Ten years ago a charming woman from Riga offered several interesting items to the Museum. A number of collections were supplemented with the objects she then donated. We will focus on one of these items: a summer dress of a unique design, made of natural silk during the late 1930s in Latvia. It must also be noted that the Museum is interested in fashion designer labels. Sewn into the donated dress was such a label, that of – Hermīne Spainis Balode. And, as the saying goes, stranger things have happened...
At that time Gita and Juris Padegs, Latvians living in the US, were visiting in Latvia. Mrs. Padegs brought a donation to the Museum – a tailcoat made in Riga, once owned by her father, architect Paulis Balodis. While the donation documents were being processed, the visitors were invited to look at clothes recently acquired by the Museum. Among them was the above mentioned dress. Mrs. Padegs, looking at the dress, praised the fabric. It had been bought in Paris in 1939. She was informed about everything that had been told to the Museum by the dress’s owner. The pattern of the fabric bears the motifs of the fairy-tale “Little Red Riding Hood”. The dress turned out to be particularly valuable to the Museum, as it bears the dressmaker’s label: Hermīne Spainis Balodis. Such a label is seldom found on designer clothes before the Second World War in the Museum’s large collection.
Mrs. Padegs looked and looked... then tears of recognition appeared in her eyes. Overwhelmed by emotion, she quietly said: “Hermīne Spainis Balodis... she is my mother. I can bring you a roll of these labels, because my mother took them with her upon leaving Latvia.” Gita Padegs’s mother, Hermīne, had been a well respected fashion designer with a vast clientèle in Riga in the thirties. She had travelled to Paris every year to learn the latest fashions. She had also designed hats. Her salon was in Riga, 5 Antonijas street. Suddenly and unexpectedly, many questions were answered by both interested parties.
Due to a donation (2008) by Herma Balodis’ daughters Gita Padegs and Inta Mortensen, the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation has added 86 items to its collection of clothes. The collection of women’s clothes was increased by 61 items, the children’s collection – by 25 items. Two items were added to the hat collection. This is the largest donation to the clothes collection at the Museum to date. It spans the period from the mid-1930s to 1966. Clothes of the early1960s are most widely represented. All the creative designs refer to the thirties. During those years women’s fashion tended to become more feminine, quite in contrast to the constructivism of the twenties.
“Fashion. Garment. Destiny” – an exhibition about Latvian fashion designer Hermīne Spainis-Balodis; about creating clothes, from idea to completion; about her life. This was the first exhibition dedicated to fashion at the Museum of History of Riga and Navigation (Nov. 2007 – May 2008). 46 garments and their design, patterns and photos. More than 50 years were to pass, before Hermīne’s dream of an exhibition of her designs could come true. This dream was realized by her daughters Gita Padegs and Inta Mortensen in cooperation with the Museum.
Sisters Gita Balodis–Padegs and Inta Balodis–Mortensen at the opening of the exhibition on November 30, 2007.
Opening of the exhibition "Fashion. Garment. Destiny" at the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation, November 29, 2008.
Gita PADEGS – Benefactor
Project manager – Gunārs JANAITIS
Selection of designs and commentary – Ligita KALNIŅA
Assistant – Silvija VOITE
Photographers – Gunārs Janaitis, Astrīda Meirāne, Ojārs Griķis
Garments modelled by National Theatre actress – Madara SALDOVERE
Make-up – Agita ILJEŠĀNE
Website design and development – Milda OŠIŅA
Photos from Gita Padegs’s personal collection have also been used
Editor – Ieva Janaite, English translation – Māra Rūmniece, Laura Padega-Zamura
Designs from the Textile collection of the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation
Herma BALODIS’S collections
Website of the Museum of the History of Riga and Navigation –
Along with the clothes collection, the Museum has received Herma Balodis’s journal that was preserved by her daughter, Gita Padegs. Beginning in 1960, the designer described in detail the daily work of design and dressmaking. She noted the exact amount of time required for sewing on a button, lining a skirt. Knowing the time required to finish a task provided a basis for pricing the garment. She described and evaluated fabrics which she used. Some annotations and receipts for purchases of fabric were also saved. By becoming acquainted with these notes, one can gain insight into the designing of patterns, possible mistakes and their prevention.
Note: Fragments from Herma Balodis’ journal have been used in this website as the basis of the commentaries by the images of her designs.
Gita Balodis Padegs
Hermīne Matilde Spainis was born into a working class family on March 11, 1905. Her mother’s mother was German; therefore Hermīne’s names, ones she never liked, were of German origin. Hermīne’s mother, Auguste, née Liepa, became a widow and was left with her husband’s surname, Staltmanis. She was widowed a second time, and was left with her second husband’s surname Spainis, meaning “bucket”. Though this family name did not please her, she kept it for the rest of her 96 long years. Two more daughters and three sons were born into the family. Both girls died quite young, and so Hermīne grew up with three brothers.
Although her brothers chose simple jobs, Hermīne (Herma, for short) exhibited a thirst for knowledge at an early age, and worked to educate herself without encouragement or assistance from others. Her intelligence and potential were noticed by teachers at primary school, who advised her to get further education. “I sold my books and with this money entered secondary school.” At that school Herma acquired not only a valuable education, but also found friends who helped her develop a career.
Herma’s mother was a seamstress, who taught Herma to sew. Herma remembered that already at the early age of five she designed and made clothes for her doll, and then displayed them to passers-by at the flat’s window. She also made clothes for herself and thus her appearance caused her to stand out among her peers. Herma’s talent was noticed by her teachers and her friends’ parents. At secondary school Herma’s clothes, looks, inner elegance and bearing offered her greater social possibilities.
While still at school, Herma started serious creative work. She received many orders, at first from friends, then from their mothers, and soon Herma’s abilities became apparent in wider circles. A fashion show of her work took place at hotel “Roma”. After graduating school she hired assistants that did the sewing. She could then devote herself to creative work: the drafting of ideas, the making of patterns, the purchase of fabrics and the fitting of clothes. Herma’s employees included young apprentices – girls from poor families, who were training as seamstresses.
Herma met her future husband – architect Paulis Balodis – in Sece, where they spent their holidays in neighbouring homesteads. Paulis spent his vacations at his mother’s country home in Šteinfelde Manor (later known as Lauri), hosting parties for his friends and colleagues from Riga. Herma summered at her cousin’s homestead “Dailes”, which was located next to Šteinfelde. Herma and Paulis married at the beginning of 1934. A rich and beautiful life began with a happy marriage, children, trips and successful careers. Daughter Gita was born in 1934 and daughter Inta in 1942. They moved to 7 Antonijas street, where “the sun was always shining”, because the building had large windows that overlooked Andreja Pumpura street and not into another building. Herma used this flat partly for her work.
This happy time was very short. When the Red Army invaded Latvia, the flat was commandeered for families of Russian officers, leaving little room for the Balodis family. During this period Herma could not work, because she had neither the space nor the energy needed for creative work. During the German occupation that followed shortly after the Red Army invasion, the family regained their apartment and Herma could work again. However, circumstances became increasingly turbulent and it became necessary to work with only one assistant; finally Herma realized that they would have to leave this home and this life. Strongly urged by her cousin – the owner of “Dailes” –, the Balodis family and Herma’s 66 year old mother left Riga by freight train on September 23, 1944.