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René Hubert - The Clothes Make the Star

Discussion in 'PUBLIC Vintage Chatter - Anything and everything' started by Midge, Jun 7, 2021.

  1. Midge

    Midge Super Moderator Staff Member

    Here's the second exhibition I saw last week at the Museum für Gestaltung here in Zurich with the Swiss Textile Collection, after the Brodovitch one, we had a private tour with the curator also of this one.

    Whilst the Brodovitch exhibition had been planned a long time ahead, this one about René Hubert happened sort of on short notice, because the museum was offered this whole collection which had come from René Hubert. Crazy story: Hubert lived the last years of his life here in Zurich with his partner. When his partner had died a few years after him, that family came to clear out the house and started to throw out everything, including all the things from Hubert's career that he had kept - sketches, photos and the like. A neighbour saw it and decided to save it, and bought it from the partner's family. That collection then went through a few hands until it landed with a collector of old film star autograph cards, who then offered it to the museum. Part of it is now at the Cinématèque Suisse and part of it will stay with the museum here. It was clear that the curator was incredibly happy about this acquisitation and being able to put this small exhibition together on short notice (though the lock-down helped with giving him time to put it together, on the other hand due to the reduced airline capacity, air freight became a lot more expensive and they couldn't get as many actual costumes for the exhibition as they would have liked). Since the exhibition is opened, a relative of Hubert contacted the museum, because he owns Hubert's memoirs - and the next plan now is for a biograhpy about Hubert to be written.

    Here's the page from the museum, which has also a good trailer, though it's in German: https://museum-gestaltung.ch/en/ausstellung/rene-hubert-kleider-machen-stars/

    His full filmography is on IMdb, of course - and it is impressive: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0399484/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1, and FrockFlicks have a post about his historical costume movies: http://www.frockflicks.com/costume-designer-rene-hubert-the-frock-flicks-guide/


    So who was René Hubert? I admit, though I love costume movies and read the FrockFlicks blog, his name never registered especially with me, and I didn't know that he was Swiss! So, here's an amazing career in short: born in Frauenfeld, Switzerland - which is near St. Gallen, so he a career in the many lace/embroidery companies of St. Gallen was what he trained for first as an embroidery designer. He never trained as a tailor or something alike, but he had an eye for design. He went to Paris for further training in the 1920s, and there came into contact with the music hall scene and started designing costumes for them. By sheer luck, he landed the job of designing costumes for a Gloria Swanson film in 1924, Madame Sans-Gène, which was filmed in Europe. And the rest is history as they say. He spend the next years dressing Gloria Swanson (also designing real-life clothes for her, not just costumes) and many other stars in Hollywood films, including Shirley Temple (and some of those designs were reproduced commercially as Shirley Temple dresses for Sears etc.). He also came back to Europe in between and worked for stage musicals and film in London (Science fiction costumes for Things to come - very reminiscent of Star Trek! and Fire over England: http://www.frockflicks.com/tbt-fire-over-england-1937/), Paris and Berlin (Die Drei von der Tankstelle - this one is quite famous here...).
    Sketches for stage costumes, 1920s
    Gloria Swanson (and a photo of Hubert on the bottom left)
    Dress designed for Gloria Swanson in "The Love of Sunya" - that type of slits at the hem of the dress became known as "Hubert splits"!
    Shirley Temple dresses

    In 1939, he designed clothes for a fashion revue for the Swiss national exhibition, then spent the 1940s in Hollywood working for Twentieth-Century Fox, dressing amongst others Marlene Dietrich, Vivien Leigh in That Hamilton Woman (http://www.frockflicks.com/that-hamilton-woman-1941/), as well as working on Forever Amber, to name a few big names.
    More photos of Hubert in Hollywood
    Working with Marlene Dietrich on "The Flame of New Orleans"
    Costumes from "That Hamilton Woman" (the jewelry is a reproduction)
    Costume sketches
    Working on Forever Amber

    In the 1950s, he came back to Switzerland, designed clothes for the Jelmoli department store (this was mid-range, not luxury... probably an equivalent to Sears, as they also had a mail order catalog), fabrics and clothes for Stoffel (see my blog https://vintagefashionguild.org/blog/the-story-of-a-scarf/) and his own range of hankies and scarves.
    hubert15.jpg hubert16.jpg
    Pages from a Swiss magazine that focused on Hollywood/film fashion. Apparently he was featured a lot in these kinds of magazines and was a well-known name here.
    Fabric and dress designs for Stoffel

    He went back to film costuming for a few more films, not least because it seems he wanted to try his hand with the new colour film processes that came in, and with Cinemascope - and so he costumed one of those really big 50s historical films: Désirée (http://www.frockflicks.com/tbt-desiree-1954/ - and I am going to see this cinema here in a few days... the Filmpodium has put on a series of films that Hubert costumed!), and he also worked on Anastasia with Ingrid Bergman. Fun fact: they used Balenciaga's atelier in Paris for costume fittings etc. - but of course were not allowed to ever say so. Hubert received Oscar nominations for best costume for Désriée and The Visit.
    Costumes from "Désirée"
    hubert12.jpg hubert13.jpg
    Working on the "Anastasia" costumes - so these photos were taken at the Balenciaga atelier.

    And if that wasn't a full career already, from 1951 to 1966, Hubert also worked for Swissair! He did their cabin interior design (during this time also came the introduction of the first jet aircraft), as well as three collections of uniforms. The famous "Swissair blue" of these uniforms is also credited to Hubert. Another interesting fact: the Swiss Transport Museum has a huge Swissair collection including uniforms, but they had no idea who had designed them! He designed everything, including a fur hat for cold destinations (didn't get made) and a light "tropical dress" for hot destinations, made from synthetic fabrics - which did get made.
    Swissair uniforms from 1958 and 1966
    Uniform design sketches from the 60s.

    This was a relatively small exhibition, but so many fascinating aspects, and the curator had so many stories to tell, it was clear that he was absolutely fascinated by this man and his career as well, and passionate about the whole subject. I really hope he gets to write that book, I definitely want to read it!
  2. NylonNostalgia

    NylonNostalgia VFG Member

  3. Metro Retro Vintage

    Metro Retro Vintage VFG Member

    What an accomplished designer and amazing career! And thank goodness for that sharp eyed neighbor, as so much could have been lost. The Swiss Transport Museum must be thrilled to put a name to their collection of Swissair uniforms.
  4. Midge

    Midge Super Moderator Staff Member

    Absolutely, Laura! The curator said there's even some Swissair aficionados who came to see the exhibition just because of that connection. It also shows how information is compartmentalized and I guess how specialised museums might tend to look only at what's of interest to them - which makes it harder with people like Hubert who tick so many different boxes. This was just a small exhibition based on that collection, added on with some extra things on loan, but his work and career would be totally worthy of a large-scale exhibition with more costumes and other items of clothing - there's of course more costumes in collections overseas, and he said that all the costume sketches for Désirée are owned by a collector in Australia - which at the moment would have been too expensive to get because of increased transport costs.
    Metro Retro Vintage likes this.
  5. Thank for such a delightful virtual tour. I must read more about him. I would have thoroughly enjoyed this exhibit.
    And to think it was almost lost forever.
    GemGem likes this.
  6. Rolf Ramseier

    Rolf Ramseier Registered Guest

    GemGem and Midge like this.
  7. Midge

    Midge Super Moderator Staff Member

  8. Rolf Ramseier

    Rolf Ramseier Registered Guest

    just read your story about Fisba-Stoffel and the more I look at the scarfs, the more I think the René Hubert scarfs are produced as well by Stoffel.
    GemGem likes this.
  9. Midge

    Midge Super Moderator Staff Member

    It would make sense that it was Fisba-Stoffels who made them! So far I haven't found any particular information, and the exhibition didn't have any either... there's a lot of information still to be unearthed :)!
    GemGem and Rolf Ramseier like this.
  10. poppysvintageclothing

    poppysvintageclothing Administrator Staff Member

  11. Rolf Ramseier

    Rolf Ramseier Registered Guest

    He worked for some years for Stoffel, I have several news articles about it, but nor the Kurator or myself found any information about the scarfs of Hubert.
    GemGem and Midge like this.
  12. Midge

    Midge Super Moderator Staff Member

  13. Rolf Ramseier

    Rolf Ramseier Registered Guest

    The scarfs have only been sold in USA in the early 1950's. Hubert also did the wedding dress of Max Stoffel's daugther in 1949 :)
  14. GemGem

    GemGem Registered Guest

    Fantastic! I love devouring these wonderful information posts, VFG has no comparison for this. ❤️
    Midge likes this.

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