Ten years ago a charming woman from Riga offered several interesting items to the Museum. A number of collections were supplemented with the objects she then donated. We will focus on one of these items: a summer dress of a unique design, made of natural silk during the late 1930s in Latvia. It must also be noted that the Museum is interested in fashion designer labels. Sewn into the donated dress was such a label, that of – Hermīne Spainis Balode. And, as the saying goes, stranger things have happened...
At that time Gita and Juris Padegs, Latvians living in the US, were visiting in Latvia. Mrs. Padegs brought a donation to the Museum – a tailcoat made in Riga, once owned by her father, architect Paulis Balodis. While the donation documents were being processed, the visitors were invited to look at clothes recently acquired by the Museum. Among them was the above mentioned dress. Mrs. Padegs, looking at the dress, praised the fabric. It had been bought in Paris in 1939. She was informed about everything that had been told to the Museum by the dress’s owner. The pattern of the fabric bears the motifs of the fairy-tale “Little Red Riding Hood”. The dress turned out to be particularly valuable to the Museum, as it bears the dressmaker’s label: Hermīne Spainis Balodis. Such a label is seldom found on designer clothes before the Second World War in the Museum’s large collection.
Mrs. Padegs looked and looked... then tears of recognition appeared in her eyes. Overwhelmed by emotion, she quietly said: “Hermīne Spainis Balodis... she is my mother. I can bring you a roll of these labels, because my mother took them with her upon leaving Latvia.” Gita Padegs’s mother, Hermīne, had been a well respected fashion designer with a vast clientèle in Riga in the thirties. She had travelled to Paris every year to learn the latest fashions. She had also designed hats. Her salon was in Riga, 5 Antonijas street. Suddenly and unexpectedly, many questions were answered by both interested parties.
Due to a donation (2008) by Herma Balodis’ daughters Gita Padegs and Inta Mortensen, the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation has added 86 items to its collection of clothes. The collection of women’s clothes was increased by 61 items, the children’s collection – by 25 items. Two items were added to the hat collection. This is the largest donation to the clothes collection at the Museum to date. It spans the period from the mid-1930s to 1966. Clothes of the early1960s are most widely represented. All the creative designs refer to the thirties. During those years women’s fashion tended to become more feminine, quite in contrast to the constructivism of the twenties.
Designer Herma Balodis perceived and understood new fashion trends. Perfectly sensing the fabric, she did not attempt to create complicated designs when it was possible to achieve a better result with something quite simple. The result was attained through the use of the fabric, design, draping and appliqués. The summer outfit of coloured crêpe Georgette, the short black afternoon dress with gold lamé fabric, and the dark blue crêpe Georgette dress are noted as examples. The designs are simple; the main effect lies in the fabrics, the colours and the quality of the work.
Just at that time, in the second half of the thirties, Elsa Schiaparelli (1890–1973), star of the fashion world, matched buttons in the shapes of animals, vegetables and fruit to her outfits. Herma Balodis had a different point of view: one should never repeat oneself; something new always had to be created. She created a new way to fasten clothes – ties. Two ties were threaded through two buttonholes and then tied with a knot. This was her method of fastening. The work had to be very precise – a time consuming process - so that the outfit would reflect the designer’s intentions. Herma Balodis had a good sense of colour; this can be observed in her decoratively designed appliqués with linings of contrasting colour.
World War II forced Herma Balodis to stop all creative work, but interesting designs were again created beginning in the fifties. A grey woollen dress, its top and skirt completely decorated with narrow stitching, is an example of this period. This design perfectly follows the new line in fashion – a tightly fitting top and full circle skirt. The tiny vertical stitching is wonderfully flattering to the wearer’s figure, singling out the slender and graceful waistline. Although during the post-war years the Balodis family’s financial circumstances were not good, they were always well-dressed because Herma Balodis made clothes for her family. Eldest daughter Gita’s evening gown was elegant. It had a long skirt of black silk taffeta, reminiscent of 1880s fashion, paired with a blouse of gold cloth. This outfit is notable for its simplicity and elegance. The blouse has a low-V neck at the back and a side fastening in shape of a broad sash.
Unfortunately only the designer’s garments sewn for her family have been preserved. The collection contains many women’s suits; it seems that the designer considered them suitable for daily wear. Upon viewing the work made from the end of the 1950s to 1965, it can be noted that they reflect the nuances of fashion of the day – in silhouette, collars, length of sleeves. On the whole the collection reflects quite a complete representation of fashion designer Herma Balodis.
The main guidelines of the master designer’s work have been expressed in these words: “From good sackcloth you can sew a good sack. A beautiful dress can only be made from good fabric. The design should be simple, uncomplicated, the work – perfect.”
Perfection is in all that was created by master fashion designer Herma Balodis.
Curator of the Textile Collection at the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation.