Woman in Gold

Historical textiles Selvedge

I enjoyed the film Woman in Gold last night. It is a fascinating narrative told by strong characters, similar to Philomena, with an older actress Helen Mirren who plays Jewish American immigrant Maria Altmann and a younger supporting actor, Ryan Raynolds as her lawyer, Randol Schoenberg. The story unravels around the provenance of a portrait of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt. The painting has instant appeal that gives the story a magnetic pull for the audience. The all star cast do a great job in making this an engaging story of Maria's journey to reclaim her heritage and seek justice for what happened to her family during World War ll. Sixty years after she fled Vienna she embarks upon a ten year long battle which in which she takes  the  Austrian establishment to the U.S. Supreme Court, and forces her to confront difficult truths about the past along the way.Gustav_Klimt_046 search.rendition.thumb_.gustav-kimlt-helen-mirren-woman-in-gold-movie-01-h670-searchWOMAN IN GOLD However, more remarkable than the film is the true story of Maria Altmann. Sadly the screenplay skirted over the way in which  Maria built a life for herself in California. This equally fascinating story revolves around her bother-in-law Bernhard Altmann, a textile entrepreneur.  In 1938 he was forced to sign over his Viennese knitwear business to the Nazis in return for Fritz's ( Maria's husband) release from the Dachau Concentration Camp.  After fleeing Austria Bernhard Altmann started a knitwear factory in Liverpool; only to have to abandon it in 1939 as a result of  the UK Enemy Alien Act, in which all nationals of enemy countries had to withdraw from coastline cities days after the declaration of war. Bernhard then emigrated to the United States, where he started another factory in Fall River Massachusetts, a town with an established textile industry. In 1947 he added cashmere to his repertoire after a visit to Bermuda, where he learned that the delivery times for Scottish cashmere was over eighteen months, unheard of in the textile business. By 1951 he had moved production to Texas and his company outsold all the Scottish manufacturers. Reportedly, one in every three cashmere sweaters sold in America came from Altmann's Texas mill. Altmann also produced clothes in Shetland wool,  Vicuna and a lambswool/fur fibre blend called "Bernamere".  A 1960s advertising campaign had the tagline: "The Legend of a Great Knitter."bernhardaltmann3-1   bernhardaltmannad2-2This brings us back to Maria Altmann. Shortly after she arrived in Los Angeles, Bernhard  mailed her a cashmere sweater – accompanied with the note: "See what you can do with this." Maria took the sweater to a Department Store in Beverly Hills, and shortly thereafter attracted a multitude of buyers in both California and across the United States for Bernhard Altmann's cashmere sweaters. Maria became the face of cashmere in California and eventually started her own clothing business with her own clients. So this spring when the mornings are still chilly, put on a cashmere sweater and give a thought for Maria Altmann, her tenacity and her determination.

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  • Jennifer Zinn on

    What a fascinating story! I never knew that chapter… I’ll think of Maria when donning my cashmere cardigan from now on.

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