SS Normandie was an ocean liner built in Saint-Nazaire, France, for the French Line Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. She entered service in 1935 as the largest and fastest passenger ship afloat; she is still the most powerful steam turbo-electric-propelled passenger ship ever built.
Her novel design and lavish interiors led many to consider her the greatest of ocean liners. Despite this, she was not a commercial success and relied partly on government subsidy to operate. During service as the flagship of the CGT, she made 139 transatlantic crossings westbound from her home port of Le Havre to New York and one fewer returns. Normandie held the Blue Riband for the fastest transatlantic crossing at several points during her service career, during which the RMS Queen Mary was her main rival.
During World War II, Normandie was seized by US authorities at New York and renamed USS Lafayette. In 1942, the liner caught fire while being converted to a troopship, capsized onto her port side and came to rest on the mud of the Hudson River at Pier 88, the site of the current New York Passenger Ship Terminal. Although salvaged at great expense, restoration was deemed too costly and she was scrapped in October 1946.
The luxurious interiors were designed in Art Déco and Streamline Moderne style. Many sculptures and wall paintings made allusions to Normandy, the province of France for which Normandie was named. Drawings and photographs show a series of vast public rooms of great elegance. Normandie's voluminous interior spaces were made possible by having the funnel intakes split to pass along the sides of the ship, rather than straight upward. French architect Roger-Henri Expert was in charge of the overall decorative scheme.
Most of the public space was devoted to first-class passengers, including the dining room, first-class lounge, grille room, first-class swimming pool, theatre and winter garden. The first-class swimming pool featured staggered depths, with a shallow training beach for children. The children's dining room was decorated by Jean de Brunhoff, who covered the walls with Babar the Elephant and his entourage.
The interiors were filled with grand perspectives, spectacular entryways, and long, wide staircases. First-class suites were given unique designs by select designers. The most luxurious accommodations were the Deauville and Trouville apartments, featuring dining rooms, baby grand pianos, multiple bedrooms, and private decks.
The first-class dining hall was the largest room afloat. At three hundred and five feet (93 m), it was longer than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, stood 46 feet (14 m) wide, and towered 28 feet (8.5 m) high. Passengers entered through 20-foot (6.1 m) tall doors adorned with bronze medallions by artist Raymond Subes. The room could seat 700 at 157 tables, with Normandie serving as a floating promotion for the most sophisticated French cuisine of the period. As no natural light could enter it was illuminated by 12 tall pillars of Lalique glass flanked by 38 matching columns along the walls. These, with chandeliers hung at each end of the room, earned the Normandie the nickname "Ship of Light" (similar to Paris as the '"City of Light").
A popular feature was the café grill, which would be transformed into a nightclub. Adjoining the cafe grill was the first-class smoking room, which was paneled in large murals depicting ancient Egyptian life. Normandie also had indoor and outdoor pools, a chapel, and a theatre which could double as a stage and cinema.
The machinery of the top deck and forecastle was integrated within the ship, concealing it and releasing nearly all the exposed deck space for passengers. The air conditioner units were concealed along with the kennels inside the third, dummy, funnel.
Indeed, the interior was quite dazzling but perhaps the most dazzling was the first class dining room.
Three hundred and five feet long, convert|46|ft|m wide and convert|28|ft|m high, this was by far the largest room afloat. Passengers entered the dining room through convert|20|ft|m|sing=on tall doors adorned with bronze medallions by the artist Raymond Subes. The ten medallions featured French castles, cathedrals, and the French ocean liner SS “Ile de France”. The medallions and dining room door elements survive today as part of the Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Catholic Church. in Brooklyn Heights, at the corner of Remsen and Henry, having been sold at auction in 1945.
This first class dining room could seat 700 diners at a time with 150 tables, serving them with some of the best meals in the world. This ship was a floating promotion of the most sophisticated French cuisine of the period. However due to the design of the ship, no natural lighting could get in. The designers illuminated the room with twelve tall pillars of Lalique glass and along the walls stood 38 columns equally bright. In addition, two chandeliers hung at each end of the room. From this gorgeous display of lights came the nickname “Ship of Light”Maddocks, Melvin “The Great Liners”. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1978.] (similar to Paris as the ‘”City of Light”). The French Line marketed the dining room as longer than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.Maxtone-Graham 1972, p. 276]
A popular feature was a cafe which led to the grand salon, one of the most popular rooms on board which would be transformed into a nightclub during voyages. In addition, “Normandie” boasted both an indoor and outdoor pool (the second ship to have one, after the Italian liner SS|Rex|3=2), a chapel and a theatre which could function as both a stage and cinema.
The interiors were filled with long perspectives and spectacular entryways such as long, wide staircases in order to give a suitable frame to the many upper middle-class ladies who saw an Atlantic crossing as a way to show off their clothes and jewels, and sometimes their husbands.
First-class suites on “Normandie” were given unique individual designs by a team of renowned designers. The most luxurious accommodations on the ship were the Deauville and Trouville apartments, [Maxtone-Graham 1972, p. 279] which came with their own dining rooms, baby grand pianos, multiple bedrooms, and private deck. A disproportionate amount of public space was devoted to the first-class passengers, including the dining room, first-class lounge, grille room, first class swimming pool, theatre, winter garden, and other amenities. The first class swimming pool featured staggered depths, and a training ‘beach’ with very little depth for children.
In addition to a novel hull shape which made it possible for her to attain her great speed at lesser power expenditure than that of the other big liners, “Normandie” was filled with technical feats. She had turbo-electric engines which improved fuel efficiency and made control and maintenance much easier. The machinery of the top deck and forecastle, normally an eyesore or an annoyance for passengers on the other liners, had been integrated within the ship, concealing it completely and releasing nearly all of the exposed deck space for the passengers’ use. [Maxtone-Graham 1972, p. 273-75] An early form of radar was installed to detect icebergs and other ships. The voluminous nature of her public rooms, particularly in first class, were made possible by having the funnel intakes split and pass along the sides of the ship, rather than straight upward, to allow room for lounges and other features to have an uninterrupted space.
Flirty Thirties: Sumptuous Interiors of the SS Normandie On Display in New York
02/09/2010 by Pam Bristow Creative Consultant, Designer, Writer, Collector in http://www.huffingtonpost.com
From Audrey Tatou's star turn as Coco Chanel in Anne Fontaine's Coco Avant Chanel to the recent, major exhibition devoted to thirties designer Madeleine Vionnet by Paris' Les Arts Decoratifs, French Art Deco is once again, a la mode. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has recently put 75 percent its Art Deco collection on display (the most it has ever shown at once) and the cloche hat is everywhere - from the pages of Vogue, to the shelves of Saks, to the racks of Forever 21.
Right on cue arrives DECODENCE, an exhibit at New York's South Street Seaport Museum dedicated to a vast collection of interior artifacts and furnishings from the S.S. Normandie, the majestic transatlantic liner that boasted one of the most opulent expressions of Art Deco styling the world had ever seen.
Upon her maiden Voyage in 1935, Normandie was heralded as a triumph of the modern age and inevitably became the pride of the French Line as an estimated 100,000 spectators lined New York Harbor for her triumphant arrival. Her innovative, award-winning hull design was rivaled only by her unprecedented interior luxuries. The defining roster of Art Deco masters that worked on her fittings and furnishings included Rene Lalique, Jean Dupas, Jean Patou, and Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann.
Normandie's legendary three-deck-high First Class dining room, a marvel of the Art Deco era (and one this writer studied in design school) was, I believe, the most awe-inspiring feature of her interior design. At three hundred five feet long, it was longer than the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Yes, VERSAILLES! The room, which could accommodate 700 diners, boasted twelve tall illuminated pillars of original Lalique glass flanked by thirty-eight matching columns along the walls, and 20-foot tall entrance doors adorned with bronze medallions by artist Raymond Subes.
The spectacle continued into the staterooms. Normandie's finest First Class suites featured dining rooms, baby grand pianos, multiple bedrooms, and private decks, a selection of which can be seen at the exhibition. Other exhibit standouts include a full Ruhlmann dining room set from the famed dining hall, and the body of Normandie, replicated as an evening bag by Hermes. Most of these items, on loan from New York collector Mario Pulice, are in near perfect condition, surprisingly since Normandie met an untimely fiery death in 1942.
As sumptuous as the decor was, it was merely a backdrop for the illustrious passengers that Normandie delivered safely to both shores - a list that includes Ernest Hemmingway, Marlene Dietrich, Walt Disney, Salvador Dali, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., James Stewart, Bing Crosby, and the von Trapp Family Singers. DECODENCE also features large-scale photographs and videos of some of Normandie's most acclaimed travelers enjoying the view from her decks.
As if all of this eye candy weren't enough, Lalique has issued a special engraved edition of its famed Cabochon cocktail ring, which was originally released during the days of Normandie. And fashion's enfant terrible, Jeremy Scott has designed the exhibition t-shirt in his signature cheeky style. Both are available in the museum's shop for those of us who want to take the dream home.
DECODENCE: Legendary Interiors and Illustrious Travelers Aboard the SS Normandie
February 25 - January 2011
South Street Seaport Museum
12 Fulton Street (Between Front and Water Streets)
New York City