France · Norway

Designer Diaries – Queen Maud and Callot Soeurs

In 1895 four sisters, Marie Callot Gerber, Marthe Callot Bertrand, Regina Callot Tennyson-Chantrell and Joséphine Callot Crimont, opened a modest, but elegant, fashion design house in Paris. It was by no means a frivolous enterprise. They came from a family of textile merchants and had grown up surrounded by beautiful designs and luxe fabrics. Their father was an artist, who passed on his eye for pleasing design to his daughters. Their mother tutored them in her own specialty, lace-making by hand. The oldest sister, Marie, had trained at the atelier of Raudnitz & Cie.

Below is the Callot Soeurs Paris salon, circa 1910.

Callot Soeurs was featured at the Paris World Fair in 1900, and eventually grew to six hundred employees and over a dozen locations. One of their employees was Madeleine Vionnet, who eventually became a reknown designer in her own right.

1915 Callot Soeurs Design, showing their iconic lacework

Callot Soeurs did a significant amount of business with the U.S., including with Henri Bendel. They also caught the eye of the most fashionable Queen of the time, Maud of Norway. There are several gowns that are believed to be designed by Callot Soeurs that were left by the Queen. Unfortunately for us, Maud had a dislike of labels and many of her clothes are not easy to trace back to the designer.

Early 20th Century Callot Soeurs Gowns, worn by Queen Maud of Norway

It’s not surprising that many of their designs contained lace (primarily reconstituted eighteenth-century lace), but they were very innovative and fashion-forward as well. They incorporated gold and silver lamé and the new elastic gabardine for their ‘sport’ couture. Marie was inspired by the Cubist artists, and she refused to use a corset in her designs, resulting in freer, more comfortable clothes. She was one of the first to design by hand draping fabric on models.

You can see the Callot Soeurs design evolution. They innovated rapidly, but retained their commitment to fine finishing and elegant, expensive fabrics.

Due to deaths and retirements, three of the sisters eventually left the business. Marie Berger ran the couture house on her own for seven years in the 1920s. After her death, her sons Pierre and Jacques carried on before closing it in 1937.

All that remains today of that thriving, innovative enterprise is this mosaic on Avenue Matignon in Paris, which commemorates the location of one of their shops.

I fell down a Callot Soeurs rabbit hole, and I can attest that there are worse ways to spend your time. For some quick, general information, start here. To delve deeper, read here. If you would like to look at a bunch of pretty things, go here.