by Camille Myers Breeze
Rarely is a project accompanied by as much provenance and documentation as the dress we recently conserved for a private client.
Carla Meeks, née Marie Caroline Silvester, was painted by Prix de Rome winner James O. Mahoney in 1935. Mahoney was a family friend and possible student of Carla's new husband, Carroll L. V. Meeks (Yale class of 1928), who taught architectural history at Yale University. The painting was passed down through the family and, in 2011, the subject's daughters donated it to the Yale University Art Gallery.
Surprisingly, the gallery declined to accept the green velvet dress Carla wears in the painting, which has survived in remarkable condition for over 75 years. Constructed of silk knit velour with fur-trimmed sleeves and a rhinestone clasp, the dress is both historical in flavor and remarkably consistent with 1935 fashions.
We know from this 1935 photo that Carla and Carroll attended the Yale costume ball with friends wearing medieval fancy dress.
Furthermore, a torn but still-attached label identifies the dress as coming from the prestigious Maison de Linge of Manhattan and Greenwich, Connecticut.
We do not yet know whether Maison de Linge regularly produced fancy dress but, as its name suggests, it was known for fine lingerie and would probably have taken custom orders from clients.
Cara Jordan was in charge of Museum Textile Services's conservation treatment and archival packing. Cara surface cleaned the dress and stabilized the few small tears. The torn label was repaired with an adhesive underlay and reattached with cotton thread and an overlay of sheer net. The rhinestone clasp was relocated to its original side position. One of Carla's daughters was born in 1936 and believes her mother may have continued to wear the dress into her pregnancy, requiring the clasp to be adjusted. It is also possible that Carla holds her arm in front of her to mask her growing belly in the 1935 Mahoney portrait.
With all of this history, we are certain that the owners will find the perfect institution to which to donate this historic dress.