Have you seen any job advertisements lately for the following professions: furrier, costumer, skirt worker, waist worker, modinette, lift boy or errand boy? From 1839 until the 1970s, you could work in these professions at the firm of Kühne and Sons.
This fashion house was first located at Hoogstraat 23, but it moved to a new building constructed at the corner of Kneuterdijk and Plaats in 1909 The newspaper Het Vaderland called this design by the architects Mutters and Gort a ‘beautiful, stout house with noble, calm lines’.
In order to find out more about what went on in this beautiful building, I posted an appeal: ‘Who worked for Kühne?’. Responses can be found in this article.
The article on the opening of the new premises says ‘the furriers Kühne and Sons’. And fur was perhaps their most important product. Het Vaderland published a report in 1934 about a fashion show with ‘costly fur coats of mink and ermine’. There were also cloaks and gowns decorated with fur. Karel Koper was for a short time a lift boy for Kühne and remembers the fur loft, where in the summer the customers’ furs were stored. They were first beaten with special machines, then stored in a specially ventilated room.
Elsa Altorf says: ‘My grandmother (1888-1975) worked there as a young woman as a model, showing expensive fur coats to wealthy clients. As that did not take up the whole day, she also had to work in the fur atelier. She suffered from eczema on her hands, which in those days was not associated with working with fur. When she went on holiday, the eczema would disappear,, but when she went back to work, she suffered from it again. She had no trouble wearing fur coats and enjoyed doing so all her life.’
In the Maasbode of 1947 I found an advertisement in which someone offered a fur coat for sale because of her departure for The Dutch East Indies: “Cost ƒ3500, = now ƒ2000 – made by court furrier Kühne”.
Purveyor to the court
In an advertisement from 1890, the firm proudly called itself “court furriers”. This meant that members of the Royal Family were also customers. The high point of the relationship between Kühne and the Royal Family came in 1936. That year, the firm was commissioned to make the wedding dress for Princess Juliana and gowns for her twelve bridesmaids.
The designer is not mentioned anywhere, but the wedding dress was very much in the style of the 1930s: a lot of fabric, which also had to be flexible and draped around the body like a Greek robe.
Karel Koper knows that Juliana was also a customer of Kühne after the war, but unfortunately he never had the opportunity to transport her in his lift.
Two daughters of Willy Polderman-Van den Bergh told me that their mother started working with Kühne in 1943 as an apprentice tailor when she was 17. She later became a furrier, although she found working on fur coats terribly dusty. She was also allowed to work on a gown for Queen Wilhelmina. She apparently had a good time with her co-workers, as can be seen in a photo taken by the fountain in the Binnenhof. Willy is standing on the far right. With the birth of her first child in 1951 she stopped working, although she later returned to the fashion trade.
Addie Scheffers was also a costumer and seamstress for Kühne. Her sister especially remembers the incredibly high sums that the fashion company’s customers were apparently able to pay.
So you either had to be very rich to wear a Kühne creation or you had to have good contacts. Marijke Bos-Dekker’s mother had a friend who worked at the fashion palace. She was able to borrow a suit for her wedding, as shown in her wedding photo.
In its issue of 4 April 1965, the Algemeen Handelsblad featured a report about a fashion show by Kühne entitled ‘Paris in The Hague’. The company had agreements with large fashion houses such as Dior, Givenchy and Chanel, and they could therefore customize designs from these houses for their clients. The article emphasises that Kuhne did not offer versions of any excessively striking, eccentric designs. Only distinguished, timeless fashion in The Hague!
By 1973 however, there apparently weren’t enough ladies from The Hague who could afford (or desired) this distinguished fashion. The firm closed its doors that year, and now we must make do with the beautiful building, the photographs, and the memories.