Mar 16, 2021

Project Runway Through Time: Tomme de Chambrille


If you fancy a 10-20 minute trip down a runway through time, my daughter Ginger's  historic French fashion show -- of pieces she sewed herself over the past year or so -- is up and online for public/free viewing. Whether you're interested in France, fashion, or history, you're sure to learn something. This is the culmination of the senior project she was preparing for when she visited Paris, which she wrote about in A Year in Fromage's first guest-written post, Old-Fashioned Fashion.

There are two versions: you can see just the fashion show itself (which is narrated and packed with historical information) in the highest resolution. Or you can see the recording with Ginger herself introducing it and tackling some Q&A afterwards. If you feel like being really fancy, you can watch the intro and Q&A on the one, then watch the higher-resolution version of the actual fashion on the other. Up to you! 

This is the version with Ginger's intro and Q&A after the show. It runs just under 20 minutes. You can certainly see the fashion show here, but the resolution is just slightly lower due to the constraints of the Livestream Youtube format she needed to use. The address is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ex2vapzS88Q&feature=youtu.be

This is the higher-resolution version. It runs about 11 minutes and does not include Ginger's Q&A session. But you will be able to see the details of the clothing slightly better. The address is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPQUHZ-UqvE&t=0s 

You'll get lots of information from the fashion show, some more interesting tidbits from the Q&A, and finally, I'll leave you with a few photos from the fashion shoot, both behind the scenes and the polished finished products.

The following is the Renaissance-inspired costume Ginger made that she didn't include in the show but did want to shoot "just in case." She calls it Renaissance-"inspired" because it's more like a romanticized version of a historical outfit, like what you'd wear to Ye Olde Renaissance Faire. She also calls it her "pirate" costume and likes to growl, "Arrgggh!" when wearing it. So not the most historical of her creations, but fun nonetheless and sure to get some mileage at future Halloween parties.

The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco made a beautiful backdrop. Nearly all of the video you see of "the runway" was shot in the rotunda with dazzling sun as the spotlight, which in turn created the dark, shadowed "curtain" to "backstage".

There were a few other spots that had been in contention for the runway but were ruled out for one reason or another, including lighting and general ambiance. The super bright sunlight made it challenging for the models to keep their eyes open, frankly (you'll see occasional squinting in the video), but the shaded areas just weren't bright enough to see the details on the outfits. Some were scattered around the Palace of Fine Arts:

Some were next to the Parade Grounds nearby in the Presidio, a historic former military base turned national park:

In the end, the rotunda and the Palace of Fine Arts was just too tempting for Ginger, even though it was very public, and she was worried there would be crowds. That's one good thing about the pandemic (if we're really stretching to look for silver linings) -- at least it wasn't crowded, even on a gorgeous weekend morning. At the very last minute, Ginger chose this for her final spot, and we did our best to keep the few visitors out of the shots (but a few snuck in anyway):

The Palace of Fine Arts is actually a remnant of the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition and, as such, was built later than the time period of all these clothes. However, its architecture -- which was supposed to be temporary for the exhibit only and has had to be renovated and reinforced many times since then -- was meant to be reminiscent of a more classical Greek style. This is a period earlier than all these clothes. However, there's something distinctly European-feeling about the building that makes it seem timeless and appropriate for the task. The Legion of Honor was also under consideration and actually is modeled after a French building, but it has a much more limited area for shooting (especially because there's been a tent sent up in the courtyard for ages) and less flexibility for chasing the natural light.

Just FYI, and not related to France at all: Besides Ginger's fashion show, the Palace of Fine Arts has also been used as a backdrop in Vertigo (1958), The Rock (1996), and many other films and been noted as the inspiration for sets in Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace (1999) and more recently Game of Thrones (Season 1, Episode 9).

This was Ginger's project through and through, and my main role here was as assistant photographer and stuff-watcher when the models were called away.

At one point, when Ginger was with one girl on the runway and the stuff was in their sights, I got into photographer mode and had these girls pose for this maskless photo. I kept my Mom-Chaperone hat on, though, and made them all hold their breath for it, to keep it Covid-friendly. Their masks are in their hands behind their backs so that they could quickly put them back on before exhaling. Luckily, these girls are in high school and perfectly responsible, so it all worked out fine.

This next pose is somewhat less elegant, but the Gen-Xers and Young Baby Boomers will all recognize that this is what Charlie's Angel would look like if they were dressed in gowns from the 1890s, 1810s, and 1860s, respectively. Full disclosure: this photo might have been taken more to entertain myself than actually to help Ginger with her project.

But I'm not the only one who entertained myself between shoots. Here, Queen Marie Antoinette chats with Princess Eugenie, which is fun because not only are these girls friends who go to the same high school, their fathers were roommates for all four years of college, on the opposite coast 30 years ago.

Here's one of those moments when I was back watching the stuff while Ginger took the models to see what other shots she could get. This is what a bunch of girls who span over a century look like when they're just chillin' on benches chatting in modern-day San Francisco. 

And Ginger was not the only one using the gorgeous backdrop for her glamorous modeling shots. As we packed up to leave, we saw this beauty all ready for her close up in the middle of the Rotunda.

Here are a few glamour shots from the day:


And while Ginger took her project very seriously (as you can probably tell) and her friends and models also treated her project with the utmost respect...they're also still a bunch of modern-day teenagers dressed up like princesses in public, finally out of their houses and able to socialize during a pandemic, and so there was a bit of cutting loose, too.

You may not be on Tiktok, but with this link, you can see a quick, fun Tiktok from Ginger highlighting one piece from her historic collection: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZMee34N6s/

I guarantee you'll learn something about French fashion history if you watch the fashion show. If you are so moved, please leave comments on the Youtube page (of either version)! She loves reading your feedback.

THE CHEESE: Tomme de Chambrille

Tomme de Chambrille is an exquisite, traditional cheese made from pasteurized goat milk from the area that makes the best goat cheeses on Earth -- Poitou-Charentes. This is the traditional, historic name for the area. Technically, this Tomme de Chambrille is made in Bougon, which is in the department of Deux-Sèvres in the region that is now called Nouvelle-Aquitaine (as of a few years ago).

Because this is pasteurized, you can find this at some lovely local cheese shops even in the US, such as where I found it at the phenomenal Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge,  Massachusetts. I've also seen it at some Whole Foods around the US, and you can even order it online.

The cheese is named for a rock pillar in the woods by the Chambrille stream in La Mothe Saint Héray, very near to Bougon. There, according to a local late-19th century legend (widely publicized in 1885 by H. Caillon), a pair of illicit lovers was caught by the young woman's much-older husband, whom she had been forced to marry. The enraged husband beat Berthe and Guy, the daughter and son of two neighboring chateaux, till they became petrified, twisted together for eternity. 

The cheese's creation legend is less violent and otherworldly: local cheesemaker Poitou-Chèvre makes these disks in the class local style, aging them for 3-8 weeks on straw mats, which impart an extra hint of earthiness. Not that the cheese is lacking in earthy flavors: there are distinct notes of mushroom, grass, and citrus. The bloomy rind is a particularly nubby, multi-colored, unevenly-textured ashed crust that is delicate yet toothsome. 

As time goes on, the bacterial activity of the crust breaks down the edges of the cheeses, creating that gorgeous creamline of the yellow, oozy, nearly liquid outer edges in contrast with the creamy, dry snow-white interior.

This is the sort of ashed goat cheese my entire family swoons over -- and misses so dreadfully when we're not in France. American goat cheeses tend to be a mild, almost cream-cheesy lot, devoid of much flavor or depth. Most of them could be pretty easily turned into a cheesecake with the addition of some sugar and vanilla. This, on the other hand, tasted like a true French goat cheese -- savory, complex, and with a hint of actual gaminess. 


It starts with the name. I think to myself, "Isn't chambrille some sort of fabric?" It is not, but I am close. This sends me down the sort of information rabbit hole that I treasure while writing this blog. I find out that chambray is a classic fabric of French origin -- a light woven cotton or linen something like a loose-weave denim ("denim" also being of French origin: literally "de Nîmes" or "from Nîmes").

Chambray (pronounced "sham-BRAY" as opposed to the cheese, which is "sham-BREE") is an evolution of Cambrai, the French city near the Belgian border where it was either first produced or first became famous enough to be named. There it was first called cambric, and this word for the fabric has been around since at least 1530. But fashion historians think the fabric might have actually been created as early as 1300AD (and by a specific weaver named Baptiste -- which seems to me to be some seriously good historical sleuthing). Then in the mid-1800s, we have the first use of the English word chambray.

Though earlier versions may have been made of silk, and it can technically still be silk or linen, nowadays chambray usually refers to that sort of light-woven cotton. In the Renaissance, chambray was often worn for festivals as a semi-luxurious fabric that was both more affordable and durable than silk. Therefore, it was often dyed bright colors. Today, however, it's most often a light blue color reminiscent of denim. You can see the difference in the photo above, of a chambray shirt with denim pants from Madewell. France is still one of only three countries that regularly produce chambray, the others being the US and China.

The textured nubby skin of the Tomme de Chambrille could almost be seen as fabric-like. Certainly the entire cheese, like chambray, is both affordable yet luxurious, and very French. Ginger didn't actually use any chambray in her re-creations, but she certainly did use some light cottons. The word "chambray", the legend behind this cheese's name, and the fashions presented and sewn by Ginger all have strong ties to the time period roughly centered on the mid-19th century.

I buy this Tomme de Chambrille in Boston, where I meet Ginger immediately upon her return from her research trip to Paris so we can tour a few colleges together (little did we know, in Jan 2020, that the world would soon shut down and these would be her only college tours). Even having just come back from raw French goat cheeses, in France, Ginger still devours this one and declares it entirely delicious.

If you're a regular reader, and this cheese and connection (and story) look somewhat familiar to you, that's because I wrote about the fashion show when it was still upcoming and promised I would update it with all the links, information, and photos that I couldn't spill before the presentation went live. 


  1. This is just outstanding! Ginger, bravo on an incredible job. Where did you buy your fabrics? I loved Satin Moon and Britex growing up. Kazz, thanks for all the pics of SF on a beautiful sunny day. We "buried" our goldfish in that pond at the Palace of Fine Arts when we were little. Congratulations Ginger you must be very proud!


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