingdoms of nature can be called upon to contribute. Here it is velvet and gold, there satin and pearls, elsewhere the skin of the snake and the feathers of the bird. There are some charming ones that will make young men dream of holding the foot of their beloved; there are some foolish ones that would be enough to convince the husbands of women extravagant enough to wear them of the need for divorce; but, in short, one must have seen this exhibition of French shoemaking to imagine what it is. And we understand the enthusiasm that inspires the Moniteur de la cordonnerie when it says:
"We knew that French shoemaking was more important than all the others put together, and we were eager to see if this interesting and difficult part of the clothing industry had kept up with a past which, in 1867, was not without brilliance.
"Well, it is with joy that we note that French shoemaking has far exceeded what we had hoped for. We knew that a fairly large number of good workers are absent from Paris and we feared that these gaps would be felt. No, this country has such a vitality and creative power, the Parisian patrons and shoemakers have such a will and such a good taste that, from the industrial art which they practice with such success, to pure art, there is only one step.
Let us say, for those who do not know the Moniteur de la Cordonnerie, that this newspaper, one of the best that the industrial specialities count among us, has for director and editor-in-chief a poet, Mr. Charles Vincent. The Moniteur de la Cordonnerie has the courage, - which does not surprise us, knowing who its director is, - to blame fashion, "this pitiless enemy that everyone caresses," he says; but it is not enough to call fashion a pitiless enemy, it is necessary to treat it like a stupid and ferocious goddess, and to break its images and overturn its altars. Fashion, in fact, rests on the absolutely false idea that what looks good on a few must look good on everyone, or that, even when it would look bad on most people, good taste and respect for propriety demand that everyone conform to the arbitrary decisions of this capricious goddess. Be plump or slender, short or tall, blonde or brunette, it matters not; you must, however ridiculous you may be, follow the fashion; and in vain will you tell your tailor or your bootmaker that you want to have your own fashion; You will not be listened to, and what happened to a philologist, who was accused of having violated the principles of spelling which he upheld, because, in the very writing in which he set forth these principles, another spelling, the fashionable spelling, had been followed with perverse obstinacy by his printer.
The Moniteur de la Cordonnerie blames the fashion for high heels, but all the shoemakers in the world follow it and make their clients follow it. Some innovators are concerned with finding a shoe that is completely in harmony with the shape of the foot and lends itself to all its movements; but I do not believe that the fate of shoemaking reformers is much more enviable than that of other reformers. Besides, we must recognise that the exaggeration of fashion is much less great in the usual or wholesale shoemaking than in the fancy shoemaking. The latter, it is true, offers us shoes that are delightful to the eye, but whose prices must be very high. Under these conditions, there is neither a large production possible, nor a large number of workers initiated into this type of work. We have been told that many objects, ornaments of the most beautiful showcases, have been paid for in labour five or six times their real value, because one wanted to make, if not the impossible, at least objects whose exceptional beauty does not meet any of the possible conditions of consumption. It would have been, from this point of view, a very interesting thing to know the prices of all the objects exhibited; and really it is a serious question to examine whether the statement of price should not be the rule in all exhibitions.
The question, however, is not so simple as the advocates of the marked price believe, for to these the advocates of perfection of workmanship may reply by the example of that English firm which exhibited a miracle of lightness - a jockey boot weighing only three ounces - and which arrived at this marvel of workmanship by means of competitions in which prizes are awarded which are infinitely greater in importance than the market value of the work executed. This jockey's boot, one might say, is not made to walk in; it is made not to weigh. In the same way, the coconut leaf shoe, which can be seen in the English India exhibition, was undoubtedly made only as a model of a fragile and graceful shoe. But should grace and fragility be driven out of exhibitions? The friends of the good, durable and solid shoe would not want to.
We will end this article by saying that the friends of the good and solid shoe, themselves, would not want to banish from the exhibitions the objects whose main merit is grace; And, in fact, when it comes to men's shoes as well as women's shoes, one can only be a good worker, an industrialist worthy of the advanced state of our civilisation, if one never forgets that one must not only think of satisfying all the needs of the people at the best possible price, but also of developing in everyone a sense of taste, the need, even in the most common objects, for all the elegance of form compatible with the destination of a product. One can," says Philippe Burty, "conclude from the taste of a people for all the arts by studying only the vases or dishes they use daily. This is perfectly true. Is it, in fact, on the sumptuous objects that luxury industries have always produced for kings and the great of the earth, that you can judge the social state and the more or less artistic tastes of a people? Obviously not; you can only judge by the greater or lesser elegance of the objects which the people themselves usually use. In this respect, the different parts of the Exhibition are far from being equally satisfactory; but it is not to the shoe industry that we would address this reproach, for both wholesale and luxury footwear is making very noticeable progress, and it can be said that today, in France, in order to have any kind of shoe adopted, whether it be boots, booties, shoes, galoshes or clogs, it is necessary to be as concerned with giving elegance to the products as with giving them solidity. This is a very interesting problem to solve, and one which is posed in more or less the same terms for all industries, except for the luxury industries, where, as the English say: Money is no object.
Good workers, such as, for example, Mr. Lecapé, the one who lets the public know by means of an announcement placed inside his shop window that he does not leave his house unless he has done so himself, are inclined to think that the problem as we pose it is insoluble. "Either you want something beautiful and good, they tell you, and it will necessarily be expensive; or you want something cheap, and it will necessarily be neither beautiful nor good, at most it will have a passing beauty of form; but it will not last, and after a very short time the slouching, deformed shoe will betray its origin and its junk quality. And then they classify the exhibitors each according to his kind with wonderful ease and faculty. These," and they list two or three names which we will not repeat, not wanting their rivals to be able to reproach us with even the appearance of an advertisement, "are the serious men's type, these the serious ladies' type. The serious genre is the beautiful, good and expensive article, aimed at a limited but rich clientele. Such and such make high fantasy, theatre, etc., etc. Such and such others make the common, the cheap, and sell shoes by the million; but these shoes do not deserve the attention of the connoisseur. Well, it is precisely the products of this last category that interest us most.
We know that specialities have their purpose, and if we were a shoemaker's journal we would not fail to take the reader to the various countries in which we are present.
We know that specialities have their reason to exist, and if we were a journal of shoemaking, we would not fail to take the reader to the various countries where specialities indicated by climate and customs flourish: in Russia, for lined boots; in Norway, for sea boots, etc., etc., not without pointing out that France competes, even for these special products, with all the countries of the world, and even manufactures succos, a species of closed clogs, made of hard wood, with a copper heelpiece, made to protect the foot, covered with an ordinary shoe, against the burning sands of South America. But we repeat, what we are particularly interested in is the solution of this democratic problem, to have a good and beautiful shoe at a relatively cheap price. Let no one tell us that this is impossible. There are already houses that come very close to solving the problem; and who would be so bold as to say that the chemical and mechanical sciences, whose inventions have made the cheapness of clothing and in particular of footwear possible, will not make the "progress necessary to completely solve the problem posed?
It would be quite possible that at the very moment we are speaking this problem has been solved. We can make this intelligible to everyone. A shoe, made of inferior materials, may have been made from a very graceful, very elegant model; but it will deform in a few weeks' use. Suppose the introduction of a steel arch into this shoe, and it may be capable, not of withstanding use - nothing withstands it for long - but of withstanding it as well as the strongest and most expensive shoes. Now, just go and visit the various mechanical sections at the Exhibition, and you will see whether it is the mechanical arches and camber that are lacking. On the other hand, if the mechanics are working, the tanners and leather workers are not idle. For them, chemists subject the bark of all known trees to all sorts of experiments; they make oak extracts, chestnut extracts to give strength, suppleness and elasticity to leathers that bad tanning processes today leave heavy and spongy or dry and brittle.
A foreign leather, which today's shoemakers do not want, will perhaps be sought after tomorrow and will make it possible, by lowering the price of leather, or even without lowering it, to give good shoes for the price that bad ones cost today. Just by studying the places of origin which supply calves, kids and other leathers of all kinds to the modern shoemaker, there is enough to learn the whole geography again. And the number and variety of raw materials available to the industry, aided by trade with the outside world, is constantly increasing. A goat, unknown until now, I believe, to the shoe industry, made its appearance this year in the United States exhibition. It is the Curaçao Brush kid, whose particular merits we are unaware of and which we mention, as well as the skins of snake, crocodile and tiger, only for the record, the acclimatisation of these last species appearing to us to be infinitely less desirable than that of this good ostrich, whose feathers look so good on the heads of ladies and marshals. Even when reduced to doing without the skins of ferocious animals, whose complete destruction, we hope, is only a matter of a few centuries, modern industry is not about to run out of resources. It is well known that, although we have only recently begun, thanks to the invention of refrigerated ships, to feed ourselves on the flesh of American animals, we have long been putting on their hides.
We do not believe, therefore, that the scarcity of raw materials can in any degree justify the high prices of certain houses. The whole world is dependent on our industries, and there is no shortage of leather, except in exceptional circumstances, such as a state of war. While mechanics and chemists are thus working in concert with the importers of materials to solve the problem of cheapness, other inventors are busy finding processes for preserving the good qualities of footwear for a long time by making it waterproof. At the workers' exhibition, we saw an object that threw us into a state of astonishment bordering on stupefaction. It was a boot placed in a dish in such a way that the sole dipped in the water contained in the dish. The first time we saw this object started in this way, a layer of mould began to form around the boot; the second time, the layer of mould covered the whole boot. I confess that I am anxious to know the result of this experiment.
For sure, the one who will [give us the means to make our shoes waterproof at will, whether he is a worker or a boss, will have deserved well of humanity and in particular of people disposed to head colds. Poor people with colds, innocent victims of coryza, whose guard at the gates of the barracks does not even defend the gendarmes, what a handkerchief of honour we shall owe to the one who, by waterproofing, I say waterproofing the shoe, will have enabled us to do without it... no shoe, handkerchiefs! There are also exhibitors in the great Exhibition who claim that it is found. I would like nothing better than to believe it; but, you understand, I would like to experience the effects of waterproofing myself. I would also like to become personally acquainted with heat insulating soles and other inventions designed to suppress dampness and cold on the feet.
While waiting for these definitive experiments, since we have entered the workers' exhibition, let us stay there for a moment. It is as much in terms of ideas and inventions as in terms of execution that the workers' exhibition is remarkable. I would even go so far as to say that it is more remarkable in the first respect than in the second. And this is understandable. At the workers' exhibition, it is the exhibiting worker who has done everything himself, and, whatever his skill, it cannot be greater on its own than when it is united with the skill of the other collaborators whom the division of labour calls upon to work together in the production of one and the same object. The conditions of development of modern industry imperatively demand a combination of capital, machinery, and personnel, which the worker can only achieve by association. It would be folly for him, and a gross folly, to try to fight alone against the power of the bosses. But ideas are not like products; one can very well have an idea of one's own and put it into effect, with more or less difficulty, with more or less success. It is in fact in this respect that the workers' exhibition is most remarkable. The worker reveals himself even more as a thinker, as an inventor, than as a manual worker.
If we look at shoes today, what do we see at the workers' exhibition? We see, no doubt, admirably made shoes, - let us say, in passing, that shoes are one of those products which can be made more expensively, but by individual as well as collective work, - but we see above all new systems of cutting, assembly, and arching, such as those of Messrs. Palabort, of Montrouge; Douillot, of Montreuil-sous-Bois; Patrix, of Cherbourg; the new heel with a rotating collar of M. Blanchet, of La Villette; the heel with a mobile toe of Mrs. Antoinette Ruy; the ingenious crotchet-guard, of M. Lheureux, intended to prevent the bottom of trousers from getting dirty in muddy weather, and finally the mathematical innovator of M. Amonin, which should make it possible to do with ease, and at the end of a marvellously short apprenticeship, what is most difficult in the art of the pattern maker.
As we can see, whatever the degree of usefulness and success of these inventions, they are inventions, novelties, ideas. This is the dominant character of the workers' exhibition; it will strike, we are convinced, all those who visit it and give the objects exhibited the attention they deserve.
THE CLOTHING OF BOTH SEXES
The title alone of this chapter indicates that the class it represents was one of the most visited.
The interest it offered was too great for it not to have a considerable number of visitors.
Note that in addition to the attraction of their attractive shop windows, the exhibitors had added another attraction that was much appreciated by the public; we are referring to the distribution of delightful chromos, illustrated plans of the Exhibition, portraits, etc.
The house on Boulevard Voltaire distributed portraits of Voltaire in Voltaire que veux-tu.
The Printemps shop distributed a delicious little catalogue with a plan of the Exhibition, blue and gold embossed binding, if you please.
The Maison de la Belle Jardinière gave out a huge map of the Exhibition and the Maison du Pont Neuf, which is not on the corner of the quay, offered a smaller one.
La Magicienne offered a delicious little map printed in blue.
The department stores of Saint Joseph gave a small, very complete and very detailed map.
A shirtmaker in the rue Saint-Martin, M. Tenaillon, also offered a plan of the Exhibition, executed in more restricted conditions.
Readers, you who have assiduously visited the Exhibition, remember how much these pretty prospectuses were fought over, how they were almost snatched from each other, especially on Sundays.
We have already named the main exhibitors; we shall now enter, as far as possible, into the details of the various exhibitions.
Let us begin with the ladies and speak first of the Petit Saint-Thomas.
Its confections, its silks, its velvets, its satins, of all shades more shimmering than the others, were the object of admiration of all the women and caused the torment of many husbands.
La Belle Jardinière, - we now turn, for a moment at least, to men's clothing, - had an excessively seductive window display.
About this house which sells cheap clothing, we shall make the same reflections as when we spoke of "cheap furniture."
Comfortable clothing, made available to all, is a good deed; it flatters a natural desire, that of being well dressed; it inspires a taste for dress, it engenders a spirit of economy.
The history of this house, which was, note, a democratic innovation, when the meaning of the word democracy was not yet understood by anyone, is too interesting for us not to give it a special place here:
At the beginning of the century there was a very modest shop in the City, - since it hardly occupied more than a dozen square metres, under the sign of the Belle Jardinière, taken by its owner from its neighbourhood of the Marché aux fleurs.
This shop was the embryo from which the present establishment grew.
When M. Pierre Parissot created the Bille Jardinière, in 1827, he had the idea of adding to the ready-made clothes for the use of the workers, who were then numerous in the City, the bourgeois clothes made in advance.
At that time, it was customary among the middle class to go to the clothier and buy the necessary quantity of fabric, which was then entrusted to a tailor, who would either make the garment you ordered or not. If you succeeded, everything smiled at you; if you failed, the demands of a restricted budget obliged you to keep a pair of trousers or a paletot which was embarrassing, badly cut, badly made, sometimes ridiculous because of what is rightly called malformation.
To avoid similar disappointments, it was often preferable to proceed as an increasingly small part of the wealthy population still does, to go to a tailor, choose a fabric, and order the necessary garment. If the garment failed, it was either altered or made up again; but then the tailor covered his risks and his false costs, which were more considerable than those of the tailor, by demanding a price that was often very high.
In both cases, with the great tailor and the tailor, one had to endure impatient delays when they were not
when they were not detrimental. These are the disadvantages of poor workmanship, high prices and delays that Mr. Parissot has succeeded in eliminating. His idea was appreciated, his first garments were taken off and, little by little, as the clientele came and formed, the initial idea was modified and extended.
La Belle Jardinière, so modest in its beginnings, became a commercial system which can be formulated as follows: to make available to the public of all classes clothes in beautiful, good and solid fabric, well made, according to the average fashion of the moment, at a moderate price, and this not after weeks, nor even days of waiting and impatience, but immediately, instantly.
Such was the idea.
It was simple; but to bring it to fruition, what patience, what calculations, what labour! It was not overnight that the public's habits could be modified, that the prejudices which, in every country, as in every era, rebel against new ideas, could be overcome.
The reader will forgive us for insisting as we do on the exhibition of La Belle Jardinière; but it seems to us that we are performing an act of justice.
He who has the honour of writing these lines is no longer young; he still remembers the time when the most orderly worker had not, in spite of his savings so laboriously, let us add so painfully acquired, the means of wearing anything other than a humble cap and a Sunday smock;
Those who had had a little happiness in their lives wore, with a just but painful pride, a frock coat.
The frock coat was old and shabby... it was the good worker's wedding frock coat.
Today, thanks to cheap clothing, the worker who has some order can be dressed like everyone else.
Let us continue the history of Mr. Parissot's struggle.
The battle lasted twenty years, after which he finally saw victory secured in a solid and lasting manner. During and after these twenty years, but especially since 1850, the little 12-metre shop never ceased to grow, to expand, so to speak, to push back the walls that imprisoned it, to annex itself: First the floors of the house whose ground floor it occupied, then the adjoining houses, and after these the others, so much so that in 1866, when the City had to expropriate it to complete the site of the new Hôtel-Dieu, the Belle Jardinière had spread its shops and workshops over a block of twenty-five old houses of the Cité. The weak reed had become a great oak, and success had finally crowned so many efforts. Unfortunately, the founder of the Belle Jardinière had died several years earlier, worn out no doubt by the struggles of his youth and middle age; but he had created and left to flourish a new industry, that of clothing manufacture.
M. André Treille, - one of the excellent editors of the newspaper Le Rappel, - has written the following lines about clothing which the reader will appreciate:
"The subdivisions of the clothing gallery offer a great deal of interest, an interest which is understandable in every respect; for the taste for beautiful clothes is a very French taste and also a very human one; it has been with us since time immemorial; it will never disappear. It has always been there and will never disappear. This is one of the biggest branches of our industry. To understand this, it is enough to make the following small statistic: there are thirty-six million inhabitants in France, that represents thirty-six million individuals who dress: some need dresses, others need clothes. We must also add this: all peoples other than ourselves also dress, unless they are the Ashantees of the African coast or the last Redskins of the American savannahs.
"Well, it is we who provide them, it is we who dress them, I mean in a manner... dressed. The elegance that they do not find in theirs, they come to our tailors to ask for it; the good taste of the setting, the learned and graceful cut, they come to our tailors to find it. It is impossible to put a figure on the enormous business that our tailors do with the whole world; it is impossible to form an idea of the cosmopolitan clientele that comes to them. Customers? They have them in Japan and in Chile, with the Yankees and with the Russians, with the English and with the Brazilians; they have them at the North Cape as well as at the Cape of Good Hope. The day will come when every self-respecting Chinese mandarin will want to be dressed only by them, and when the Patagonian chiefs, having become civilised, will send them their orders.
"Without exaggeration, I can say that our tailors carry the prestige of the French name as far as our diplomats, and that they acquire for us a real influence! There is no man outside France who is a little wealthy and determined to conform to the rules of good taste, who does not have his tailor in Paris. He executes orders from wherever they come, and his distant clients know so well that they will have nothing to say, that everything will be perfect, that they rely on him for the choice of fabrics, the manner and the form. Well, doesn't it seem to you that these people, who come to ask for the good care of our masters of cutting, are won over in advance to our ideas, to our country? We dress them, and with our clothes they take on our customs. It is already a way of loving France to buy from her. As long as there are people of taste throughout the world, and I hope that this will be the case until the end of time, France is sure to live, exercising an irresistible supremacy over human morals.
"Where are the tailors of the past? You might as well say: - where are the snows of yesteryear?
"The tailor of today lives in the most beautiful districts of Paris and is well established. Most of them are great industrialists, merchants of recognised value, who have important establishments to run, and their names can be seen in all the streets of the new Paris. It is because their industry is of the first order, and by itself, and by the needs to which it responds, and by the considerable personnel that it employs.
"I spoke earlier of the foreigners who voluntarily make themselves dependent on our tailors; but we must not forget either that we, the good people of France, make up the bulk of their clientele. Despite many attempts, we always come back to them. It is because they create, they make fashion, they invent, they don't only concern themselves with dressing us, but they dress us. Between these two verbs, there is an abyss. Anyone who cares about his or her clothes, in short, is addressing them, and cannot do otherwise.
"It is not only the French customer, the foreign customer who comes to them; it is also the rival, the foreign tailor; the latter comes to buy models here in order to show the workers he employs, the novelty, the kind of work, the aplomb, the chic of the garment, the detail of the linings and trimmings, what do I know? It is our people who set the tone and indicate the fashion to the whole world.
"They form a powerful corporation, and there is, I think, none more honourable and containing more people of merit. They, at least, know their trade, they have put their hands to the task. A very curious detail that I was given: they all started out as workers. So if their reputation as artists and merchants is so considerable today, it is to them alone that they owe it.
"I do not wish to go into the details of the tailors' exhibition at the Champ de Mars. I do not know the secrets of cutting! I will only say that when you see their exhibition, you can see their superiority.
"The Philanthropic Society of Tailors is an example of what a corporation of intelligent and open-minded men can do well, and that is what I find really interesting. With no less than forty-five years of existence, it is composed of three hundred Parisian members and about six hundred corresponding members from the departments and from abroad. Its aim is to help workers who are unable to work because of age or infirmity, and to give instruction to young apprentices. Thus, for this purpose, it has distributed nearly one hundred thousand francs in aid, and yet it has today a reserve of more than fifty thousand francs. What testifies to its broad views and lofty sentiments is that this society is going to found a college for the education and apprenticeship of tailor students. It therefore spares nothing to do useful work, and is completely on the road to progress.
How many more houses we need to mention:
The house of Cardinal Fesch, with its collection of trousseaux and layettes, its confections, its coats, its fitted dresses.
The Grand Bon Marché, the well-known shop in the Rue Turbigo, which sells, as it claims, more cheaply than anywhere else, and which certainly exhibits some very pretty things.
The Maison du Prophète, of Bordeaux, - there was formerly in Paris, on the boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle, a house which bore the same sign and which has long since disappeared, - had a very remarkable exhibition, particularly as regards livery.
The Maison Godchau, - which also provides cheap clothing, made in excellent conditions, - had a remarkable showcase.
With regard to this house, we will reproduce the following lines that Mr. Jules Richard wrote in the Figaro:
"The showcase of the Godchau house contains only a few articles of clothing, some of extraordinary cheapness, others of superior quality and which have established its Parisian reputation; it has had to eliminate, for lack of space, all the confections that it manufactures especially for the colonies and South America.
"I will not teach the public anything they do not know about the products and commercial processes of the Godchau company; it has made the greatest sacrifices to achieve the most extreme cheapness and defying all competition. Mr. Godchau is one of the personalities of Parisian commerce. He is a believer; he has faith in the usefulness and the future of his company.
"An intelligent boss, he knows how to communicate the sacred fire to his employees. On 30 June, he celebrated the great festival of the Exhibition by giving them a bonus of 10,000 francs.
"In a few years, Mr. Godchau made his company one of the first in his industry. In 1859, as a simple clerk, he was struck by the carelessness that the merchants brought to the export trade of clothing items. Old-fashioned and faded articles were collected and, without taking into account the climate and habits of a country, these nightingales were sent there and sold poorly, without profit, and their flow did not bring new orders. Mr. Godchau thought that if he manufactured special articles for overseas countries, success would be certain. This was his starting point, and soon the export of made-up clothes became very important in France; today, for his company alone, it exceeds eight million. He is therefore the creator of a new industry.
"One of the great attractions of this exhibition, - for the merely curious, - was the exhibition of mannequins wearing the costumes of peacekeepers, postmen, servants of large houses, etc."
Returning to the ladies, let us note a few curiosities from the exhibition at Petit Saint-Thomas:
The medieval dress, embroidered with pearls, ivory colour; the dress in squirrel velvet with satin and embroidery, the children's costumes and magnificent confections which bring together the richest and most varied specimens of fashion, borrowed from factories all over the world. Then, admirably executed costumes: from the Duchess dress to the pretty batiste toilet for sea bathing.
©Les Merveilles de l'Exposition de 1878