One morning in 1952 Gaby Aghion, an haute-bourgeois Egyptian Jewish émigré to Paris, woke up with a feeling of emptiness. “It’s not enough to eat lunch,” she told her husband, Raymond. The Aghions were hardly just fixtures at the Café de Flore. Back in Egypt, Raymond had purchased Al Majalla Al Jadida (The New Magazine) to provide a forum for the country’s ascendant left, and during the war he had established an organization to support the French Resistance. In Paris, where they moved in 1945 to attend the École des Sciences Politiques, the couple joined the Communist Party and lived among intellectuals and artists (Paul Éluard, Picasso), many of whom were Jewish and had been uprooted from around the world.
Aghion’s husband suggested she do something with fashion to fill her time, since other women had always complimented her clothing. Hillel Schwartz, the founder of the Egyptian Communist organization Iskra, recalled that at a political meeting in Cairo convened by Raymond’s cousin Henri Curiel, Aghion had been
outrageously made up, with very short dresses. She would sit with legs crossed, the skirt up high, and she would begin to do her nails. From time to time, she would come late…and excuse herself by saying that it was because of her hairstylist or seamstress. And we were there to study Marxism! When I would lecture Gaby, she would respond: “Marxism is not discomfort.”
In Aghion’s Paris there were many intellectual women who surely agreed. As “Mood of the Moment: Gaby Aghion and the House of Chloé,” an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York, makes clear, Aghion socialized mainly with artists and writers, many of them Party members, who could afford couture but had neither the time nor the desire to attend fittings for every dress they needed