“Paris Spring 1909″ – these few words, handwritten in pencil, on the verso of a photograph depicting Hortense Mitchell Acton help us date one of the first dresses the signora bought in Paris from the Callot Soeurs Haute Couture fashion house. The photograph, which is currently part of The Acton Photograph Archive at Villa La Pietra, was taken with other shots of the same subject in different poses in the H.A.V. Coles photography studio in Paris. The archives hold over 25,000 images, but among the many of Hortense, only two depict Mrs. Acton in recognizable Callot Soeurs dresses. This explains the early years when Hortense had settled in the villa with her husband Arthur, began an art collection and gave birth to Harold in 1904 and William in 1906. As with the case of the dress she wore when she was portrayed by Julius Rolshoven circa 1907, this dress tells us how Mrs. Acton was carefully building her new social status in Europe, and Paris was the reference point par excellence at the turn of the century, especially for those who came from overseas. Her readings (Montesquieu, Balzac, Flaubert and the Goncourt brothers, to name a few), her wardrobe and her trunks all lead to the Ville Lumiére. The evening dress confirms the Edwardian-Belle Époque phase of the Callot sisters, which featured a more linear cut. It still had a high waist, the S-bend silhouette and pastel colors like pink and sky blue, but it was all done with a new air. This was understood through the rich use of lace, chiffon and tulle as well as flattering necklines and cuffs that offered a glimpse of the arms through the use of tulle and especially the decorative embroidered motifs, imported from the Near and Far East, like the abstract embroidery on the 1909 dress, alluding to clouds and peacock wheels.
In this washroom/wardrobe, we imagined a departure and an arrival. The four trunks are open and show precious fabrics from countries in Asia like China, Japan and India. In the first ten years of the twentieth century, Hortense and her son Harold (from 1932-1939) had the opportunity to take long trips to the east, bringing back small objects, like fans, parasols, caps, board games, head ornaments and fabrics of all sorts to decorate the home and keep a close connection to the countries whose cultures they loved so much. The practical and elegant Louis Vuitton steamer trunks physically transported their clothing, shoes and everything needed for a long transatlantic journey and for stays in foreign countries as well as all the objects they took home. Symbolically, the trunks transported the influence of a culture created from travels through space and time.