The Joste Archives

The Joste Archives

By M. Angela Jansen


In June 2014, I discovered the archives of a French salon de haute couture in Casablanca called Joste, established in 1934 by the French Josette Charbonnel-Achille (1906-1990s?). The archives are of a priceless historical value, including about 610 original fabric and paper patters from Christian Dior (going from 1956 to 1989), about 642 original paper patterns from Yves Saint Laurent (going from 1978 to 1998), photographs from the collections, fashion drawings, textile samples and collection cards. Additionally, the archives include pictures from fashion shows that Mme Achille used to organize in Casablanca in the 1950s and 60s as well as photographs from Boutique Joste she used to run on 17 Rue Nolly. Many key elements of theJOSTE S.A. administration were preserved, including books with inventories going back as early as 1936, lists of employees who used to work for the house starting in 1949, annual financial reports, reports of general assemblies, stock holders, etc. I even managed to trace and interview two ladies who have been working for Maison Joste, one from 1946 until 1997 and the other from 1974 until today. I also managed to trace some of the clients of Joste, amongst whom a 95-year-old lady still living in Casablanca.

Based on the archives, Madame Josette first signed a contract in 1938 for three years to represent the French couture house Lucien Lelong in Morocco.[1] Based onthe contract, the orders were taken in Morocco but the garments were produced in Paris. In 1946, Christian Dior, who worked for Lelong between 1941 and 1946, established his own fashion house and five years later, on the 17th of September 1951, Madame Josette signed a contract with him, giving her the exclusive rights to represent him in Algeria, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia and Tangiers.[2]

Les salons Joste, as it is fondly referred to by former clients, was situated in two large connecting apartments on the 4th floor in the Rue Nolly in Casablanca. They consisted of a tasteful salon on one side where Madame Josette would receive her clients and her husband’s offices, Monsieur Achille, on the other. In the middle were the ateliers, where an elevated number of highly skilled seamstresses were cramped together, trained in Parisian haute couture and in their majority of French, Spanish and Italian nationality.[3] Especially les premières d’ateliers were French and sent directly by Dior. Although designed by Christian Dior in Paris, this time all the garments were produced in Casablanca and labelled ‘Christian Dior by Joste Casablanca.’

Madame and Monsieur Achille personally attended the Dior shows in Paris twice a year and made a selection of the designs they would buy for the Moroccan market. They had to buy the patterns and materials for each design individually, which they were allowed to produce only once. Therefore, according to a former seamstress of Joste, Madame Josette would vigilantly keep the patterns locked away in her office, only taking them out for the strict minimum of time needed for the première d’atelier to translate it onto the fabric.[4] Nevertheless, according to some former clients as well as a former seamstress, Madame Josette would not retain herself from producing a number of ‘knockoffs’ with alterative fabrics in order to earn back on her investment, always making sure, however, that two ladies were never to be seen in the same design.[5]

The collections were presented to the Moroccan clients, on the one hand, through black and white photo albums provided by Paris twice a year; one for the spring/summer collection and one for the fall/winter collection. On the other hand, Joste would organize fashion shows in the Hotel Anfa in Casablanca, for which the mannequins were flown in from Paris and all of Morocco’s (female) high society would gather. These shows were photographed and turned into albums in their turn, from which clients could choose their new outfits.

In 1953, the Achilles opened a Boutique Joste in the same street as the salon, where they offered prêt-a-porter and accessories by Christian Dior like stockings, gloves and handbags. When, in 1957, Monsieur Christian Dior died and the young Yves Saint Laurent took over, Joste continued to represent the brand in Morocco. Three year later, when Saint Laurent was fired and established his own haute couture house, Joste also obtained the exclusive rights to represent him on the Moroccan market, offering first the haute couture and later the prêt-a-porter collections.[6]

Both the salon and boutique Joste have uncontestably contributed to the introduction of French fashion aesthetics in Morocco and the image of France/Europe as being modern. Although, according to a list by the Chambre Syndical de la couture Parisienne (established in 1868), dating 19th of May 1947, there were nine accredited buyers of French haute couture established in Morocco, of which eight in Casablanca and one in Tangiers (by 1950 this number decreased to five),[7] none of the informants were familiar with any of the other sellers and therefore are believed to have been less influential. While Joste’s clients initially consisted of European and Jewish Moroccan women, it progressively also started including members of the Moroccan royal family and elite. Needless to say that only a small minority could afford to shop at Joste, but an army of European seamstresses (including former employees) made a living off copying the latest designs for the less fortunate.

[1] Contract found in the Christian Dior Archives in Paris; digital copies with the author.

[2] Contract found in the Christian Dior Archives in Paris; digital copy with the author.

[3] Personal communication Anette Tomas (former employee Joste, 21 June 2014) and Tamy Tazi (CEO Joste, 12 June 2014); notes on record with the author.

[4] Personal communication Anette Tomas (former employee Joste, 21 June 2014); notes on record with the author.

[5] Personal communication Colette Suissa (former client, 25 August 2013) and Anette Tomas (former employee Joste, 21 June 2014); notes on record with the author.

[6] Personal communication Beatrice Achille (daughter-in-law of the late Josette Achille, 15 July 2016); notes on record with the author.

[7] Document found in the Christian Dior Archives in Paris; digital copy with the author.