July 29, 2011

Interview with Janine Pons, Model in Paris 1948-1950

"They showed you how to walk, that was it!" she exclaims. Janine Hinderling walks graciously across her living room to demonstrate. She glides effortlessly with a smiling face, her arms slightly arched with a dancer's poise. Just as she did in 1948, showing collections in Paris through one of the earliest modeling agencies.

Print dress "from a house". Picture taken in July 1948.

Her membership card to the agency, marked as valid from 1948 to 1950, looks quite fresh for its age. Hinderling (nee Pons) explains that easily. Modeling was not a big deal for Janine: "I just want[ed] to pass collection, and then I wanted to go skiing or do something else. Her casual remark belies the grace of her walk and the reminiscent gleam in her eye. Hinderling strode through the salons of many fashion houses including the renowned Jacques Fath in those three years.

Agency card from Association Amicale Des Mannequins De Couture De Paris

"I didn't like to stay in one house too long, just what we call a collection for a couple of months, three months. When I [got] back to Paris, my girlfriend was also a model, Vivian, and she's the one who started me on that." Janine worked from late 1948 through sometime in 1950. Because Janine was a house model, the pictures she has are only amateur. "Some girls got into magazine and [took professional] pictures. I never did, I was not interested."

Fellow models from a "presentation de couture" (Janine is on the right). The handwritten caption nearby translates to "we were well-received."

She flitted through her early twenties wearing dresses from fashion houses both large and small in Paris. Her scrapbook is filled with pictures of them. "This was from a house" she points out. "And this one." Which house many of the frocks came from is a distant memory, though a few were identifiable. She recalled one Jacques Fath dress she had, black with a big collar, that she wore on New Year's Eve to the Ball de la Glace. The compliments she got that night are still fresh to Janine. On seeing a vintage magazine print of a dramatic Fath design she notes "that was typical of him. All those collars!"

"Je suis mannequin - chez Andre Ledoux"
I am a model - at the house of Andre Ledoux.

Janine was a mannequin for Fath in one collection in 1949. Her contact with houses was primarily through the premier. "In those big houses, [where] there was a big name like Christian Dior, the premier was the one in charge of everything. She would make the pattern, she would oversee all the sewing girls." Janine did not work directly with Fath, as the premier was responsible for executing his designs on live models like Janine. She also recalled her friend Maggie who sewed at Fath and Dior; for Fath she created clothing for his pret-a-porter line, one of the earliest such lines with a designer's name attached. In looking through her photographs, she points to a simple open-front casual jacket. "This jacket was made by my friend Maggie, [which] she made for Jacques Fath for his ready-to-wear."

"That was a real nice dress, it was white and blue," she indicates, looking at the Ledoux dancers' print frock she wore in 1948.

Another house she passed collection for was Andre Ledoux, primarily showing beach and casual wear at his location on the Place de la Madeline. "Ledoux we would see sometimes," meaning he was in contact with models more directly than Fath or other larger names. "I remember one of the models at Andre Ledoux, she had worked for Casino Paris... the Folies Bergere." Janine referred to the famous striptease establishment with a candid affirmation that she could never have done such work. The role of a model by her time was better respected than burlesque dancers, though in the generation before hers, the connection between models and striptease girls had been quite strong.

"Betty - Mannequin chez Paquin"
Betty - A model at the house of Paquin. Janine notes she was a beautiful girl and a natural redhead.

Janine recalled another time when the staff of Jeanvieve Brunet's fashion house was leaving for a show at a Parisian casino, and Brunet's own car would not start. "Now we've seen everything!" she thought as a fellow model drove the girls and the designer herself to the show.

One particular model who passed collection at this showing had a trick of re-arranging her hair for every outfit. "I can still see her. She wasn't that tall. She wasn't very bright. But she was very famous." That model's name escapes Janine, though the memory is still vivid. Despite her frank remarks, Janine had no rivalries or particular ambitions to become famous among mannequins.

From a fashion show at Bon Marche (a Parisian department store) in 1950. Janine is wearing an evening gown at far right.

In one collection, there were usually eight to ten models showing the designs and about the same number of designs shown per model. Models were expected to smile, look directly at the clients and show as pleasing an attitude as possible. Janine explains, "You had to be very nice." She presented collections in fashion houses and at casinos, as well as showing directly to individuals. "[The designer] would have some client, and you would come and stand in front of the lady, and you'd turn around you know, and she could really look." A collection progressed from day to night: "You had from the everyday thing to a little cocktail thing to the evening thing." The shows were harried but Janine had help changing clothes behind the scenes.

From the house of Maria Loison about 1951.

At the fashion house, preparation for a collection was less frenzied. "Everything was made on us, draped and you know, fixed up. So you could borrow it and you could buy it for cheap at the end of the collection because it was made on you." She says the cost was "practically nothing" for a sample design, something comparable to a forty or fifty dollar purchase in American dollars today. Such samples were couture, made for the model's figure specifically and not saleable to the house's own clientele. "The people who came to buy, you know it was very expensive, it was like princesses and movie stars and people who had a lot of money, it was made on them too."

As a young lady in the 1940s, she experienced a very different culture of beauty than women today. While at the agency, she worked for Carven promoting Magriffe perfume, and before her days as a model Janine studied make-up and skin care quite seriously at Lancome. In 1946 she toured the United States as a "perfume ambassador". Her tour helped educate women on how to wear the latest perfumes from Paris. It was a complex undertaking at the time according to this excerpt from a 1946 article:

"Blondes, says this French expert, should use flower fragrances. Dark-eyed, dark-haired women require the more exotic types of perfume, with a base of musk and amber. 'Some perfumes are for the day and some are for the evening', explained Mademoiselle Pons. 'Lighter perfumes should be used in the morning hours. In the afternoon, a slightly heavier fragrance can be used; but the pervasively fragrant perfumes should be reserved for evening. One does not used the same kind of perfume with a tailored morning costume that one would choose for a luxurious evening gown', according to this merry-eyed girl from France."

Janine married wearing a gray wool dress made by the premier of Dior's house in 1950. Her hat was from the premier at Bon Marche.

After her marriage in 1950, Janine settled in the U.S. and soon found American fashion to be a different shopping experience. She had first left Paris in 1946 for Lancome without a single pair of stockings (they cost $15 a pair at the time) and only one pair of shoes, bought using a ration coupon due to restrictions imposed by the war. In the U.S., she was astounded by the sheer quantity of merchandise available compared to war-ravaged Paris. Yet the standards of American clothes were quite a contrast to the Parisian houses she knew. She quietly decried the standard machine-sewn dress hem, continuing to rip out and hand-hem all her U.S.-bought clothing for years after leaving her native France.

Madame Janine Hinderling today, with a youthful portrait of herself in skiing clothes, probably her favorite attire in the 1940s.

Janine continues to experience joie de vivre with her family and friends. She celebrates her 80th birthday this August.

---April Ainsworth


Hinderling, Janine Pons. Personal interview. June 18, 2005.

Milbank, Caroline Rennolds (1985). Couture: The Great Designers. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Inc.

Quick, Harriet (1997). Catwalking: A History of the Fashion Model. London: Octopus Publishing Group Limited.


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