fashion/beauty icons throughout the 20th century (10/173)
Geneviève Lantelme (1883-1911)
Born as Mathilde Hortense Claire Fossey, she was a French stage actress socialite, fashion icon, and courtesan.
At the age of fourteen, she wound up in a brothel run by her mother, and as a teenager, she was trafficked to powerful men, including Henry Poidatz, banker and owner of Le Matin newspaper, whose mistress she became in her late teens.
She is considered by her contemporaries to be one of the most beautiful women of the Belle Epoque and bears a resemblance to American actress Ethel Barrymore.
With Poidatz’ backing, Mathilde embarked on a stage career, taking as her stage name her mother’s maiden name, Lantelme, along with the first name, Geneviève.
Poidatz recommended Lantelme to Alphonse Franck, the manager of the Théâtre du Gymnase in Paris, where she made her debut in a comedy called La Bascule.
Several small parts followed, and in October 1903, Lantelme entered the Conservatoire de Paris to study acting, where she was taught by an actor from the Comédie-Francaise named Maurice de Féraudy.
Although the students of the Conservatoire were technically not allowed to perform in theatres before they graduated, Lantelme continued to appear on Parisian stages during the period of her studies, under the name of “Telmy.”
Lantelme completed her course of study without receiving any prizes or distinctions, as her comedic talent was not valued by her school or her teachers, and resumed stage appearances under the name of Lantelme.
On April 1, 1905, Lantelme opened in a play called L’Age d’Aimer, whose leading role was played by the legendary actress Réjane.
Upon hearing that her friend Alfred Edwards, a media tycoon and amateur playwright, had written a play named Par Ricochet and was looking for an actress, Réjane introduced him to Lantelme, who soon became his mistress.
In September 1906, Lantelme signed a contract with the Théâtre Réjane, but she broke it in January 1908 because she was frustrated that Réjane was given all of the leading roles.
Réjane sued Lantelme for breach of contract and won; the young actress had to pay 20,000 francs in damages, an enormous sum at the time.
Despite this setback, 1908 was a turning point for Lantelme, because it was in this year that she finally landed a leading role in a hit play, starring in Le Roi.
As a result of her success, she graced the covers of magazines like Le Theatre, Les Modes, and Femina, and appeared on dozens of postcards.
During her short career in the limelight, Lantelme was photographed often and featured in newspapers and magazines in both Europe and the United States. Celebrated for her fashion sense as well as her beauty, she frequently collaborated with Madeleine Vionnet and Jeanne Paquin to produce her memorable clothing ensembles.
Lantelme was also known for her voluminous hats, as can be seen in the postcards and other images of her that are collected to this day.
From 1906 to 1909, Lantelme shared Edwards’ attentions with his fourth wife, Misia Sert.
Misia was extremely jealous of her husband’s mistress, and said in her memoirs “I had contrived to get a photograph of Lantelme; it adorned my dressing-table, and I made desperate efforts to look like her, dress my hair in the same way, wear the same clothes." Marcel Proust used this as the model for Gilberte’s jealousy of Rachel and Saint-Loup in À la recherche du temps perdu.
Eventually the younger woman won the battle for Edwards’ affections, and on July 5, 1909, Lantelme and Edwards married in Rouen, France.
A few years later she would be known for the mysterious circumstances of her death: on the night of 24/25 July 1911, she fell from Edward’s yacht.