Museum of Ethnography
H-1146, Budapest, Dózsa György út 35.
Phone: +36 1 474 2100
Text: Hajnalka Fülöp
Photo: Krisztina Sarnyai
Restorator: Julianna Máté
This dress made in the 1970s is cut according to the fashion of the times in a form-fitting style that accentuates the harmonious proportions of the female figure. The traditional Baranya County woman’s shirt that served as its ‘raw material’ was acquired by the dress’s former owner at a market in Pécs. In its original environment—probably the town of Mohács—this type of shirt enjoyed popularity during the 1930s and ’40s. The material is a striped cotton plain weave cloth of threads of varying thickness of the sort used for shirts representing their wearers’ ‘Sunday best’. The garment is embroidered from neck to wrist in black cotton thread: at the shoulder a floral pattern of tiny black motifs interspersed with densely laid gold-coloured metal sequins; on the front and back, additional black floral patterns embroidered in vertical rows.
Sokác asszonyok és leányok ünnepi öltözetben Mohács Szöllősy Kálmán felvétele, 1935-1943 Néprajzi Múzeum, F 329667
How did the Sokác woman’s shirt get to France and why was it refashioned in this way?
The owner of the dress—one Irén Döményi—was born in the Budapest district of Kőbánya in 1931. Having studied under Zoltán Kodály at the Budapest Academy of Music, in 1954, Doményi found work in the choir of the large, professional choir State Folk Ensemble, which performed not only within the choreographed works of the dance group itself, but also independently. With its expansive repertoire of classical and contemporary vocal music in both live, and recorded forms, the ensemble played a key role in Hungarian cultural diplomacy, touring regularly in Western Europe, the Soviet Union, and China. In 1957, Döményi left the choir to settle in France, marrying businessman Michel Archawski a decade later.
Each year, when the Archawskis visited Hungary and Transylvania, they shopped for articles—including ethnographic objects—with the primary objective of adding authentic rural costumes to Irén’s folk(-style) wardrobe. Among other places visited for this purpose was Pécs, where they were aided by the parents of Sarolta Péczeli, wife of Zoltán Kodály, in acquiring the appropriate costume pieces.
During this time, Döményi continued to perform, organising evening shows with her husband’s help in and around Paris. The composition of her stage wardrobe suggests that her repertoire consisted of scenes from State Folk Ensemble hits of the 1950s (dance theatre pieces such as Háromugrós, Ecseri lakodalmas, abd Barcsay szeretője), in which she would have both sung, and danced, as State Ensemble choir members also received dance training.
The dress shown here was tailored by seamstress and costumer Etelka Sarkadi, who had joined the State Folk Ensemble at the same time as Döményi. After Döményi left the group, Sarkadi sometimes spent weeks as a guest in the Archawski home. While there, Sarkadi sewed dresses and costumes, repurposing multiple authentic folk outfits for stage use. This particular custom-made piece witnesses to a renewed interest in folklore pursued with a fresh, creative approach. At the same time, it lent Irén Döményi, a Hungarian woman in France, an out-of-the-ordinary, slightly exotic appearance. Not only is the dress unusual, but it speaks of its wearer’s identity using a language of form that the Fashion World Capital could understand—an item that was modern in its own time.
Dress made from a Sokác woman’s shirt
Paris, early 1970s
Donated by Michel Archawski