A new hat shop called Ultramod opened on Rue de Choiseul in 1832. This area was the centre for hat shops and milliners supplies in 19th century Paris. Fashionable Parisiennes knew the importance of a good hat, it wasn’t an afterthought or a last-minute accessory, it was the crowning glory of their ensemble. A trip to the milliner required time, good taste and trust between the client and the vendor. The design consultation was lengthy starting with the occasion, at that time women might have four to five changes of outfit per day and a hat worn to the Opéra would not be appropriate for a promenade in the Tuileries Gardens. Further decisions ensued; the shape of the hat, the base material, the colour scheme and finally the accessories; feathers, flowers, ribbons, lace, tulle. The client depended on the milliner to be up-to-date on the latest fashions and the milliner depended on her artisans to supply her with the finest quality materials.
Ultramod enjoyed success and when the time came for the son to succeed his father he expanded the business and opened a haberdashery in 1920. A haberdashery sells small notions particular to sewing such as needles, pins, scissors, threads, buttons, zips as well as passementerie trimmings such as ribbon, lace, braiding and sometimes small selections of fabric. In French the term is Mercerie and King Louis IX is the patron saint of Merciers. Like the milliner, the knowledgeable haberdasher would take the time to advise their discerning customers on fashionable trends, good taste and quality materials needed to replicate the latest looks in printed fashion plates.
Both of the Ultramod boutiques are still there today, the Mercerie and the Chapellerie mirroring each other across the narrow street with their dark green wooden facades and large glass window displays. Anne-Marie and Jean-François Morin bought the haberdashery in 1990 and then the hat shop in 1995. The Morins ensure that customers are welcomed with the same charm, friendly customer service and savoir-faire as in bygone days. No doubt this is why Ultramod is the oldest haberdashery in Paris today…
The old-world atmosphere of the boutique is captivating; an antique cash register at the end of a long wooden counter; walls hung with original fashion plates from the 19th century, vintage sewing machines on top of cabinets. A well-worn rug leads the way to wooden display cases filled with threads and trimmings. The suspended ceiling lamps cast a warm glow on the sumptuous colours of the vintage silk velvet ribbons at the back of the shop. A large wooden work table invites you to unfold the bolts of vintage Duchess satin, the folds of the fabric casting richly nuanced tones on the colours. The exquisite quality of the vintage ribbons and satins are a feast for the eyes, but if your hand happens to reach out involuntarily, your fingers will delicately touch a velvet softer than you have ever imagined. When the Morin family purchased the premises they also had the foresight to purchase the original stock. Nowadays many of the materials are no longer produced and the vintage stock has become another part of the valuable heritage encapsulated by Ultramod.
Buttons are the first thing you will notice as you enter, with shelves stacked with boxes of wooden buttons, ceramic buttons, gold buttons, velvet, jewel, shell, plastic, fabric, novelty, buttons and then more buttons. The examples are neatly indexed on the front of the boxes and organised beautifully into colours, sizes, materials. If you find order, storage and colour-coordination pleasing and calming, this is the place for you!
If you are looking for embroidery thread the full range of DMC colours are displayed in a cardboard fold-out portfolio, and once you have selected your colours their individually numbered boxes will be retrieved from the shelves and you can remove your thread from their protective tissue wrapping. Your eye may be caught by the subtle lustre of precious silk threads in a display case. If you slowly open the drawers they reveal the finest silken threads with an almost pearlescent glow and wound on wooden spools from Au Vers à Soie, a French company founded in Paris in 1820. Amongst these delights you will find traditional sewing notions and all manner of passementerie; braiding, piping, tassels, pom-poms and an endless choice of colours in new ribbons.
Amélie Matisse worked as a milliner on the nearby Rue du Chateaudun and it is thought that her sense of colour was a great influence on her husband Henri Matisse. This is easy to understand when you cross the street and enter the hat shop, greeted by elegant polished wooden forms sporting hats for every occasion. The large tables are filled with bright rainbow displays of grosgrain in a range of tones, hints and shades. The shelves are lined with an endless selection of folded felt forms, ready to be moulded to bespoke measurements and packaged in a traditional hatbox.
And for that final flourish, a feather in your cap if you will, just around the corner is Ets Legeron, with the finest selection of feathers and silk flowers …