My Grandma Louise was a true Auntie Mame. A bit of a party girl in her youth, she lived all over the world and her passion was fashion.
She attended Trapagen School of Fashion Design in New York City, but she designed mostly for herself and occasionally for my mother, like the outfit in these photos.
In 1964 my mother began a European tour in the London borough of Harrow where her mother and stepfather were living at the time. While visiting together, Grandma designed this outfit for Mom.
Made of a wool plaid Mom chose herself, the dress has 36 buttons up the back and 13 on each sleeve. The wrap is also wool and in Mom’s favorite color, burnt orange.
My mother and grandmother had a terrible row (Brit speak) on that visit. The original plan to travel together to France was scrapped and Mom went on by herself. Although family fights are never a good thing, in this case I believe there was a silver lining, at least for my mother.
Grandma Louise was a beautiful and talented woman who was also difficult. A trip to France would have gone her way and consisted of room service at the hotels and sightseeing from her Cadillac. Afterall, she had already seen France. I can hear her saying, “Nevermind, let me tell you about my trip to France.”
With my grandmother along, Mom would never have created the memories she still enjoys today:
- meeting another mother and her children on the ferry to Calais
- strolling the cobblestone sidewalks in Paris
- getting admonished in French by a waiter for finishing a bottle of wine (one was supposed to save a small glass for the chef)
After a week or so had passed, while Mom was having a wonderful time in Paris on her own, Grandma called and apologized. On the way home, Mom returned to Harrow and was gifted with a Louise Original.
The dress is nothing like the youthful Julie Christie styles of the era. The slim silhouette and demure mid-length hem are more retro Maggie Smith in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. A shawl collar and a polite slit up the back says Sophisticated Lady. The lining of the dress is in royal blue, which matches the blue in the plaid.
The designer touch is the wrap. It is a cross between a jacket and a cape with open sleeves, large buttons and patch pockets. My mom says it’s alota lota. I say it’s very Grandma Louise.
For my mother, I suspect the fibers of this outfit weigh heavy with a mixture of anger and love. Even all these years later I don’t think she can look at it without remembering that nasty fight as well as the loving gesture of her mother creating something just for her. Equal in anger and love, it’s an uncomfortable ensemble.
The Grandma Louise Original is now part of my collection from Mom’s Closet.