Fried Frères was founded in 1886 by two young brothers Gustave and Otto Fried who travelled from Vienna to make their fortunes in Paris. They were inspired by the creative virtuosity of Bohemian glass-makers and hoped to bring this savoir-faire to the burgeoning Haute Couture fashion houses. They established their boutique on Rue de Caire in the heart of Le Sentier, the fashion district of Paris. It was an ideal location as they were surrounded by the houses of the Haute Couture fashion designers, embroidery ateliers, milliners, glove-makers and theatrical and cabaret costume-makers.
And it was ideal timing as well, as the Parisiennes of the Belle Époque enjoyed nothing better than entertainment at the scintillating cabarets which began to open in Montmartre. The dancers, singers and performers at the Le Cabaret Artistique, Le Chat Noir, Les Folies Bergère, Le Lido and the Moulin Rouge, dazzled and sparkled in the most thrilling ensembles adorned with feathers, sequins and of course, beads.
The brothers enjoyed success and soon their beads were in demand in New York, London and of course, Paris. In the early 20th century their sons joined the business and extended their custom to the newly emerging department stores as well as introducing new departments dedicated to beaded flowers, costume jewellery, chandelier crystal, and the manufacture of beads and buttons.
Les Années Folles dazzled with the craze for costume jewellery and beaded dresses and Fried Frères supplied the beads, spangles, sequins, rhinestones, costume jewels and all other manner of glittering embellishments. Their success was impressive and in 1925, Fried Frères were awarded the Grand Prix des Fantaisies pour Mode and opened their first store in Princess Street, London. Towards the end of the Second World War the staff of Fried Frères busied themselves in the basement of the Rue du Caire boutique. They were secretly making Victory brooches and when Paris was finally liberated on 25th of August,1945, they joyfully joined in the celebrations, giving the brooches to soldiers and fellow revellers.
When I was a child there was a bead-shop in Dublin and sometimes my parents would take me in there for a treat after my tap-dancing class. I remember the slightly crazed feeling my eight-year-old self experienced in the presence of such abundant, colourful and tiny treasure. I was a bit like a young and chubby Gollum. The lady would give me a little wicker basket and beam her laser eyes at me over her crescent-shaped glasses like an old and wizened Gollum. Every now and then she’d cry out with a warning not to mix the beads. I would never mix beads I gasped, even as my hands trembled from the fear of her shouts and my own frenzied excitement. It was just so thrilling and I’d feel the little crinkly paper bag in my pocket the whole way home, calling to me. I’d be desperate to get in the door and get my little hands on my precious beads!
Visiting Fried Frères for the first time brought me right back, I had actually forgotten how much I loved beads as a child and I became so overwhelmed I left with nothing. I couldn’t believe that such a selection of beads and sequins existed, the shop winds around corners, through doorways and extends further and further back until you are in a tight Parisienne V-corner. The narrow passageways are formed by drawers upon drawers upon drawers of beads, sequins and buttons. You are allowed to open the drawers and find what you are looking for yourself, no-one crying out, no tiny wicker baskets, just a cornucopia of embellishment supplies and a big weighing scales.
Fried Frères are actually a wholesale supplier and that’s why their prices are reasonable and their items are sold in large quantities. There is a minimum purchase price of €150 but don’t let that put you off. What it actually means is that if your total comes to less than €150 they add 20% to the total, which is still cheaper than retail prices. My only warning is that it is very easy to spend €150 on supplies there, especially given the selection and quality available. But think of the fun you’ll have when you get home!