Saturday, February 26, 2011

PARIS city of Fashion?

After knowing that I had a job offer at MILA SCHON in Milan-I booked my flight to Paris for the next leg of my work founding mission. I was very excited by the Mila Schon offer but decided to go to Paris as well and see what the city had to offer. I had to learn a new language  so if it was going to be  French or Italian- I would  have to find out.
When I arrive at the Airport in Milan ,it was pandemonium. All the flights were cancelled because of fog and thousand of people where screaming and performing.
I saw a very elegant woman dressed in a magnificent fur coat   with crocodile shoes and handbag.
 I asked her what was going on and she told me that all the planes were cancelled and that the airline  will exchange  flight ticket for a train ticket .She was French and on her way to Paris -so I asked her if I could tag along with her. I don't think she was too thrilled but she agreed.
We took a cab back to Milan and when we arrived at the station it was a bad as the airport! There where hundreds of people at every platform trying to catch a train to various  cities in Europe. She told me to follow her and she marched up to the guy keeping all the people off the platforms. She spoke to him and greased his palm very well, as he lifted the barrier and let the two of us through. She told me to run to the dining car and get a seat for us. As we reached the dining car the flood gates open up and the rest of the passengers where allowed to rush the train.

In the dining car I packed  all out luggage under the table and she ordered drinks for us. Looking the way she looked- they thought we had seats in the train but just came in for a drink .The staff were very charming and for the first 3 hours we had a seat on the packed train. After that they very politely told us that they had to set up the tables for lunch and we had to return to our seats. Nothing that she could say would change their minds and we had to g back into the passage .I gave her my suitcase to sit on so we traveled like this for a while. As  we got to Switzerland some people got off and she found a seat. She claimed another one for me a little while later, and we had a pleasant trip for the rest of the day .By this time she knew my history and she also said that  Jean Patou was her designer and she would try and get an interview with them for me. She was a publisher in Paris and went to Milan for a funeral .That evening when we arrived in Paris she asked where I was going to stay? I showed her my Frommer "Europe on $5 a day " travel book and she found a cheap ,but safe hotel for me. Her driver dropped me off so by the end of the long day I was safe in Paris.


I did have Annette De Villiers's telephone number in Paris and I called her the next morning. When the famous French couturier Pierre Balmain visited South Africa Annette modeled for him in Johannesburg and he then offered her a job in Paris. By this time she was not modeling anymore but was married to  a wealthy Frenchman .

Here Penelope Cruz is wearing a Vintage Pierre Balmain dress

She invited me to lunch and we spent the rest of the day buying clothes for the very elegant fashion store - Derbers in Johannesburg. She did this on a freelance basis for them. We went to the Intercontinental Hotel where the designers were showing and it was a wonderful experience for me. Annette knew a designer at Christian Dior and she said she would see what she could do to arrange for an interview for me there.

While I was in Paris- Coco Chanel died -10 January 1971. It was front page news especially in a city like Paris .The day was sad and it was raining and the same morning I saw them fish a dead body out of the Seine River. Paris had a lot of glamor but it was not happy place for me. The  French were snobbish and arrogant and thought there were better than everybody else. I did my share of knocking at the door of most of the fashion houses but no success.

Me in Paris

The interview with Jean Patou that the French publisher arranged for me came to nothing and when I went to see Annette's friend at Dior, they could only offer me a position for designing handbags and leather. I was not interested in that and it felt more and more ,that Milan was the place for me to go. The Italians could be just as rude- but there were not snobs. The were more down to earth and I felt more at home there -than in France.

Molyneux Jersey dress

Johan Tullis on the right.
This photo was taken in South Africa after John retired .

I went tot see the House of Molyneux in Paris as well. Captain Edward Molyneux was born in London and had a fashion houses  in Paris- as well as London. I spoke to the designer John Tullis- Molyneux's cousin -and  he invited me to their fashion show the next day, although he could not offer me a job. The next day I arrived for the show. This was a real Parisian Couture show with the rows of small gilded chairs .The mannequins walked in -without any music- and showed the clothes while the customers made notes. The director of the houses-dressed in black with a white flower on her shoulder called out the number of the dress and the costumers would mark it on their programs if the were interested in the garment .Their main customer was Lady Mary Soames-whom was then married so the British  ambassador in Paris- Lord Christopher Soames. She was the youngest daughter of Winston Churchill. She was there in the front row!

Captain Molyneux.

Lady Mary Soames.

Shortly after the show started some shouts were heard from the street and everybody stormed to the windows to see what was happening - ignoring the fashion show- including Lady Soames.
Paris was rife with student unrest and this was another episode of young hippies throwing rocks and protesting. After the excitement was over, the show could continue....
John Tullis 's  mother was South African .He was a tall elegant man with great style - A real gentleman. After Molyneux closed the Paris fashion house 1977 he went to work with Hartnell  in London and designed a lot for the Queen and the Queen Mother .He designed the outfit that the Queen Mother wore to Prince Charles  and Lady Diana's wedding.

Years later I bumped into him in Johannesburg after he retired. He did not remember me but we became friends then .He lived with his brother and his wife and once  showed me many photos of gowns he did for the Royal family as well as movie stars like Marlene Dietrich .
The kindness of strangers made this job finding mission so much easier for me.

Read more about Molyneux here :-

Unfortunately the PARIS OPERA was closed for alterations, so I only saw the beautiful building from outside. I did go to the Johnny Hallyday concert. He was the French Elvis Presley -as well as a  concert by Francoise Hardy

Realizing that Paris -for now - was not the place for me- I moved onto London......and much more- much more opera!


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Thanks for your comment Mike. John was a very kind man and remember him fondly.