Madame Paulette: Hollywood Hats, Parisian Style
March 12, 2022

Madame Paulette: Hollywood Hats, Parisian Style

The 1940’s was an exciting period in millinery history. There were many influential and famous designers, and hats were a fashion and lifestyle statement, such as a handbag is today. America had a number of famous milliners during that time, but the most influence in Europe was Madame Paulette. From the 1940’s to the 80’s her work were worn by celebrities, part of fashion house, and photographed by the greatest fashion photographers

Paulette entered the world of fashion as a millinery model then salesperson. In 1925 with no formal millinery or fashion education she opened a small salon and started selling her first handmade hats. By 1929 she moved to a larger salon and had eight employees. By 1939 she had moved her salons and workrooms to the now Avenue Franklin D Roosevelt onto multiple floors with a spacious, luxurious salon.

War would be declared six months later, and she had to leave the city for a year before coming back to an occupied Paris the end of 1940. The war would limit the supplies and material available which led to the inventiveness of many milliners. Paulette invented the turban 1941and it proved ideal for ease of use and storage.  Fabric limitations led to the popularity of the style which could be made with a small amount of fabric and remnants. At the same time, Lilly Daché was popularizing the style in America as well, but their styles differed as Daché designed for the glamour of Hollywood, while Paulette stuck to a smart, practical style.

After the war, Paulette was designing for high fashion houses and with the return of fashion buyers and agents, her workrooms were then employing 120 people. They could make 800 hats a month exclusively by hand for the Paris elite and visitors. She never worked from illustrations, she designed her shapes directly on a block and would let inspiration guide her. A mold of the design would then be made from sparterie. This also allowed her to protect her original designs by not having permanent wood blocks made. Her large-scale production would be made on wooden blocks that her personal block-maker would design in collaboration with her.

By the 1950’s society was back in full swing with galas, balls and evenings at the theater. Paulette was commissioned to make headdresses for extravagant soirees, giving her free reign to her imagination and was now famous internationally. She was invited to open shops internationally, included Buenos Aires, inside Harrod’s in London, and in New York, Chicago, Cleveland and Boston. She was close friends and worked with Cecil Beaton on films My Fair Lady, and Gigi.

By the 1960’s the popularity of hats was in decline. Paulette continued to create collections of sixty designs twice a year for another twenty years and to make hats for high end clients and royalty. Some of the last designers she worked with were Thierry Mugler and Claude Montana in the 1980’s. She was unable to attend the presentation of her last collection due to her sudden death in September 1984, at 84 years of age.

There are two large collections of her work today. The Musée Galleria, a fashion museum in Paris, has over 100 of her pieces, and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs has a collection of similar size, as well as smaller collections as Met Museum of Art and Museum of the City of New York.