Anne de Thoisy-Dallem is a pulvipyxiphile, or a collector of powder cases. And you can now see 600 from her 3,000-strong collection at the Forney Library. From the beginning of the 20th century, the cases ladies carried in their bags were real little gems.
By Sandrine Merle.
Sandrine Merle. Your collection is like an anthology of the powder cases that existed between 1880 and 1960.
Anne de Thoisy-Dallem. I mainly bought them in France because I’m French. But also because it was my compatriots who used the most makeup, alongside American women. My son also brought me some from the United States, where big companies like Revlon, Elizabeth Arden, and Estée Lauder were born. There were large factories near Chicago like Volupté and Dorsay. I also have a few English examples from Stratton (a metal factory that produced half of the country’s compacts before closing in 2000), as well as from Japan and Spain.
S.-M. What are your favorites?
Anne de Thoisy-Dallem. The ones from the Art Deco period, with which I started my collection ten years ago. Like the one representing a telephone dial drawn by Dali was donated to the Schiaparelli fashion show in 1935. There’s also the one in the shape of a grand piano from the 30s, because it’s retractable, or the one representing castanets, made at the height of the flamenco craze. Their value varies from a few euros to several hundred or thousands.
S.-M. The cases ladies are obviously related to the world of jewelry!
Anne de Thoisy-Dallem. The collection includes 150 brands, some of which belong to the jewelry world: in the exhibition, you’ll see Hermès, Lancel, Boucheron but also Line Vautrin, Max Vouanet, a goldsmith less known to the general public and of course, René Lalique. But there’s no Fabergé in my collection, as the prices are too high. Among the oldest powder cases, some were hung on a châtelaine alongside thimbles, keys and other objects. Some of them pick up the theme of watchmaking, like the “Powder watch” with its spring-loaded wheel, which releases the powder without dirtying your bag.
S.-M. There are also linkages in terms of materials: silver, vermeil, etc.
Anne de Thoisy-Dallem. You’ll also find enamel, tortoise shell, vermeil, paper imitating shagreen or eggshell, basketry or Bakelite perfectly imitating ivory. It was one of the first plastics developed in the early 20th but was abandoned in the 60s in favor of polyesters because it was very brittle. Aluminum was sought after and considered luxurious from the end of the 19th century until the 1920s.
S.-M. Throughout the exhibition, it’s a pleasure to discover these objects next to advertising posters for cosmetics, perfume bottles, etc. But the real climax is at the end, with dozens of compacts classified by theme, each more creative than the last!
Anne de Thoisy-Dallem. It creates a kind of music, closely following fashions, like that of Art Nouveau with its interlacing plants, or Art Deco or modernism. From France, we used to bring back compacts with pictures of the Sacré Coeur, Notre-Dame, or the Promenade des Anglais. I have at least 50 featuring the Eiffel Tower! Some evoke the colonies with motifs of camels, or Khmer dancers, and so on. Some also have a sentimental value like jewelry. This shows the importance of this accessory which, with the advent of the handbag in the 1920s, became the number one gift… before flowers and candy!
Anne de Thoisy-Dallem is a former heritage curator and director of the Musée de la Toile de Jouy.
« La poudre de beauté et ses écrins » until 29 January 2022 at the Forney Library