Tournures & Culs-de-Paris

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  • What Not to Wear: The Deadliest Hats, Scarves, and Skirts in History | Collectors Weekly
    https://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/what-not-to-wear

    The following is a public service announcement from Killer Fashion author Jennifer Wright: If you wrap a piece of fabric around your neck—whether it’s a fabulous scarf, a dashing cravat, or a dapper necktie—you just might be tying your own noose. Why would she say such a thing? Well, consider the death of choreographer and dancer Isadora Duncan, who was known for her flowing, Grecian garments. Duncan met her maker on September 14, 1927, when she went for a drive and her long, flamboyant scarf got caught in her automobile’s back wheel.

    “My mother never spotted anybody sporting a scarf without reminding me that Isadora Duncan had her head pop off because she wore a scarf,” says Wright, a freelance journalist who’s written several pieces on fashion history for Racked. “The danger of fashion is something that I learned about at a very early age.”

    In her illustrated book Killer Fashion: Poisonous Petticoats, Strangulating Scarves and Other Deadly Garments Throughout History, published by Andrews McMeel in late 2017, Wright details myriad ways fashion—from clothes and accessories to beauty products—has literally slayed people. It’s an homage to Edward Gorey’s 1963 alphabet book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an illustrated poem with 26 lines describing the deaths of 26 children. Each of Killer Fashion’s 26 entries, listed in alphabetical order, includes a write-up, a Gorey-style illustration of the horror described, and a four-line poem by Wright. For example, an entry entitled “Bras” is accompanied by this rhyme: “A simple piece of metal wire / holds a lady’s breasts up higher. / But they can be in for quite a jolt, / if it attracts a lightning bolt.”
    Above: Ah, the underwire bra. It pokes, it rubs, it digs—but does it kill? (Via eBay) Top: An 1860 lithograph print reads “Fire. The Horrors of Crinoline & The Destruction of Human Life.” (From the Wellcome Library via WikiCommons)

    Above: Ah, the underwire bra. It pokes, it rubs, it digs—but does it kill? (Via eBay) Top: An 1860 lithograph print reads “Fire. The Horrors of Crinoline & The Destruction of Human Life.” (From the Wellcome Library via WikiCommons)

    But, seriously, how many women have died getting a lift from Victoria’s Secret? “In 2009, two women struck by lightning were killed because the underwire in their bras acted as a conductor. That was a freak accident,” Wright admits. “But just think about it the next time you’re out in a lightning storm,”she says with a foreboding note creeping up in her voice. “It’s just a cool thing for you to remember.”

    “By not wearing a hat, John F. Kennedy and Elvis saved a lot of lives.”

    Many women have heard the old adage, “One must suffer for beauty”—“Il faut souffrir pour etre belle” in French—so like the pain of an uncomfortable push-up bra worn to achieve a curvier silhouette, death by fashion might seem like a grim comeuppance for feminine vanity. But the most troubling stories in Killer Fashion aren’t even about the style mavens who wore the toxic looks, but the poor souls tasked with making the clothes.

    While fashionable flappers adopted the questionable habit of applying glow-in-the-dark radium on their lips and teeth to shimmer on the dance floor, the women who suffered most from exposure to radioactivity were the “Radium Girls” who worked in factories in the 1920s carefully painting the small numbers on the faces of swanky Undark watches and licking their glowing paint brushes to make a finer point. In a particularly gruesome Killer Fashion passage, Wright explains, “The radium painters’ teeth began to rot. When they went to the dentist to have their teeth pulled, some of their jawbones crumbled under the pressure.” In fact, the radium weakened all their bones and gave them tumors. In a few short years, the radium-factory death toll had reached 50.
    In 1922, Radium Girls worked in a factory for the United States Radium Corporation, which made a luminescent paint called Undark, used on fashionable watch dials. (From the Rutgers University Libraries, via WikiCommons)

    In 1922, Radium Girls worked in a factory for the United States Radium Corporation, which made a luminescent paint called Undark, used on fashionable watch dials. (From the Rutgers University Libraries, via WikiCommons)

    The industrial processes used to make fabric for clothes often proved to be killers. Asbestos, a marvel fabric that would not burn in a fire, gave the men who mined it and the women and children who spun it into fabric in the 1850s chronic shortness of breath and cancer. In the early 20th century, the manufacturers of viscose, a cheaper alternative to silk, were exposed to carbon disulfide, which made them manic and inclined to jump out the factory window. If they survived, they were later prone to Parkinson’s disease.

    The viscose makers weren’t the only workers to have their minds altered by noxious gasses released during the processing of raw material. In the 1700s, haberdashers who used mercury to make felt for their hats—everything from tricorns to top hats—suffered from tremors, mood swings, a decline in brain function, kidney disease, and respiratory failure. When Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll was growing up, he likely encountered several of these “mad hatters,” and they weren’t like the adorable tea-swilling kook you see in the Disney film. Despite doctors’ warning about mercury as early as the 1757, felt hats were processed with mercury for nearly 200 years until hats fell out of fashion in the 1960s. “By not wearing a hat, John F. Kennedy and Elvis saved a lot of lives,” Wright tells me.
    Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for The Mad Hatter—illustrated by John Tenniel in the original 1865 “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”—were much sadder figures in real life: haberdashers poisoned by mercury.

    Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for The Mad Hatter—illustrated by John Tenniel in the original 1865 “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”—were much sadder figures in real life: haberdashers poisoned by mercury.

    Outside of factory workers, lower-class women often put their lives on the line aspiring to look like one of the elite. For example, in the 1890s, when French engineer and industrialist Comte Hilaire de Chardonnet developed a pre-viscose artificial silk, dubbed Chardonnet, women clamored for dresses made of this affordable but luxurious-looking fabric. Unfortunately, Chardonnet was also highly combustible. A woman elevated in status by an elegant silk-like dress could go up in flames if she got too close to a candle.
    What foot binding did to the feet. (Via China Highlights)

    What foot binding did to the feet. (Via China Highlights)

    But fashion, historically, also hobbled women with the highest status. Sitting near the top of a patriarchy required a woman to look like a dainty, fragile doll who’d never seen a field or walked more than a few steps on her own accord. As far back as 850, the Chinese would break little girls’ feet and bind them so they wouldn’t grow more than four inches long. As a result, the women grew up tottering on deformed feet, known as golden lotuses, that looked like high-arched deer hooves (and bear a startling resemblance to the shape of modern high heels). Often, the women’s toes would curl under their feet, and when the toenail cut into her skin, the resulting infection could lead to septic shock.

    “The lotus foot was popular because it meant that you weren’t going to work in the field,” Wright says. “The women’s toes fell off! That was considered a good thing because it would allow for tighter binding and tinier feet.” In extreme examples of foot binding, “you probably had to be carried places, which implied that you would always have enough wealth to have servants and you’d never need to do much walking.

    “I was so shocked to learn that the last factory producing lotus shoes didn’t close until 1999,” Wright continues. “Even that recently, some women in China were expected to bind their feet to outrageously tiny proportions in order to attract a mate.”
    An extremely tall Venetian chopine made from wood covered in white leather with minimal ornamentation. (Courtesy the Bata Shoe Museum)

    An extremely tall Venetian chopine made from wood covered in white leather with minimal ornamentation. (Courtesy the Bata Shoe Museum)

    But the Chinese weren’t the only culture with a strange footwear fetish. In 16th-century Italy, aristocratic women wore tall platforms known as chopines that also restricted their ability to move freely. “It’s important to remember that Venetian upper-class women were sequestered and hidden from view most of the time,” as Bata Shoe Museum curator Elizabeth Semmelhack told Collectors Weekly in 2014. “They never dressed themselves. Maybe they put their own clothes on, but they didn’t choose what to wear—the representational aspects of their dress were chosen for them.

    “Sometimes these women were put out like parade floats, mounted on very high chopines in splendid dresses,” she continued. “Their job was to convey the wealth of their families as well as the larger affluence of Venice. They had to walk very slowly and required the aid of two servants to navigate whatever space they were moving through.”

    Today, women’s mobility is still compromised by high heels, particularly the high-end stilettos and pumps made by Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, and Christian Louboutin, whose footwear is designed to convey wealth and preciousness. “If a woman is wearing high heels, she’s not going to be running around the city delivering packages,” Wright tells me. “She’s just going to be walking slowly to tea.”
    This modern-day Christian Louboutin python-skin pump retails for $1,495 a pair and features a 5-inch heel. (via eBay)

    This modern-day Christian Louboutin python-skin pump retails for $1,495 a pair and features a 5-inch heel. (via eBay)

    While women often choose high heels for themselves for reasons of status, the sense of power that comes with added height, the amped-up sex appeal, and the element of danger implied by a sharp heel, there’s no question that the higher the heel you wear, the harder it is to run. It’s a cliché of horror, sci-fi, and adventure films to depict a beautiful woman stumbling in the face of danger or throwing off her shoes to run from a monster. But in real life, stilettos can deny a woman a quick escape from a monstrous man—and make an everyday activity a hazard.

    In Killer Fashion, Wright explains how Winston Churchill’s mother, Jennie Jerome, fell to her death in 1921 trying to navigate a flight of stairs. “Jerome is my poster girl for high heels killing someone,” she says, “but I think it would be incorrect to assume that other women have not toppled off of high heels—especially if they were outrageously high, as they were for quite a bit of history.”

    “My mother never spotted anybody sporting a scarf without reminding me that Isadora Duncan had her head pop off.”

    Of course, when you think of garments that historically bound and inhibited women, waist-cinching corsets are probably the first to spring to mind. “Women who had super tiny waists weren’t going to be doing much heavy lifting,” Wright says. “They were going to serve more as beautiful ornaments than as labor. In the same way, French aristocrats who grew their fingernails to outrageously long lengths wanted to convey they would never need to work with their hands.”

    Naturally, Wright has an entry on corset-related deaths. But exactly how much damage corsets actually did is a subject of heated debate today. Fashion Institute of Technology museum director Valerie Steele, speaking to Collectors Weekly in 2012, asserted that the stories of 1890s tight-lacing were highly exaggerated, and that most women cinched their waists no more than four inches, to a 22-inch waist. She also explained that she’s never found evidence that links those tight-laced corsets with cancer, scoliosis, or liver disease. Steele, however, admitted that corset tight-lacing could shift internal organs, cause constipation, and weaken a women’s back muscles. And corset ads of the era, Wright explains, did claim to reduce a 27-inch waist to 18 inches.
    This 1895 photo, supposedly depicting a tiny waist, looks like it’s been altered using 19th-century photo manipulation techniques akin to airbrushing. (Via Vintage Everyday Facebook page)

    This 1895 photo, supposedly depicting a tiny waist, looks like it’s been altered using 19th-century photo manipulation techniques akin to airbrushing. (Via Vintage Everyday’s Facebook page)

    “I have heard that just wearing a corset isn’t really that bad, but ultra-tight-lacing of a corset can be a big problem,” Wright says. “In the 1890s, certain women wanted to have these incredibly waspish 18-inch waists that corset advertisements promised you. I found one case in which a woman in 1859 seemingly died because the tightness of her corset caused her ribs to pierce her liver. There were also cases of women who became so used to the support of their corset that they could no longer stand upright without them. The pressure from a tight-laced corset can also cause displacement of your internal organs, which is obviously not great for your body.”

    Around the same time European and American women were trying to shrink their waistlines, they wore big cage-like undergarments beneath their skirts to make their waists seem even tinier. The crinoline, also known as a hoop skirt, posed a risk when a woman, say, ill-advisedly took a walk near a cliff and got picked up by the wind. But even ladies who kept a safe distance from precipitous drops faced perils, fire being the biggest danger.
    This 1865 cage crinoline is made from cotton-braid-covered steel, cotton twill and plain-weave double-cloth tape, cane, and metal. (From the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, via WikiCommons)

    This 1865 cage crinoline is made from cotton-braid-covered steel, cotton twill and plain-weave double-cloth tape, cane, and metal. (From the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, via WikiCommons)

    Today, most flames are safely ensconced in lightbulbs and furnaces, or behind fireplace screens. So we forget that for millennia humans lived among open flames that provided both heat and light—fireplaces, fire pits, torches, candles, and oil lamps. Walking around in a giant, stiff skirt filled with layers of tinder-like petticoats made it even more likely your clothes would come in contact with flames, and then once your dress caught fire, your crinoline cage became your own personal death trap.

    “Crinoline conflagrations, or incidents where crinolines caught on fire, were a big problem in the 1860s, to the point newspapers wrote editorials about them,” Wright says. “Crinoline fires killed around 300 women a year in England, including two of Oscar Wilde’s half-sisters. At the same time, a quote in 1861 from the magazine ‘Littell’s Living Age’ says ‘Our fair friends, when they hear of these dreadful occurrences, exclaim with the utmost sympathy, “How very shocking!” But while they say so, they are wearing crinolines themselves.’ So people had full knowledge that if you knocked over a candle in your crinoline, you would probably go up in flames. But they continued to risk it because the crinolines also made everybody’s waists look so tiny and made them seem to move so gracefully.

    “Crinolines were so big that if a woman’s crinoline caught on fire and then she ran toward the door, she could trap the other people in the room, because she had to turn sideways just to enter and exit,” Wright continues. “Running straight ahead, she would get stuck and block the door. If your skirt is on fire, you’re not thinking ‘How do I maneuver effectively?’”
    A fashion plate depicting a dress and headpiece, including an over-the-top pouf or fontage, circa 1770s. (Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    A fashion plate depicting a dress and headpiece, including an over-the-top pouf or fontage, circa 1770s. (Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

    Until pretty recently, chandeliers and light fixtures also used lit candles, which posed another fire risk for aristocratic fashionistas. In the late 1600s, Duchesse de Fontages, mistress to Louis XIV, fell off her horse while out hunting with the king. The spill wrecked her hairdo, so she piled her hair on top of her head and fastened it in place with her leg garter—perhaps the first scrunchy. Naturally, women in the court copied her look, known as a “fontage” or “pouf,” and it evolved into an elaborate bird’s nest.

    Historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, author of Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, told Collectors Weekly in 2015 that the “pouf” was “halfway between a hat and a hairstyle. It was a thematic headdress made up of flowers, feathers, ribbons, gauze, and various props, reflecting events of personal or pop-cultural significance, including hit plays or scientific breakthroughs or political scandals.”

    At least one French lady of the court smacked a chandelier with her towering fontage and caught fire, which led to her untimely end in 1711. Thanks to Louis XIV and his cousin Charles II, King of England, powdered wigs known as perukes were also a popular and practical fashion trend in 18th-century Europe. Shaving your head to fit the peruke meant lice would live in the wig, not on your body. Wigs could then be sent to the wigmaker to be boiled and deloused. In England, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, started another risky high-hair fad around 1760s, encouraging women to wear three-feet-tall wigs treated with flammable animal fat. The duchess barely survived a tangle with a chandelier herself.
    This British satirical etching commented on the fashion for tall hairstyles and wigs, circa 1771. (Courtesy the British Museum)

    This British satirical etching commented on the fashion for tall hairstyles and wigs, circa 1771. (Courtesy the British Museum)

    The wigs were also just gross. “It would take a long time to construct these wigs, which would be worn for weeks,” Wright says. “The wigs would be crawling with lice, and the aristocrats had little sticks that they could slip inside the wig and use to scratch their heads. There was one horrifying incident about a woman who found a mouse that had made a home inside her wig that had begun gnawing on her skull. So, yeah, don’t leave crazy wigs on for three weeks at a time.”

    Of course, in the past, people had very different ideas about cleanliness and bathing than we do now. Up until the mid-19th century, instead of taking regular baths, most Americans and Europeans covered up their body funk with heavy perfumes. Thanks to Louis Pasteur’s 1860s discovery of disease-causing microbes, cities started to consider all the trash and horse dung piling up in the streets a hazard, but it took a while for Pasteur’s Germ Theory of Disease to catch on. By 1900, the long skirts of fashionable women were still trailing through animal poop and other filth from the streets.

    “At the time, people kept cows and chickens in their attics and ran whole, little farms out of apartments,” Wright says. “A 1900 issue of ‘The Lancet’ complained ‘Women sweep the streets with the skirts of their gowns … and bear with them wherever they go the abominable filth.’ Doctors started talking about the bacilli that they found on the hems of skirts, which could lead to typhoid fever or consumption. But when women started wearing shorter skirts, fashion magazines got upset about how women no longer cared about their ‘mission to be lovely.’”
    This dapper gentleman from 1900 is wearing not one but two fashions that could choke him, a stiff collar and a necktie. (via Pinterest)

    This dapper gentleman from 1900 is wearing not one but two fashions that could choke him, a stiff collar and a necktie. (via Pinterest)

    Even though women—expected to be decorative for a large chunk of history—were most often fashion’s victims, Wright did come across a handful of fads that murdered men. Around the turn of the 20th century, dapper dandies—the kind associated with woman-chasing “mashers“—took to wearing stiffly starched collars that were soon nicknamed “father killers.”
    The felt used to make this vintage top hat was probably processed with mercury. (Via eBay)

    The felt used to make this vintage top hat was probably processed with mercury. (Via eBay)

    “Those collars were starched so stiffly that if men passed out in them, it would cut off their air supply,” Wright explains. “They killed quite a few men in the late 1800s-early 1900s, which seemingly did not stop men from buying them. They must have looked really good. It surprises me more when I find fashionable accessories that killed men because there’s obviously a feminine notion that women should be suffering for beauty, even when that means also risking our lives. But there were a fair number that ended up killing men as well.”

    One of the most bizarre stories in Killer Fashion asserts that when London haberdasher John Hetherington first introduced the top hat in 1797, it terrified onlookers and stirred up a mob. That hubbub was a one-time event, but Wright believes most of the fashion deaths in her book, like the crinoline fires and collar stranglings, happened quite frequently.

    “In general, the trends in the book were adopted by a lot of people,” Wright says. “Queen Elizabeth ends up being the poster girl for ‘Lead makeup will kill you,’ but it affected a lot of her subjects. Crinolines certainly ended up killing a ton of people.”
    Queen Elizabeth I, depicted in a detail of the Armada Portrait, circa 1588, started using lead makeup to hide her smallpox scars, prompting a trend that likely led to her death and those of many of her subjects. (Via WikiCommons)

    Queen Elizabeth I, depicted in a detail of the Armada Portrait, circa 1588, started using lead makeup to hide her smallpox scars, prompting a trend that likely led to her death and those of many of her subjects. (Via WikiCommons)

    Killer Fashion covers a wide range of deadly trends, including accessories like combustible plastic cuffs and beauty products like eye-widening belladonna drops and Jean Harlow’s toxic bleach-and-ammonia hair-dye formula. But because of space constraints, Wright had to leave a few things out. For example, in Victorian England, arsenic was used to create a green dye for dresses, shoes, gloves, and the artificial wreaths women wore—and proved deadly for the factory workers. Aniline dyes used in men’s socks gave workers bladder cancer. Celluloid, like other early plastics, was inclined to burst into flame when it got too hot, whether it was in the factory or a comb on a woman’s head.

    Today, it’s easy to dismiss killer fashion as a macabre curiosity that died with those silly Victorians, but we still don’t have a very good idea what happens to the people who make our clothes. Globalization didn’t kill toxic clothing factories, it simply put them on the other side of the world.

    In April 2013, 1,134 women and child workers died when the Rana Plaza factory making clothes for Western companies collapsed outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, just a few months after two factory fires had killed hundreds more. Survivors of the collapse and families of the victims filed a lawsuit against American clothing retailers including JCPenney, Wal-Mart, and Children’s Place, all of whom source clothes from Bangladesh.
    The British satirical magazine “Punch, or The London Charivari” published this cartoon in 1862 criticizing green dresses and artificial plant wreaths made with toxic arsenic.

    The British satirical magazine “Punch, or The London Charivari” published this cartoon in 1862 criticizing green dresses and artificial plant wreaths made with toxic arsenic.

    Some garment factories still use a process called “sandblasting” to give clothes a distressed look. Workers breathing in the sand develop an incurable deadly disease called silicosis from sand in their lungs. The process was banned in Turkey in 2009, but according to Al Jazeera, the ban only pushed the practice to China, where garment factories were still using it in 2015.

    “If you do research into the conditions the people in developing countries endure to create our clothes, you’ll learn some upsetting things,” Wright says. “You can always err on the side of caution by buying vintage clothing, or buying from local makers who you know are producing beautiful handmade things and are not working in terrible poverty. Mostly, I would check up on the companies you’re buying from. As history shows, the fashion industry doesn’t generally have the best ethical practices.”

    And be wary of new, flashy chemicals. “To me, some of the scariest Killer Fashion stories are things that I could still see being put to use,” Wright says, “like the 1920s girls who would paint radium like on their nails as a manicure, or on their teeth, lips, or buttons. That’s terrifying to me because I can see myself 100 percent painting my nails or my lips for a really cool glow-in-the-dark effect.”

    • Quand la Charité fout le Bazar : l’histoire d’un funeste incendie
      https://savoirsdhistoire.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/quand-la-charite-fout-le-bazar-lhistoire-dun-funeste-inc

      Une voyante qui prédit un drame, des femmes qui se transforment en torches vivantes et des dandys qui se fraient un chemin à coups de canne parmi les corps gisants qui s’amoncellent… Bienvenue au Bazar de la Charité ! Aujourd’hui, je vais vous conter un événement tragique qui a ébranlé le Grand Monde parisien en 1897, l’incendie du Bazar de la Charité. Mais laissez-moi d’abord vous remémorer l’ambiance de l’époque ; c’est parti pour une immersion dans le gratin parisien de cette toute fin du XIXe siècle !

      Nous sommes en plein cœur de la Belle Époque (1879-1914), alors que la vie mondaine parisienne est à son apogée. C’est à ce moment qu’apparaît la notion de Tout-Paris ; depuis plus d’un siècle, l’élite urbaine a délaissé la sociabilité de Cour d’Ancien-Régime pour se retrouver entre-soi, dans les salons cossus de la capitale. Avec l’instauration de la IIIe République (1870-1940) et l’enrichissement lié à la révolution industrielle, l’ancienne élite aristocratique subit une profonde mutation et se voit envahie par la grande bourgeoisie d’affaires qui s’élève socialement grâce au capital. Cette nouvelle élite composite se retrouve ainsi mêlée dans les soirées mondaines où il est primordial de se montrer, d’être en représentation permanente, afin d’acquérir toujours plus de notoriété.

      Contrairement au XVIIIe siècle, siècle des Lumières et de l’athéisme, période de désinvolture, de transgression et de mondanités libertines ; le XIXe siècle s’est avéré plus misogyne et puritain. C’est un siècle machiste et militaire dans lequel le Code Napoléon cantonne la femme au rang de mineure légale ; une reproductrice bonne à élever les enfants et à aller à la messe. « Nous les élevons comme des saintes, puis nous les livrons comme des pouliches » disait George Sand dans Lélia ! La femme de l’élite, engoncée dans son corset, est incapable de se vêtir seule et de se mouvoir à son aise. Son vêtement, carcan lourd et coercitif, reflète cet idéal d’une féminité « ostentatoire et improductive », selon l’expression de Vigarello.

      Souffrance et soumission sont les maîtres mots. On apprends aux jeunes filles à tenir leur rang, à être gentilles et polies. Rappelez-vous, Les Malheurs de Sophie de la comtesse de Ségur, publié en 1858 et lu par un grand nombre de petites filles de la bourgeoisie. Les mésaventures de Sophie sont dues à son incapacité à se contrôler, son comportement transgressif, sa sauvagerie. Non, le rôle de la femme de l’élite, c’est de suivre la morale chrétienne et d’accomplir son devoir de charité envers les pauvres. En effet, par peur des révoltes des classes populaires, et face aux troubles occasionnés par les mouvements ouvriers, la haute société tente de maintenir une paix sociale en se distinguant par sa philanthropie. Se développe ainsi une sorte d’hypocrisie de la bienfaisance…

      pour soulager vos pauvres

      Au XIXe siècle, la charité, c’est le dernier chic ! Et c’est aux femmes qu’incombe l’organisation de cette charité eclésiastico-mondaine, à travers les patronages catholiques, les bals et galas (la charité dansante), et les ventes de bienfaisance. Ce sont ces dames patronnesses qui tiennent les salons, gèrent la liste des invités et arrangent les rencontres dans ces épicentres de la mondanité que constituent les œuvres de charité. Car il faut savoir que ces réjouissances sont relayées dans toute la presse, à l’instar du très luxueux « Bal des Indigents » qui s’est déroulé à l’Opéra de Paris le 15 février 1830. Mais j’arrête ici ce préambule et j’en viens à mon Bazar !

      Le Bazar de la Charité est un de ces lieux à la mode, rapidement devenu le rendez-vous des happy fews de la haute société parisienne. Il s’agit d’une organisation caritative fondée en 1885 par Harry Blount, un financier membre de la haute bourgeoisie catholique, et présidée par le Baron de Mackau, député de l’Orne, dans le but de réunir chaque année des œuvres de bienfaisance. Douze ans après son ouverture, et après avoir engrangé la coquette somme de sept millions de francs or, le Bazar initialement installé sur le Faubourg Saint-Honoré déménage en 1897 au 17 de la rue Jean-Goujon dans le 8eme arrondissement de Paris.

      C’est dans ce tout nouveau lieu dédié aux bienfaisances mondaines que la comtesse de Maillé, alors à la tête des cercles catholiques d’ouvriers, choisit d’organiser une vente d’objets au profit des plus démunis. En amont de l’événement, le 21 mars 1897, elle tient chez elle une réception afin de récolter l’obole du gotha du Tout-Paris. Pour animer cette soirée, elle convie également la célèbre voyante de la rue de Paradis, Henriette Couëdon. Mais voilà que pendant la soirée, Henriette entre en une sorte de transe et déclare : « Près des Champs-Élysées, je vois un endroit pas élevé, qui n’est pas pour la pitié, mais qui en est approché dans un but de charité qui n’est pas la vérité. Je vois le feu s’élever et les gens hurler. Des chairs grillées, des corps calcinés. J’en vois comme par pelletées... » (Le Gaulois du 15 mai 1897). Ah, elle savait mettre l’ambiance Henriette !
      Henriette Cou‘don, dans son cabinet de la Rue Paradis. Gravure de l’Illustration avril 1897
      Henriette Couë‘don, dans son cabinet de la Rue Paradis. Gravure de l’Illustration avril 1897

      Bien entendu, l’auditoire est saisi d’effroi, sauf José-Maria de Heredia, un poète en vogue à l’époque qui déclarera : « C’est peut-être impressionnant, mais c’est de la bien mauvaise poésie ». Et puis la soirée se poursuit et l’on oublie la sombre prophétie d’Henriette jusqu’au jour fatidique… Ce jour arrive, le 4 mai 1897, et tout le gratin se presse rue Jean-Goujon dans la hâte de se rendre au Bazar de la Charité présidé cette année par Son Altesse Royale la Duchesse d’Alençon, la sœur de l’Impératrice Sissi. Les 1200 invités venus verser quelques sous aux nécessiteux paradent en grande pompe.

      Le Bazar est un bel et grand édifice de plus de 1000m², entièrement construit en sapin fraîchement verni et couronné d’une toiture de verre dissimulée sous un long vélum jaune. À l’intérieur, la décoration était des plus pittoresque : on avait racheté un décor provenant de l’exposition du Théâtre et de la Musique qui s’était tenue au Palais de l’Industrie en 1896. Il s’agissait de la reconstitution en carton-pâte réalisée par Chapron, décorateur de l’Opéra, d’une rue médiévale du Vieux-Paris. « C’était une construction légère, dans le genre des décors de théâtre, et qui mesurait 80 mètres de longueur sur 10 de large. Cette rue était bordée d’auberges, d’échoppes, de petits hôtels du moyen-âge, où les boutiques des vendeuses, au nombre de vingt-deux, étaient installées ». Des tentures, des draperies et des enseignes surmontaient ces boutiques tenues par les dames patronnesses qui y vendaient à prix modérés bijoux, bibelots, lingeries et colifichets… « L’ensemble de l’installation était du plus bel effet. On avait malheureusement commis l’imprudence de condamner, pour gagner un peu de place, la plupart des portes précédemment existantes, imprudence d’autant plus grave que les portes conservées s’ouvraient toutes en dedans ».
      Bazar de la Charité, reconstitution d’une rue du Vieux-Paris
      Bazar de la Charité, reconstitution d’une rue du Vieux-Paris, 1897

      Au fond du Bazar, on avait également installé sous un appentis en planche un cinématographe des Frères Lumières. Ah, le cinéma ! Depuis la naissance du cinématographe, deux ans auparavant, plus aucunes festivités mondaines ne se passait sans la présence d’un de ces appareils à projection animées destinés à subjuguer et divertir les foules. Pour seulement cinquante centimes, les invités de la vente de charité allaient pouvoir assister à la projection de La sortie des usines Lumière à Lyon, L’arrivée du train en gare de La Ciotat et L’arroseur arrosé. Quelle aubaine !

      Vers quatre heures de l’après-midi, quelques minutes après le départ du Nonce apostolique venu bénir les lieux et tandis que la fête battait son plein, Bellac, le projectionniste s’apprête tranquillement à changer une bobine de film. L’éclairage servant à projeter l’image sur la toile était fourni par une lumière oxyéthérique (utilisant l’oxygène et l’éther), un chalumeau-securitas dit aussi multi-saturateur, de la marque SECURITAS !. Cette lanterne à éther dont la marque garantit une sécurité à tout épreuve est quasiment vide, il faut la remplir à nouveau. Bellac n’y voit pas très clair dans l’obscurité de la cabine et demande à son jeune assistant de l’éclairer. Le bougre craque une allumette suédoise au milieu des vapeurs d’éther et le ruban de Celluloïd sorti hors de la bobine s’embrase en un éclair. Immédiatement, « le Bazar tout entier, fait de planches et de sapin, de toile goudronnée, de tentures, fut la proie des flammes ». Les flammes courent le long des boiseries et des débris incandescents s’abattent sur la foule en panique qui aussitôt « se rua aux portes mêmes qu’on savait condamnées, mais qu’on espérait forcer : malheureusement, elles résistèrent à la poussée et devant elles, au milieu des cris et des flammes, on s’écrasa, se piétina, et un amoncellement de corps se fit, tandis que le Bazar tout entier n’était plus, en un instant, qu’un immense brasier, qui, six minutes plus tard, s’éteignait de lui-même après avoir tout détruit ». Imaginez, le choc !

      Le journaliste du Figaro qui arrive sur les lieux quelques minutes après le drame raconte : « On vit un spectacle inoubliable dans cet immense cadre de feu formé par l’ensemble du bazar, où tout brûle à la fois, boutiques, cloisons, planchers et façades, des hommes, des femmes, des enfants se tordent, poussant des hurlements de damnés, essayant en vain de trouver une issue, puis flambent à leur tour et retombent au monceau toujours grossissant de cadavres calcinés » (Figaro, 5 mai 1897). Parmi les nombreuses victimes, se trouvaient « les plus grands noms de l’aristocratie française et de la haute société parisienne, parmi lesquels ceux de la duchesse d’Alençon, sœur de l’Impératrice d’Autriche ; de la comtesse d’Hunolstein, sœur du douzième duc d’Uzès ; de la Marquise Maison, sœur du baron de Mackau, président du comité d’organisation du Bazar ; de la baronne de Vatimesnil, belle-soeur de la précédente ; de la baronne de Laumont ; de la générale Warnet ; de la générale Chevals ; de Madame de Carayon-La-Tour ; des deux filles du Comte de Chevilly ; du général Munier ; de Madame Jacques Haussmann et de cent autres ».

      Les cadavres calcinés sont ramassés à la pelle (souvenez-vous de la prophétie d’Henriette), et l’on constate que sur les 124 victimes il y eu 118 femmes et 6 hommes, selon le site officiel de l’association Mémorial du Bazar de la Charité et Le Petit Journal. Ces quelques victimes masculines ce sont des vieillards, un groom de 14 ans et un médecin volontaire, le docteur Feulard, « qui, après avoir sauvé sa femme, puis deux religieuses, rentra une troisième fois dans la fournaise pour y chercher son enfant » et n’en ressortira jamais… Mais attendez, 118 femmes et 6 hommes ! Que s’est t-il passé dans ce Bazar et comment expliquer cette hécatombe quasi exclusivement féminine ?

      « Qu’ont fait les hommes ? », c’est le titre de la Une de L’Écho de Paris du 14 mai 1897 rédigée par la journaliste féministe Séverine et dans laquelle elle s’insurge que « parmi ces hommes (ils étaient environ deux cents), on en cite deux qui furent admirables et jusqu’à dix en tout qui firent leur devoir. Le reste détala, non seulement ne sauvant personne, mais encore se frayant un passage dans la chair féminine, à coups de pieds, à coups de poings, à coups de talons, à coups de canne ». C’est pas joli-joli tout ça… !

      Le journal Le Matin rapporte également que « les femmes ont brûlé comme des brebis dans la bergerie, toutes serrées les unes contre les autres… Quant aux hommes, je préférerais n’en pas parler : ils ont été au-dessous de tout. Et, cependant, une vingtaine d’hommes de résolution et de sang-froid auraient pu conjurer le désastre. La plupart ont pris la fuite, et qui sait si ce n’est pas eux qui ont foulé aux pieds les malheureuses femmes qu’on a retrouvées, écrasées, aux portes des sorties ? ».

      Petit rappel : d’un point de vue vestimentaire à la fin du XIXe siècle, hommes et femmes ne sont pas sur un pied d’égalité en matière de survie en milieu hostile…

      Mode hommes-femmes 1890

      Piégées dans leurs longues et imposantes robes bouffantes (imprégnées de glycérine pour gagner en volume), les femmes ont été la proie des flammes. Les cols de dentelles, le satin et l’organdi s’embrasent si facilement ! Accourant terrorisées vers les portes de sortie, elles s’y sont amoncelées, incapables de se dépêtrer dans leurs jupons elles finissent par en bloquer l’accès. Les hommes, ces banquiers et hommes d’affaires, voulant eux aussi sauver leur peau tentent de les enjamber pour fuir, mais elles s’agrippent et hurlent à l’aide. Dans la panique, l’évacuation se transforme en un tragique « chacun pour soi », la bousculade est d’une violence inouïe.

      Ainsi, on parle de femmes rescapées de l’incendie mais « victimes de la brutalité, de la lâcheté masculines. Car des hommes ont frappé pour se faire faire place » ! Une religieuse raconte : « Des messieurs m’ont jetée à terre, foulée aux pieds. Ils abattaient des dames à coups de poings, pour fuir plus vite. C’est une jeune-fille qui m’a sauvée ». Et l’article de conclure dramatiquement : « l’on a trouvé sur le terrain, parmi les pièces à conviction, des cannes auxquelles adhèrent, par du sang coagulé, des cheveux, de longs cheveux de femmes… ».

      Aussitôt la sanction tombe ! La presse ridiculise alors ces « chevaliers de la Pétoche », ces « marquis de l’Escampette » et autres « sires de Fiche-ton-camp ». On raille ces « hommes qui ont manqué de sang-froid, sinon de courage, et dont toute l’énergie s’est manifestée par une fuite dont ils porteront éternellement la honte. Les noms de ces chevaliers félons circulent de bouche en bouche » condamne encore Le Matin.

      Certes, quelques uns de ces messieurs ont eu un comportement digne de gentlemen, comme le Lieutenant Jacquinun, un des sauveteurs du 102e de ligne, « qui fut héroïque follement, défiant le péril, s’y jetant, s’y rejetant à corps perdu ; tirant des flammes ses deux nièces, une de leurs amies, trois inconnues dont la dernière lui meurt dans les bras, tandis que le fléau, acharné à défendre sa proie, mord cruellement le jeune homme à la jambe et au visage – et finalement, tout éclopé qu’il soit, ralliant dans le terrain vague une quarantaine de malheureuses, troupeau ahuri, qu’il mène au salut en brisant la clôture de la rue Jean-Goujon ! ».

      Mais ce n’est certainement pas une telle témérité qui a animé le baron Mackau, l’un des principaux organisateurs de l’événement, qui fait bien entendu parti des survivants. Il recevra le lendemain du drame un courrier du père d’une victime, anéanti de douleur, lui déclarant : « Je regrette, monsieur, qu’en qualité d’ancien officier de marine, je sois obligé de vous rappeler que le commandant doit quitter son bord le dernier ».
      Reconnaissance des corps au Palais de l’Industrie
      Reconnaissance des corps au Palais de l’Industrie

      Les cadavres des victimes de l’incendie sont transportés au Palais de l’Industrie où les corps sont disposés le long des murs afin que les familles viennent tenter de reconnaître leurs proches. « Et ces haillons, ces débris, ces restes à demi calcinés, ces pauvres créatures dont les corps transparaissaient comme sous une gaze noire, sous les vêtements consumés, étaient des femmes, des filles, des mères. Elles s’étaient parées il y avait quatre heures à peine, pour porter leur obole au Bazar de la Charité. Ces collets de dentelles, ces boas légers, tout ce luxe exquis de la Parisienne, ces étoffes printanières gaies devaient être pour elles comme le san benito dont on entourait les victimes des quemaderos. Elles étaient joyeuses, elles étaient heureuses. Elles allaient à la grande fête qui plaît au cœur des femmes ; celle où l’on donne, où l’on secourt, où l’on console ».
      Le Progrès Illustré du dimanche 16 mai 1897 La catastrophe du bazar de la Charité fouilles nocturnes – enlèvement des derniers restes
      Le Progrès Illustré du dimanche 16 mai 1897, La catastrophe du bazar de la Charité

      Après la tragédie, une cérémonie en mémoire des victimes fut donnée à Notre Dame de Paris dont le portail était tendu d’une immense draperie noire. La France entière entra en deuil national et de nombreuses commémorations eurent lieu. En 1900, fut érigée sur l’emplacement du Bazar de la Charité une chapelle expiatoire, Notre-Dame-de-Consolation, classée aujourd’hui au titre des monuments historiques.

      Voir aussi https://seenthis.net/messages/673684
      https://seenthis.net/messages/673701