Norine Couture

Belgium has a well established reputation in avant-garde fashion. Yes, everybody knows the Antwerp six, but did you also know Belgium had an avant garde couture house in the roaring twenties? Norine Couture was run by a charismatic couple: the cultural and intellectual polymath Paul-Gustave Van Hecke (°Ghent 1887, + Brussels 1967) and the grande couturière Honorine “Norine” Deschryver (°Ghent 1887, + Brussels 1977). They established their couture business during World War I. For the first time, a Belgian couture house created its own designs instead of buying them from Paris, and offered an attractive and highly original local alternative.

After the war, they became one of the most important couture houses in the country. Their avant-garde designs boldly transcended the modest conventionality of Belgium. The national and, to some extent, international artistic intelligentsia were their customers. Nele Bernheim, Licentiate in Art History and Archaeology and  MA in Fashion and Textiles Studies from the Fashion Institute of Technology (New York) is currently preparing her doctoral dissertation entitled Couture Norine, Brussels: The Embodiment of the Belgian Avant-Garde, 1916-1952. For her The history of Belgian avant-garde fashion begins with Norine.

 

Honorine “Norine” Deschryver and Paul-Gustave Van Hecke

 

Norine Couture was a prominent representative of the Modernist movement in fashion. In fact, Van Hecke and Norine’s environment was entirely modern and was a hub of Surrealism and Expressionism: their private home, Van Hecke’s art galleries and journals and the couture house’s salons featured work by national and international contemporary artists. They firmly embedded art in fashion; this symbiosis with modern art gave their creations high art status. The couture house’s beautiful graphics were conceived by Belgian artists such as Frits Van den Berghe, Leon de Smet and—most importantly, by René Magritte.

 

Invitation to collection showing, Autumn 1922

 

Anonymous, invitation to collection showing, "reveillon" 1924-25 (front)

 

Anonymous, invitation to collection showing, A-W 1924-25 (back)

 

Anonymous, Invitation to collection showing S-S 1952, in Victor Horta’s Hotel Tassel, Brussels

 

Invitation to collection showing, New Year 1922

 

Also the techniques and imagery of modern art were literally incorporated into the house’s creations. Their signature dress of the second half of the 1920s, the “robe peinte” (painted dress) displayed hand-printed Art Deco motifs. And of 1925, a photograph shows us a dress that was embroidered with a Raoul Dufy composition. In addition, Norine Couture was unique in its pioneering use of Surrealist imagery with Modernist fashions. In 1927, the embroidery on a sports ensemble refers to the work of Max Ernst. When Surrealism in fashion became well established in the late 1930s, Norine Couture turned to Ernst’s and Man Ray’s imagery for their embroideries.

 

"L'Envol." An ensemble with appliqué showing the Surreal imagery of Max Ernst.
Published in Psyché, August 1927.
Photo by Robert De Smet.
Courtesy Royal Library of Belgium.

 

Sportswear.
Published in Psyché, April 1927.
Photos by Robert De Smet.
Courtesy Royal Library of Belgium.

 

 

Mme Marieberthe-Max Ernst wearing "Vaincre," a day dress.
Published in Psyché, July 1927.
Photo by Robert De Smet.
Courtesy Royal Library of Belgium.

 

Mme Edouard Didier in a Norine day dress in white satin crêpe and pieced appliqué.
Published in Psyché, July 1927.
Photo by Robert De Smet.
Courtesy Royal Library of Belgium.

 

Norine Couture enjoyed its largest success during The Roaring 20s. Funded at the expense of Van Hecke’s art business, the couture house survived the world economic crisis of the early 1930s. Even during World War II, they continued to be influential. The late 1940s saw the decline of Norine Couture. After a persevering struggle for survival, the Van Heckes officially closed their couture house in 1952. Norine Couture can be considered a precursor to the development of avant-garde Belgian fashion, which gained worldwide renown from the late 1980s onwards. For almost forty years, this Belgian couture house was at the intersection of different visual art disciplines and the elite vanguard of European art and fashion. No account on the realtionship between Art & Fashion in Belgium, and even worldwide, can be considered complete without Norine.

At present, no functioning archive of Norine exists. In addition, very few Norine garments are known to have been preserved. Anyone who comes across relevant documentation can contact Nele Bernhem via info@nelebernheim.org

© I Love Belgium

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