How do you come to know someone if all you have is the evidence of their clothes? This is the mystery author Jessamyn Hatcher is trying to solve after a trove of rare couture gowns were found in a group of Louis Vuitton steamer trunks in a forgotten storage room of a Florentine villa.
The dresses belonged to a mysterious heiress, Hortense Mitchell Acton, and they were all made by the innovative and radical Callot Soeurs— three sisters, designers, and business women who ran one of the most celebrated couture houses of the Belle Epoque. The collection reveals not only a forgotten piece of fashion history, but the story of one woman’s life.
Jessamyn detailed the discovery in the March 23 issue of the New Yorker, and in this episode she dives deeper into the tale, elaborating along the way on how the clothes we’ve worn can tell our story long after we’re gone.
Three of Hortense Mitchell Acton’s Callot Soeurs dresses in the Villa La Pietra.
Several of the Callot Soeurs gown’s in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection: