A Fantasy of Fashion: Articles of Interest #7

Roman Mars:
This is 99% invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
“Man is a perpetually wanting animal.” These are the words of Abraham Maslow, the psychologist who in 1943 identified that humans have five basic needs.

Avery Trufelman:
On the first and most basic level is a physiological need for food and water. The second need is shelter, a sense of safety and security.

Roman Mars:
That’s producer Avery Trufelman.

Avery Trufelman:
The third level is the need for love and belonging. Then the need for self-esteem and respect. And then the last final stage of Maslow’s hierarchy is the need for self-actualization. The desire for fulfillment and being all one can be. But it’s not like Maslow’s hierarchy is a video game. You don’t just neatly complete each level. As Maslow wrote-

Roman Mars:
“Most members of our society who are normal are partially satisfied in all their basic needs and partially unsatisfied in all their basic needs at the same time.”

Avery Trufelman:
Which is to say, a complete gratification hardly ever exists for the wanting animal. Maslow said-

Roman Mars:
“A more realistic description of the hierarchy would be in terms of decreasing percentages of satisfaction as we go up the hierarchy.”

Avery Trufelman:
We will always have some hunger or another, and everything we want and desire in this world is a manifestation of one of these five basic needs. In Maslow’s words-

Roman Mars:
“A desire for an ice cream cone might actually be an indirect expression of a desire for love. If it is, then this desire for the ice cream cone becomes extremely important motivation. Every day conscious desires are to be regarded as symptoms as surface indicators of more basic needs.”

Avery Trufelman:
Although sometimes the symptoms of our desires can be so much more complicated, so much more elaborate than an ice cream cone. And what we need manifests in strange and seemingly frivolous ways.

Roman Mars:
Articles of Interest, a pop-up show about fashion and what we wear, is back. We’ll be releasing episodes over the next four weeks on Tuesdays and the occasional Fridays. Kind of… Tuesday – Friday – Tuesday – Tuesday – Friday – Tuesday. It will be like the flag of Nepal. But, you know, upside down.

Avery Trufelman:
Oh, my God. So on brand.

Roman Mars:
It’s hosted by Avery. And you don’t need to listen to Season 1 to understand season 2. You can just dive right in. But either way, you’re already listening to it now.

[OPENING SONG]

Avery Trufelman:
Articles of Interest, a show about what we wear. Season 2.

[People don’t realize it’s fantasy.]

[It’s always this thing that you have to work extra hard to do.]

[Mmm. That’s so good.]

[No one dresses like a king anymore.]

[How do you make money?]

[That’s how I make money, love.]

[There are lots of things that we take for granted that would once have been considered luxuries.]

Avery Trufelman:
Linda Tesner wanted out.

Linda Tesner:
I did not love living in the middle west, the Midwest, and I really wanted to move.

Avery Trufelman:
Linda went to Ohio State University for her masters in art history, and when she graduated in the early 80s, she was ready to hightail it out to New York or Boston.

Linda Tesner:
I wanted a museum job.

Avery Trufelman:
But institution after institution, Linda was striking out. Then one day, Linda was flipping through a newsletter for museum professionals and she saw a job listing to be the director at a place in Washington state called the Maryhill Museum of Art.

Linda Tesner:
And I thought, what the heck is this? And at the time, there was no Internet. In 1983, there was no way to kind of check it up or look at their website. I had no idea what this museum was about, but I sent them my materials anyway.

Avery Trufelman:
Even though Linda was 26 years old and had never worked in museum management and didn’t know this place at all, she got the job. And it was only then that Linda learned exactly where she was moving.

Linda Tesner:
Maryhill Museum is in the middle of nowhere. The closest town is Goldendale, Washington which is 13 miles away.

Avery Trufelman:
The Maryhill Museum of Art is a stately mansion perched on top of a cliff by the Columbia River Gorge. It’s stunning, but it looks like it was just cut and pasted onto the Lewis and Clark trail. It has absolutely no other buildings around it.

Linda Tesner
It’s a very curious place because you drive to it and the museum just unfolds like a castle on the banks of the river, surrounded by basically nothing but hills.

Avery Trufelman:
This is not what Linda was picturing when she got into the arts. She grew up reading fashion magazines, getting up on culture. Glamor was kind of my Bible for a long time. I mean, as a teenager, I read every single issue of “Seventeen” magazine and then jump cut to Linda. At 26 years old, looking out over a vast expanse of the Columbia River.

Linda Tesner:
A friend of mine said that she gave me a year because I couldn’t live among cowboys.

Avery Trufelman:
The Maryhill Museum of Art is surrounded by acres and acres of ranch land. Visitors usually found the museum by accident as they were driving back from ski trips. The closest thing to a restaurant was the nearest gas station. The closest building at all was two miles away. A small cottage owned by the museum. That’s where Linda lived, mostly alone.

Avery Trufelman:
“Why were you alone? You moved with your husband?”

Linda Tesner:
“My husband was a research glaciologist and he was on expeditions about nine months out of every year. So even before our marriage fell apart, I was living alone mostly. So it’s mostly just me living there with a big dog.”

Avery Trufelman:
Linda’s big dog was her protector, barking at the rattlesnakes that appeared in her yard and sometimes in her basement.

Linda Tesner:
I was a braver person when I was 26 and stupid.

Avery Trufelman:
As for the collection, what was actually inside the Maryhill Museum of Art, it was all over the place, as random and fascinating as its location because the whole museum was created as a lark by four random, fascinating friends.

Avery Trufelman:
The main founder was businessman Sam Hill. He’s friend #1. He began construction on this beautiful mansion in 1914 and named it Maryhill. There’s some debate about whether he named it for his wife or his daughter because they were both named Maryhill. Sam Hill roped in friends #2, Loïe Fuller, a famous modern dancer, performance artist, and friend to the sculptor Rodin. She helped bring in a collection of Rodin’s original casts to Maryhill. The third friend was Queen Marie of Romania. She had met Sam Hill in his world travels. And she is why the atrium of the Maryhill Museum of Art is full of beautiful Romanian furniture. And the fourth and most important friend, at least for Linda, was Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. She was the wife of Adolph Spreckels, head of the Spreckels Sugar Company.

Linda Tesner:
When I was a little girl, the boxes of sugar in our kitchen were always Spreckels sugar.

Avery Trufelman:
Alma became one of the museum’s first trustees and foremost benefactors. Her donation to the museum collection would have the biggest impact on Linda’s life. And it was… a bunch of creepy dolls.

Linda Tesner:
I shouldn’t say this, but I thought they were the most Macabre objects I’d ever seen.

Avery Trufelman:
When Linda got to Maryhill, she stumbled on a glass case full of these dolls. And they weren’t like baby dolls. They were clearly supposed to be adults, but they were thin and skeletal and looked like they were out of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Linda Tesner:
Some of them were taken apart, so you’d see a wire mannequin with a disembodied head. You see these parts — little shoes, little purses, these wire bodies, these very blank ghostlike faces.

Avery Trufelman:
The dolls were 27 inches tall, about double the length of your forearm. And they all wore strange dirty dresses and mismatched jackets, all bedraggled from years of volunteers playing with them and switching up their outfits. There were around 50 of these dolls displayed in the glass case, all just bunched up close together like they were on crowded bleachers. A bright fluorescent light flickered above them, accentuating their creepiness. Apparently there were about a hundred more of these dolls in storage. Linda did not know what was up with these dolls, but she couldn’t really dwell on it.

Linda Tesner:
Frankly, there were so many things that had to be done at Maryhill. Absolutely everything was in some sort of disrepair or dysfunction. Everything. I mean, from the bathrooms to signage…

Avery Trufelman:
So among the Rodin sculptures, the Romanian furniture, a large collection of indigenous art, and a display of chess sets, there were the dirty dolls piling up against the glass showcase in the hall, collecting dust.

Avery Trufelman:
Until one day when Linda got a call from a curator at the De Young Museum in San Francisco. She asked Linda if she could come to Maryhill because she wanted to see these dolls. And that was when Linda learned what she had on her hands. These dolls weren’t supposed to be so macabre. Actually they were kind of heroes in a way because these dolls had saved French fashion.

[This is the end of German pride and power in Paris. It began with the fall of France and now amidst the cheers of the people, the Nazi has fallen]

Avery Trufelman:
After four devastating years of Nazi occupation, Paris was liberated on August 25th, 1944. Ecstatic, Parisians rejoiced in the streets. Some of them gathered up the ration tickets that had govern their lives and tore them into confetti. And this turned out to be a very bad idea because the war was not over. They’d still need those ration tickets.

[MUSIC]

Avery Trufelman:
In the aftermath of the occupation, more than five million French adults and children didn’t have adequate shelter or food. Parisians dressed in ratty worn clothes walked and bicycled through their dark city. The capital of light, of art, of culture, was a shell of itself. During the course of World War II, Paris lost its position as the epicenter of contemporary fine art. That moved to New York City. The literary world also recentered around New York, but Paris was determined not to lose its soul or at least not to lose everything to New York. Somehow, even though they didn’t have electricity, Paris had to remain a capital of beauty and ideas. It had to retain its title as the capital of fashion.

Melissa Leventon:
Look at it this way, France has been relying on the couture industry and all of the other industries it involves — the textile industry, the industry that makes all of the zippers, the buttons, the hooks, the feather workers, the embroideries.

Avery Trufelman:
This is Melissa Leventon, an independent curator, fashion historian, and appraiser.

Melissa Leventon:
That’s been a big part of not only France’s economy, but France’s national identity since the 17th century. They’re not just gonna let that go because of a four-year occupation by Germany. They were not going to let it die without a really tough fight.

Avery Trufelman:
Before the war in 1939, the French fashion industry employed more than 900,000 people. It was the second largest industry in France. And then by the end of the occupation, Paris fashion houses were just gasping for breath. They had no customers and no materials, at all. Everything had gone to the war effort. Shreds of leather and buttons were rare. Even spools of thread were few and far between. And this was really hard for France. I mean, the country has a department of its government devoted to regulating high fashion. It’s called the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture and even in that post-occupation scarcity, the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture wanted to send a message to the world.

Melissa Leventon:
We are still here, we were not destroyed by the war, and we kept our skills. And we might not have much in the way of materials, but we’re just going to figure it out. We survived and we want you to know that we survived. But in order to keep going, we need our customers back.

Avery Trufelman:
And the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture came up with an idea. They would gather all the famous French fashion designers together to do a joint fall collection. They would use real fur, real leather, real silk, no compromises. Well, except that everything would have to be in miniature. That way they could scrape together just enough to make tiny outfits, tiny shoes, little purses and gloves and belts, and still use real materials. So they revived an old old French practice. Fashion dolls.

Melissa Leventon:
So let’s talk about fashion dolls, the way dressmakers and women who were called milliners, marchande de modes. Kind of like the fashion stylists of today. They sent around dolls dressed in the latest fashion.

Avery Trufelman:
Dolls were in effect the first catalogs. Clothiers were sending out dolls to wealthy families and royal circles way before the first fashion magazine came out in the late 1700s. So the Chambre Syndicale decided to use dolls again. They reached out to fashion houses like Balenciaga and Nina Ricci and Hermes, and they each volunteered to create an outfit or two. The project was organized as a fundraiser for war refugees and victims. It was also an advertising campaign marketing the concept of French chic.

[MUSIC]

Avery Trufelman:
The collection of 228 fashion dolls would be called the “Théâtre de la Mode”, the Theater of Fashion. They would be sent to the major cities across Europe and eventually, America. And each showing would announce to the world that the couture houses in France were still in business, that Paris was still the capital of glamor and luxury, even though the city barely had power. And, okay… so I keep calling them dolls. But I’m wrong. They are not technically dolls.

Anna Goodwin:
We have doll enthusiasts who are like, “We want to see the dolls.” You can see the mannequins!

Avery Trufelman:
This is collections manager Anna Goodwin showing me some of the Théâtre de la Mode mannequins.

Anna Goodwin:
We definitely, at least I definitely, cringe anytime someone calls them dolls.

Avery Trufelman:
These mannequins were sculpted by the artist Eliáne Bonabel and they are works of art in and of themselves. They were intentionally made with wire limbs and those blank plaster faces so that they would have no personality of their own.

Anna Goodwin:
Absolutely. Their goal was to create a mannequin that just disappeared.

Avery Trufelman:
They look like sketchbook drawings brought to life. The wire limbs look like 3-D brush marks. The focus is obviously supposed to be on the impeccable clothes like this dress anna showed me in storage.

Anna Goodwin:
“It sort of has a bodice with buttons and a collar. And then it comes down to the waist where there’s a belt, which you can see is actually a functional belt has like-”

Avery Trufelman:
“A teeny tiny belt.”

Anna Goodwin:
“The buckle is about half an inch by quarter inch.”

Avery Trufelman:
These are not doll clothes. There’s no Velcro, no fake snap-on attachments. These are real outfits with little clasps and right proper lining. I mean, they look like runway or red carpet looks put into a shrinking machine. It kind of feels like when you look at a freshly born baby and you’re like, “Oh, my God, the little fingernails!” Like everything is there, all in proportion. But so careful and tiny.

Anna Goodwin:
“Tiny little buttons there.”

Avery Trufelman:
“Oh, God, those tiny buttons on the sleeves.”

Avery Trufelman:
And let me tell you, these fashions from 1945 and 46 are not what you’re imagining. Like when I think 1940s fashion, I think broad shoulders, pencil skirts, muted colors, practical low-heeled wartime attire. No, these are richly colored, full-skirted affairs with sumptuous overcoats and gowns intricately beaded with thousands of tiny sequins and hair resplendent with exotic bird feathers. There are tiny radiant sundresses that hint at the 1950s to come. And dramatic pleated trousers that I would wear now. And the shoes. Do not get me started on the shoes.

Avery Trufelman:
“These are like white leather platform oxfords, I guess, with a tiny buckle. Oh, my God.”

Anna Goodwin:
“The stitching is minute.”

Avery Trufelman:
The Théâtre de la Mode premiered in March of 1945 in the west wing of the Louvre. It was a massive success.

Melissa Leventon:
Supposedly the installation in Paris raised something like a million French franc, which was a lot of money given the total economic disaster that was France after World War II.

Avery Trufelman:
As Théâtre de la Mode opened in March of 1945, Allied armies were pushing deeper into Germany, liberating French war prisoners. In April of 1945, France discovered the existential horror of the concentration camps. Bleakness was enveloping Europe and the Théâtre de la Mode was a tiny shred of pleasure. The show was extended for weeks and weeks and weeks. This miniature beacon of glamor attracted a hundred thousand visitors who paid what little money they had to witness this luxurious vision of what Paris still was in their imaginations and maybe could be again.

Avery Trufelman:
The Louvre’s exhibit of the Théâtre de la Mode ended around the same time that the war did in May of 1945. And so the Théâtre de la Mode went on to the next phase of its mission. The show re-branded in English as “A Fantasy of Fashion” was packed up and shipped to London, then Leeds, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Vienna, all to rave reviews. And then the little mannequins went to show off to the old rival, new York City, to more rapturous crowds.

[Goring did his best to strip the French style capital of its finest treasure. But there seems to be some things he missed. Certainly pretty snazzy! It looks like it was really worthwhile, freeing Paris.]

Avery Trufelman:
In 1946, the Théâtre de la Mode made its final stop, the De Young Museum in San Francisco, and everyone agreed this would be the exhibit’s final resting place. France didn’t want the mannequins anymore.

Melissa Leventon:
They didn’t need them back. So the De Young had not earmarked funds to return them, like, there was no spare cash in the system.

Avery Trufelman:
The Théâtre de la Mode was sent to a department store in downtown San Francisco that was named, confusingly, “The City of Paris”.

Melissa Leventon:
I remember talking to a woman who used to work at City of Paris, saying she remembered seeing them in the basement.

Avery Trufelman:
And the mannequins just stayed in the basement of the City of Paris department store for years until they were found by a wealthy San Franciscan named Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. In 1952, she shipped them off to her pet project, a museum in rural Washington state. They were sent without any accompanying documents or explanation as to their origin. Perhaps Alma thought these mannequins needed no introduction, that everyone would, of course, remember this worldwide sensation, even though, of course, they didn’t.

Melissa Leventon:
In a lot of ways, it seems to be the fate of this exhibition to get forgotten about from time to time.

Avery Trufelman:
France pretty much forgot about the torture dilemma. To the mannequins were generally assumed to be lost or destroyed. But as you know, they weren’t. The Théâtre de la Mode was perched on a mountain top overlooking the Columbia River Gorge with Linda.

Linda Tesner:
Really soon after I started at Maryhill, I got this call from a woman named Anna Bennet who was that the textile and costume curator in San Francisco. And she wanted to know if she could drive out to Maryhill Museum and take a look at the Théâtre de la Mode. It was like somebody walked into the museum and provided information that had been missing for a very long time.

Avery Trufelman:
When this curator rediscovered the mannequins in the 80s, word traveled around academic fashion circles. A slow trickle of curators and professors and editors made pilgrimages to Maryhill, each one adding a little more to the pool of knowledge. But then finally, the news got to Susan Train, the Paris Bureau Chief for Condé Nast.

Linda Tesner:
She was a woman that wielded a lot of power. She was very interested in fashion. She’d been in the fashion industry for her entire life. At the time I met her, she must have been in her 50s, late 50s, maybe.

Avery Trufelman:
Of course, Susan Train knew all about the Théâtre de la Mode.

Linda Tesner:
And she knew its importance. And she couldn’t believe that like there was this time capsule. There was this collection sitting in where? Like Goldendale, Washington? What?

Avery Trufelman:
Susan flew from Paris to the Pacific Northwest to see the mannequins.

Avery Trufelman:
“And was she wearing heels when she touched down at the Portland Airport?”.

Linda Tesner:
“Yeah” (laughs).

Avery Trufelman:
She always wore heels and always wore pearls with her blond hair chopped in a chic bob. Oh, and she always carried a purebred long-haired American Kennel Club dachshund with her. Linda remembers she had one named Kniphofia, which is a flower. I had to look it up.

Linda Tesner:
She was very intimidating because she was a very tall, thin, elegant, very elegant woman.

Avery Trufelman:
Linda tried to roll out the red carpet as best she could. She took Susan to the only place you could eat out for dinner, which was a truck stop across the river called “Jack’s Fine Foods.”

Linda Tesner:
This was a woman that I’m sure that French fry rarely crossed her lips.

Avery Trufelman:
When Linda took Susan to the Maryhill Museum to see the Théâtre de la Mode, Susan adored it. She could see past the grime and the mismatched outfits and recognize what it once had been.

Linda Tesner:
And she looked at the Théâtre de la Mode and she fell in love. It was kind of love at first sight.

Avery Trufelman:
And there was another love blossoming. Between Linda and Susan. Not in a romantic way.

Linda Tesner:
Maybe it was an older sister-younger sister relationship.

Avery Trufelman:
Listen. You can hear it in Linda’s voice.

Linda Tesner:
She wore these big earrings that were cut glass but was like a big chunk of rock on her ear. And they were so shockingly beautiful to me. I’d really never seen anything like that. I remember once at lunchtime, I would say, “Oh, Susan, I really… Those earrings. I just love them.” And she immediately popped them off her ears and handed to me and said, “I want you to have them.” She was generous like that. She was extremely generous.

Avery Trufelman:
I mean, how could you not be completely taken with this glamorous person? It’s the same thing that drew 100,000 starving French people to stare at the Théâtre de la Mode. Glamor and luxury are powerful.

Avery Trufelman:
Susan knew she had to bring these mannequins back to Paris, to revive the Théâtre de la Mode back to its former glory.

Linda Tesner:
She went back to Paris and got busy.

Avery Trufelman:
Susan did her Paris Condé Nast bureau chief thing and pulled together an elite team to refurbish the Théâtre de la Mode.

Linda Tesner:
There were moth holes and the mannequins themselves, some of them had to be resoldered and somethings had to be re-created. And then maybe the most vexing thing was that well-meaning volunteers over the years had changed all the clothes. So they were no way in their original ensembles.

Avery Trufelman:
This was a team effort from a crew of set designers, clothiers, and historians. Experts and artists reference the black and white photographs from the original show and talked with the fashion houses to make sure the outfits were perfectly restored. Leather was polished. Silk was dry cleaned. Diamond jewelry was reconstructed. Real hair replaced and combed. And once again, the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture was footing the bill. The cool thing was that many of the original artisan designers who worked on a project in the 40s were still alive to oversee the revival in the 80s, this labor of love they all thought they had lost. And if the mannequins were going to Paris, Linda had to go with them. She had to ensure they were safe because they were still in the Maryhill Collection. But also, there were many parties and celebrations to attend.

Linda Tesner:
Well, I remember I had bought outfits for all of these events that were taking place in Paris, and I thought I knew what I was doing. But the minute I got to Paris, Susan wanted to… like, “What do you what did you bring?” So I took all of the clothes that I had brought from home to her apartment one Saturday. And she was like, “No. No. No.”.

Avery Trufelman:
There is nothing wrong with Linda’s look. Susan was just on a whole other level.

Linda Tesner:
I ended up – because she’d so disapproved of what I had brought from Oregon – I ended up wearing a lot of her clothes to these events. I think it was important to her that I looked a certain way and I certainly did not want to disappoint her.

Avery Trufelman:
For the next two years, as the mannequins were being fixed up, Linda went back and forth from Paris to Goldendale, from champagne toasts to rattlesnakes and back again. Little by little, she was becoming more glamorous under the tutelage of Susan Train.

Linda Tesner:
Whenever I came to Paris, Susan always made sure there were flowers in my hotel room when I arrived. The most astonishing bouquets, like a profusion of pink lilies. She arranged for me to have my hair done. She arranged for me to have my makeup done. She arranged for me to have a pearl choker made.

Avery Trufelman:
“Made?”

Linda Tesner:
“Made. She actually marched me… like she just put me in the car with her driver, and she would come along with her little dog. And there was a jewelry store. It was just, “I know just where I need to take you for a pearl choker.”

Avery Trufelman:
It was a real classic makeover montage.

Linda Tesner:
“I actually have a scrapbook I could pull out and show you.”

Avery Trufelman:
“Could you?”

Linda Tesner:
“Yeah.”

Avery Trufelman:
Linda has kept nearly every party invitation, every dinner menu. And in her scrapbook, there are lots and lots of photos. And Linda looks like a supermodel. She’s tall and thin with blonde bobbed hair and her three-strand pearl choker, always with a drink in hand, flushed with laughter. Théâtre de la Mode was reopened in Paris in May of 1990. At the Musée des Arts de la Mode. It was a smash success. There were parties and photoshoots and press interviews and it was like Linda had gone through the looking glass. She was living the very fantasy that the Théâtre de la Mode represented. Case in point, back in Washington state, Linda had cut out an article from Vogue about the up and coming dress designer Herve Leger. And in Paris, Susan brought Linda to Herve Leger’s studio to get a dress fitted for her. It’s simple. Black and white with a drop waist. In her blonde bob and her Herve Leger dress, Linda looked like a 90s flapper. It was like a fairy tale, especially because this Herve Leger dress was for an actual ball.

Avery Trufelman:
After France, the Théâtre de la Mode was exhibited at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it was on display during the Met Gala that year. And the Met Gala is just the fashion party. In 1990, Linda received an invitation.

Linda Tesner:
I was kind of bedazzled with the opportunity of going to this incredibly glamorous dinner party at the Met. Like who would ever think that was gonna happen when I moved to Maryhill Museum in 1983.

Avery Trufelman:
And I can’t help but notice, as the pictures in her scrapbook progress, Linda starts to look more and more like Susan.

Linda Tesner:
Somebody once laughed like, “Oh, Linda. You’re Susan’s little mannequin. Like she’s dressing you.” She had opinions about how I looked. She did. In an Eliza Doolittle way, like “I can teach you how to be chic.”

Avery Trufelman:
Susan wanted to teach and Linda wanted to learn. They were getting closer.

Linda Tesner:
We did love each other. We really did. We did love each other. We were very, very good friends.

Avery Trufelman:
But Linda started imitating Susan in other ways, too. Less healthy ones.

Linda Tesner:
I’m sure she was naturally thin. So staying in that body that I had in Paris, in New York, was really hard and took a lot of time.

Avery Trufelman:
Linda was eating less and as she put it, exercising like a crazy person.

Avery Trufelman:
“And then you’d get back to Goldendale and you’d still be like running and dieting.”

Linda Tesner:
“Yes. Definitely.”

Avery Trufelman:
“Really?”

Linda Tesner:
“Yeah. I didn’t want to disappoint Susan.”

Avery Trufelman:
I know exactly what Linda is talking about. I think a lot of people do. There were years in my life where I tried to starve myself, and definitely a big part of it was I wanted to fit into beautiful clothing. And when you are intentionally starving yourself, that is a task that takes over your whole brain. I didn’t think about anything else.

Linda Tesner:
It’s not sustainable and it’s not even very fun. Because you’re constantly… You’re thinking all the goddamn time about what you’re going to eat or not eat. So your entire world, like it kind of pains me to think of those years, like not thinking about other things, but thinking about assiduously writing down every calorie in a little notebook.

Avery Trufelman:
In this condition, you feel like you’re not human. You can’t eat meals and just enjoy life the way other people can. But I did it in pursuit of glamor. Of something that ascends to a higher plane than normal life. Something that’s impossible.

Linda Tesner:
You can’t stay this thin for that long. You can’t. I mean, I couldn’t. And it created a real crisis of confidence.

Avery Trufelman:
Even Susan could see that Linda wasn’t doing well.

Linda Tesner:
She was a little worried about me, at how thin I had become. I remember at one lunch, we were having lunch together and she insisted on getting a bowl of strawberries and whipped cream for dessert. And I remember her sitting there saying, “Linda, eat!”

Avery Trufelman:
After New York, the Théâtre de la Mode went to Tokyo and so did Linda. But in the pictures in her scrapbook, all the glamor appears to be taking a toll on her. She actually gained a lot of weight in only a few months from all the stress and traveling, and she was spending a lot of money.

Linda Tesner:
Oh, I put myself into debt by chasing… like having to have the Herve Leger. I don’t regret it. It was really exciting to wear that dress for one night at the Costume Institute Gala. I would do it again, but it had major repercussions in my life that lasted for a long time.

Avery Trufelman:
“Financial repercussions?”

Linda Tesner:
“Financial repercussions. Body dysmorphia.”

Avery Trufelman:
Linda started to wonder exactly why she was doing all this.

Linda Tesner:
Like, how much did I want to be like Susan Train? Susan was in many ways a very lonely person.

Avery Trufelman:
“I didn’t want to depend on anyone for anything,” Susan Train told a Vogue journalist in 2007. “I never wanted to be identified with one clique”. The profile adds that Susan Train knew every designer but kept a professional distance and that she intentionally did not spend time with Americans. Linda apparently was an exception.

Linda Tesner:
Well, I learned that what appears to be very glamorous can be very lonely.

Avery Trufelman:
And watching Susan, Linda realized that she didn’t want to be quite so addicted to her work or quite so lonely or quite so thin. And then the best possible thing happened. The show ended. The Théâtre de la Mode went back to Maryhill and so did Linda. Back to her little house on the cliff. This whirlwind experience made Linda ready to move on. She went to live in New York for a spell and then eventually went back west. She lives in Portland now and she’s spent much of her career working in museums and collections there. She can drive to the Maryhill Museum of Art in two hours. And she does every so often. To remember this beacon of hope for postwar France and this evidence of a parallel life she once had. Because the other witnesses to her story are mostly gone.

Linda Tesner:
My husband John met Susan and went to France for a honeymoon. We went to Paris. It was so great to see Susan. We had meals together and it was the last time I saw her.

Avery Trufelman:
Most of the artisans and experts and historians who were involved with the mannequins in both of their incarnations have passed away. In a lot of ways, the story has become Linda’s.

Linda Tesner:
I’m kind of sick of people talking about like, you know, “I did this, or I had this and it changed my life, a life-changing experience.” This actually changed my life. It taught me lessons that I think about today.

Avery Trufelman:
After our weekend together, Linda sent me a quote that she had heard a long time ago which had stayed with her. It was attributed to Ben Brantley, the theater critic for the New York Times. “Glamor is whatever you can’t have. It is best perceived at a distance, either literally or emotionally. Knowledge kills glamor.” This just seems so utterly true to Linda. She experienced the shadow side of her jet-set life with Susan. She knew about the suffering and deep trauma behind the tiny mannequins. And yet I personally don’t know if knowledge kills glamor entirely, wounds it severely for sure, but it’s hard to completely destroy the illusion. The aspirational pull of fashion carves out a space in our imagination. That’s why we dream of Paris, why we want to see Cardi B on the red carpet in vintage couture.

Avery Trufelman:
Glamor involves so much delicate placement of smoke and mirrors for the people who occupy that rarefied air, so much so that the pleasure in it is really ours. We, the viewing public, the audience. Linda knows this, and I think that’s why she enjoys the show.

Linda Tesner:
I don’t wanna go anyplace else on the night of the Oscars. I want to be in front of my TV with absolute silence and I just want to watch but I don’t want to be that and I don’t even want to be in that world. Not again. What once was enough?

Avery Trufelman:
From the vantage point of Linda’s living room, the beautiful people on TV seem so small and innocuous, almost look like little dolls.

[CLOSING SONG]
‘Portrait’ by Sasami Ashworth
A pocket, a piece of paper.
Words from yesterday.
There’s a portrait, painted on the things we love.

Avery Trufelman:
Articles of Interest was written and performed by Avery Trufelman, edited by Chris Berube, scored by Rhae Royal and Sean Real. Fact-checked by Tom Culligan with additional fact-checking by Graham Hacia. Mix and tech Production by Sharif Youssef with additional mixing by Katherine Rae Mondo. Our opening and closing songs are by Sasami. Insights, support, and edits from the whole 99pi team, including Joe Rosenberg, Emmett FitzGerald, Vivian Le, Abby Madan, Kurt Kohlstedt, Delaney Hall, and Katie Mingle. And Roman Mars is the true fantasy of this whole series.

[CLOSING SONG CONTINUED]
There’s a portrait, painted on the things we love. We love.

  1. Betty J Long-Schleif

    Thank you for this interesting program from a particular point of view. Linda hired me as Collections manager/Registrar in 1988 to catalog and prepare the TDLM mannequins to travel to Paris for restoration and curation. For the next 22 years I accompanied and installed them in many venues in the U.S, Japan, Britain and Spain.

    They were a fascinating collection that appealed to such a wide audience, not just Fashionistas. You did not mention the incredible sets that they are exhibited in. Although only 9 of the original 12 sets were recreated in 1989/90 they were done with great detail paying homage to the original designers.

    I had the privilege of working with many fashion historians and researchers who were interested in the collection. Like Anna I managed all of the art collections in the museum but the Theatre de la Mode will always hold a special place in my heart. I retired in 2010 and going back to Maryhill Museum is like revisiting old friends.

  2. Kim nichols

    I’ve been to Maryhill several times. Theatre de la Mode is a sight to behold, from the manikins with the exquisite clothing to the teeny tiny purses and shoes. The museum itself is breathtaking to come upon sitting out in the middle of nowhere and perched directly above the mighty Columbia. It’s worth a trip!

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