Normandie Interiors Today


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>That the third class dining room was the ship's actual masterpiece is one of her ironies.

Well, it's definitely a good room - but I've always been partial to the first class Grill Room and Terrace myself. I think the small, windowless card and writing rooms of second class are quite nice also and very reminiscent of the interiors of L'Atlantique - a ship which perhaps better reflected the taste of her time and is mostly unknown even to some ocean liner enthusiasts.

Perhaps the best way to compare Normandie's interiors and how they reflected - or conflicted - with shoreside taste is to look at Normandie's interiors and then those shore based interiors and see how little they match up. I can see how some would say that Normandie was the ultimate ship of 1925, but I would disagree that it was a purely 20's train of thought going into first class spaces.

If you look at Ile de France's interiors you'll find the much harsher lines of the early 20's. Even in 1925 Art Deco was still a mainly harsh geometric style, so I wouldn't say Normandie was completely 20's, as you get a little more curve in Normandie's interiors. I would say its interiors are a little more fashion forward than 1929 by about two years maybe - but I'm definitely no expert.
 

Jim Kalafus

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>If you look at Ile de France's interiors you'll find the much harsher lines of the early 20's. Even in 1925 Art Deco was still a mainly harsh geometric style, so I wouldn't say Normandie was completely 20's, as you get a little more curve in Normandie's interiors.

This is a bit esoteric- but if you can get ahold of the issue of l'Illustration dedicated to the 1925 Exposition in Paris, you'll get a feel for just how....nostalgic....much of the Normandie's first class interior design would have seemed in 1935. The largely forgotten Ville d' Algier, and Ville d' Oran (1935 and 1936 respectively) had interiors that put those of Normandie to shame in most respects. Likewise, Pilsudski and Batory had moments of brilliance aboard that made much of the Normandie's first class appear...well...to be wearing too much make-up for want of a better phrase. And then, of course, is the Nieuw Amsterdam which had a few over the top moments (1st class dining room) but which better captured late 1930s high style than did her well remembered French Line consort.

I think that the Normandie is the ultimate example of "good" bad taste. Flamboyant, overblown, retro in 1935, and in many cases badly laid out (Can a room be more cluttered and impossible to navigate than the 1st class dining room in its 1935 configuration? Can room be more intrusive than the 1936 second class lounge?) but still memorable. There was one moment of true elegance on board (3rd class dining room) but the rest had the fun "how much is too much?" quality that marks Vegas and, come to think of it, Carnival Liners. Yes, now that I think of it, she is a pre-Carnival Carnival design. Miles from sophisticated (can you believe the phallic symbol that dangled over the heads of those about to enter the theatre? Or the one that rose fully...tumescent....in the center of the second class dining room?) but dripping with style, however dubious in places.
 
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Reminiscent of 1925, yes. Good "bad" taste, quite possibly (in most first class rooms). Phallic symbols.... huh? If you want to talk about being esoteric...

>Yes, now that I think of it, she is a pre-Carnival Carnival design.

Now you're just trying to irritate me, aren't you? :p
Perhaps in some areas she can have what can be considered "Entertainment Architecture" but still - you've got to admit that's a stretch! I'll agree that Normandie is occasionally gaudy and that perhaps the first class dining room was impractical in its 1935 configuration and that the 1936 tourist class lounge, while nice was a very, very bad idea - I wouldn't go so far to say that Normandie's interiors are the Joe Farcus designs of 1925! Blugh... That's just sick!


>Likewise, Pilsudski and Batory had moments of brilliance aboard that made much of the Normandie's first class appear...well...to be wearing too much make-up for want of a better phrase.

If I'm remembering the same interiors you are, I agree. The two ships had Normandie's elegant atmosphere without all the spangly whirligigs that Normandie was cluttered with at times. I would say though, that even as Normandie might "wear too much make-up" (Perhaps the better phrase is "Overtly glitzy?") Normandie had the brashness at times to carry that glitz off - such as the Salon - depending on who you ask.

I don't think that Normandie is the be all end all of Art Deco ocean liners, but she's certainly up there with the best of them, but perhaps it's only because of her reputation being akin to a rare orchid.

And let's not forget the Champlain! Champlain did what Normandie couldn't IMO. Champlain's interiors had that rarified atmosphere without being overbearing like Normandie was at times. Champlain's first class foyer is an extremely good example of a large room that stays sophisticated without all the rouge and glittery eye-shadow that Normandie wore. It was an exceptionally bright room and hardly a smidgen of Gold and Red (together I mean) was to be seen anywhere - not much of it at least. The first class lounge was tastefully done and perhaps carried the elegance of Normandie's third class dining room to first class. Only hiccup, however, are those big lipstick tube looking type... thingies. Phallic symbols? Nah... let's not go there!
 

Jim Kalafus

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>Now you're just trying to irritate me, aren't you? :p

Oh, you'll KNOW when I'm trying to do that...
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Perhaps in some areas she can have what can be considered "Entertainment Architecture" but still - you've got to admit that's a stretch!

I admit nothing. First class WAS a game of "let's pile it on for the rubes." Nothing wrong with that. It was fun, but not- in any stretch of the words- tasteful or sophisticated.

>I'll agree that Normandie is occasionally gaudy.

No, she is occasionally NOT gaudy. The two small lounges in 1st class were the only rooms in the whole suite that did not reek of indulgence.

>and that perhaps the first class dining room was impractical in its 1935 configuration and that the 1936 tourist class lounge, while nice was a very, very bad idea - I wouldn't go so far to say that Normandie's interiors are the Joe Farcus designs of 1925! Blugh... That's just sick!

But true. As I said earlier, there was nothing wrong with the individual elements that made up the Normandie's interiors, but with the exception of a few rooms in Third Class, they WERE used in a pre-Farcus Farcus manner. There is elegance, and there is "bling." Normandie was Bling. With an upper case "B" for emphasis. If the Queen MAry, with her rather constipated interiors can be said to be the seagoing equivalent of the lovely Camilla Parker-Bowles wearing her best hat, then the Normandie's first class can be likened to Paris Hilton. All of the elements are fine, but are combined into something over the top that make most people go "ick" or snicker. And the passenger totals bear that out.
 
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All of the elements are fine, but are combined into something over the top that make most people go "ick" or snicker. And the passenger totals bear that out.

Well....... MAYBE. *Admits defeat!*

>There is elegance, and there is "bling." Normandie was Bling. With an upper case "B" for emphasis.

Then what IS elegance? Queen Mary certainly wasn't if you wanted to be international. I don't think Niew Amsterdam. It was a little too plain. Elegance for the French, if not Normandie was: Champlain? L'Atlantique? Not Ile de France. Could it have been the tubby little Lafayette? It wasn't France - both of them. And that can be taken a number of different ways! (Look back to your spice orange cabin days, Mr. Jim...)

>The two small lounges in 1st class were the only rooms in the whole suite that did not reek of indulgence.

So I assume that the Grill Room isn't one of the small lounges? I'm not sure I see where the Grill Room indulges so much - perhaps it was the columns? The treatment ceiling over and around the dance floor? I always thought it was the purity of form in the Grill Room that lent it its elegance. Perhaps the Lalique columns could have been "Bling?" Perhaps I'm just not seeing it there. The salon is blaringly obvious - as is the smoking room and those other rooms - the Dining Room, while shiny, IMO doesn't completely equate to "Bling" all around in the gaudy sense - with the exception of those big gold bas-releifs. Those were a little over the top.
Perhaps I'm just reaching?
 

Jim Kalafus

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>Then what IS elegance?

The Normandie's Third Class Dining Room. It whispered rather than shrieked, and better managed to convey a sense of space and light than did the....frou-frou first class equivalent. I think that an "elegant" design is one that transcends the era in which it was created~ the third class dining room and certain sections of second class could- with minor modifications- be encorporated into a newbuild and not look period piece.

>So I assume that the Grill Room isn't one of the small lounges?

No.

My trouble with the grill room stems from the fact that, even in 1935 when it still had all of its windows, it managed to have the rare design flaw of seeming open and at the same time claustrophobic, to judge from the color photos. If one stood in the center of the dance floor and photographed outward, the room appeared expansive. If one photographed it from within the seating area, the view became...constricted...by the columns, the furniture, and the omnipresent light towers. Too many tables shoehorned into too little space (at least the inner ring of the three rows of tables should have been eliminated) would have made a claustrophobe like me jittery.

>Perhaps the Lalique columns could have been "Bling?"

Is there any doubt? Of all of the Normandie's stylistic trademarks, the Lalique columns seem, to me at least, to be the most intrusive. And, of course, they contributed to the final destruction of the ship which is a second reason to veto them.

I do have to say, lest I am misunderstood, that the Normandie is one of my favorite ships BECAUSE of her over the top manic interiors~ and because those who paid the lowest fares were rewarded with the best room aboard.

>Queen Mary certainly wasn't if you wanted to be international.

Oh, I don't know about that. It must have hard to seem international, or sophisticated, or even awake, on those depressingly not uncommon Normandie voyages where fewer than 150 people booked first class. Queen Mary, although a frump, at least offered surrounding in which you might, perchance, meet people. As in life, 'personality' counts more than looks in the long run.
 

Brent Holt

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According to Normandie: Queen of the Seas, Normandie earned a net profit of 168.5 million francs during her short career. Her gross profits increased every year she was in service.
This seems to burst the myth that she was a white elephant.
 

Jim Kalafus

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This has come up before, and at the time I voiced suspicion that creative bookkeeping was coming into play there. A few pertinent Normandie facts:

Statistically, she never ONCE had a voyage that was more than half filled if you average her passenger loads from her 4 years of service.

She spent more than half of the time between June 1935 and August 1939 laid up.

She had several voyages in 1938 in which fewer than 400 people sailed in all 3 classes.

Here is a pop culture reference for you. Back in the early 1960s, the Liz Taylor Richard Burton fiasco Cleopatra went a whopping $35 million over budget sending 20th Century Fox into a dangerous tailspin. (production on all of their films, other than Cleo, was shut down) Box office was good at first, but did not have "staying power" and at a time when admission to first run films cost $2, the $70 million or so it would take to put Cleopatra in the black seemed an impossible dream. But because the very survival of the studio depended on Cleo not bombing, some VERY creative bookkeeping came into account and voila! The film was shown to have finally earned a "modest" profit. Decades later, the Godfather and Forrest Gump, despite prolonged turnaway business and multiple re-releases, were shown to have been money losers- because SOMEONE had a profit sharing deal. Smoke, mirrors and B.S. can accomplish miracles.

A few questions to ask:

A) Aside from the line in N:QotS, is there any hard evidence of this? How the ghost ship spun a profit while half empty and out of service more than one day out of two for her entire life would be a fascinating tale yet, for some reason, all supporting detail was eliminated from the text. Why did they not expand on how she turned a profit from such unpromising figures? How was it done?

B) Would the French Line, or to be fair ANY corporation, be willing to say "oops...we goofed. The ship is a money drain?" Yes, I am aware of the optimistic Normandie press releases, but that is the job of a corporate press release~ to spread optimism. I'm sure that somewhere out there is an aging press release touting that the Empress of Britain with her 29% occupancy was really a tidy money spinner....but I would not believe it in that case, either.

C) There are bits of evidence that, if interpreted, indicate just how much of a disaster her earlier years were. For instance: if you took the 30 day Northern Europe Cruise aboard the Paris, which ended in midsummer, you were given the equivalent cabin FREE OF CHARGE back to New York aboard the Normandie. They were mighty confident that space would be available in First Class for 350 people IN PEAK SEASON, weren't they! And the fact that their two year old liner was being used as a "Gimme" to sweeten the deal for passengers considering booking onto the oldest and least desirable liner in their fleet paints a bleak picture, does it not? Would not success be indicated by the Paris returning to transat service to handle the overflow of passengers who wanted, but could not have, the Normandie, as happened in 1962 with the France and the Flandre?

>Her gross profits increased every year she was in service

The 908 passengers she carried per voyage in 1936 must have run up one heck of a bar tab to financially compensate for the 1000+ unfilled beds!
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Brent Holt

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Ships sailed half-full on a regular basis after the immigration quotas came into effect in the 1920s. The Olympic, Aquitania, Mauretania, and similar liners operated at only 50% capacity and still turned handsome profits.
Perhaps the Normandie at least came close to the break-even point?
If she had survived the war, I expect that the Normandie would have done much better.
 
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>>Perhaps the Normandie at least came close to the break-even point?<<

When the ship typically ran half full and spent a lot of her time laid up? Unless somebody was really creative in cooking keeping the books, I wouldn't bet my next meal ticket on that proposition. Ships represent an enormous capital investment and they don't make money when running at half their capacity or when welded to the pier.
 
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>Unless somebody was really creative in cooking keeping the books, I wouldn't bet my next meal ticket on that proposition.

Exactly. Normandie was the financial Skidoo for the French Line. And let's also not forget how much moolah in government subsidies was poured into Normandie's construction. The French Line would have been in deep trouble with the French government if its baby was suffering from the financial equivalent of colic (lots of wind and crying) so it was essential, I think, that the French Line would paint the closest picture to hearts and flowers that it could to pacify the government's interest in Normandie. What would have happened if the government had gotten wind of the losses Normandie was turning?

>The 908 passengers she carried per voyage in 1936 must have run up one heck of a bar tab to financially compensate for the 1000+ unfilled beds!

Looking at some of the things written in NQotF, it might actually be feasible!
 

Jim Kalafus

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>Ships sailed half-full on a regular basis after the immigration quotas came into effect in the 1920s. The Olympic, Aquitania, Mauretania, and similar liners operated at only 50% capacity and still turned handsome profits.

Well, no, they didn't. That is why "tourist third" "Three day cruises to nowhere" and the concepts of "vacation packages" and,in some cases, "reduced services" came into being. The idea being to get at least SOME backsides into the empty seats.


>Perhaps the Normandie at least came close to the break-even point?

A ship with a crew of 1300 catering to fewer than 400 passengers, and a service speed of close to 30 knots has a high break even point.

At the same time that the Normandie was beginning her long slide into insolvency, she had good company. Conte di Savoia, a far more attractive liner internally, limped along at 43% capacity, while the other large liners were somewhere in the high 40s or low 50s. Only the Queen Mary, at close to 70% capacity, could be termed a success. The two most successful liners were the Manhattan and the Washington, with close to 90% occupancy.

>Normandie was the financial Skidoo for the French Line.

I prefer to think of it as the French Line's Can't Stop the Music. That was the glittery, over the top, massively budgeted, film debut (and swan song) for the Village People (an alleged $10 million of the $20 million budget went on advertising)which was introduced too late to cash on on the disco scene and failed notoriously. At the time it was hailed as one of the ten worst- ever- but with the passage of 25 years the vomiting noises and rain of thrown garbage that marked its first release has abated and it has the status of beloved- and totally unbelievable- tacky artifact of another era. ("Skidoo", for those Not In The Know is the intolerable 1968 LSD "comedy" directed by Otto Preminger- who dropped acid pre-production to better understand that which he was directing- starring such noted hippy types as Jackie Gleason, Frankie Avalon, Groucho Marx and Carol Channing who leads a hippy revolt while wearing a miniskirt (the horror!) a Horatio Hornblower hat and blonde Cher wig, and singing "Skidoo! Skidoo! The World can be a better place for you! Skidoo!" (Fortunately, the scene in which she lays on a bed and attempts to seduce Frankie Avalon is terminated when he presses a button and the bed sinks into the floor and is covered over by sliding panels, safely sealing her up.) In other words, it was about as "establishment" and off the mark as a film glorifying LSD can be, failed miserably since it had appeal to neither the hippy nor straight audiences, and still pops up from time to time as an example of how misguided a major project can be. Oh, and Harry Nilsson sings the end credits. All of them.)
 
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>>What would have happened if the government had gotten wind of the losses Normandie was turning?<<

What makes you think they didn't know in the first place? When you provide subsidies for some sort of venture, you tend to keep an eye on things in order to protect your interests. At the same time, you tend to hope that the public has the attention span of week old roadkill so they won't notice the fact...already known to officialdom...that taxpayer funds are being poured down a rathole. If they do, you better have your resume in order because your government won't survive the next no-confindence vote.

It's not as if this would be the first time in history that something like this had happened.
 
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>What makes you think they didn't know in the first place?

Oops - for some stupid reason I forgot that. It was probably swept under the carpet and hidden - for good measure and PR I suppose.
 

Brent Holt

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>Well, no, they didn't. That is why "tourist third" "Three day cruises to nowhere" and the concepts of "vacation packages" and,in some cases, "reduced services" came into being. The idea being to get at least SOME backsides into the empty seats.

Well, yes they did-especially in the 1920s. (Not the 30s-most of the big liners were lucky to sail at 25% of capacity then.)The "Tourist Third" did not attract nearly the numbers that steerage did. It helped, but could not make up for the loss of the immigrant trade. The conversion to oil fuel made a substantial difference in operating costs.
Let's look at some number for Olympic-one of the most popular liners of the 20s and one in which numbers are available thanks to Mark Chirnside's books. (The year with average number of passengers per crossing and load factor)
Note: The load factors include the changes in overall passenger capacity after refits
1922: 987 41%
1923: 883 37%
1929: 855 42%
1932: 430 21%
Olympic usually finished not too far from the top in the popularity lists in the 20s.

Now for a comparison of the Normandie and QM from 1937:
Normandie 1043 53%
QM 1340 63%
(Source for above info: Cunard's Legendary Queens of the Seas. By David Williams.)

Yes, the QM beat the Normandie by 10% that year. But she was still one of the most popular liners in service. The profitability question may be open to debate, but she may have been more successful in that area than her reputation.

Brent
 

Jim Kalafus

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>Now for a comparison of the Normandie and QM from 1937:
Normandie 1043 53%
QM 1340 63%

True- but then, you ARE quoting statistics from the only year that the Normandie ever broke the 1000 passenger mark. One has 1936, in which the Normandie carried 908 and Queen Mary carried just a hair over 1500 per voyage, and 1938 when her statistics fell below 1000 again and Queen Mary's' remained consistent. To which one must add that Queen Mary completed more voyages per year, in the years that the statistics are available, than Normandie did. More passengers on, I believe, 20% more crossings makes me think that the answer to

>but she may have been more successful in that area than her reputation.

is "probably not."


>Olympic usually finished not too far from the top in the popularity lists in the 20s.

This seems specious. Of what lists are we talking? A few minor points regarding the load factors you've quoted is that in 1922 and 1923 the US Economy was in a downturn, in 1929 the Olympic was, frankly, an aging ship in a moribund company facing modern, faster, and more comfortable rivals, and 1932 speaks for itself.

Something to watch for, also, when quoting liner statistics, is that comparing newbuilds with older ships is like comparing apples and oranges. A vessel in which 900 or 1000 or 1500 people were carried in dormitory and 8 berth cabins, on top of those in the Better Class of third class room and the upper two classes had more 'leeway' when it came to passenger totals and profit. A vessel like the Imperator which, in theory, could have carried over 4000 passengers -upon the vast majority of whom little money would be spent- could sail at 43% capacity and still have a huge number of people on board. Most of whom had spent considerably more than would be expended upon them during the crossing. Unfilled dorm space did not represent major disaster. A liner like the Normandie, which carried fewer than 2000 passengers (with a crew of 1300) DID face disaster when the statistics ducked into the mid 40% range, since the fewer passengers had far more money being expended upon them than the pre-immigration law passengers had. 50% on the Imperator and 50% on the Normandie were NOT the same thing.

>The "Tourist Third" did not attract nearly the numbers that steerage did. It helped, but could not make up for the loss of the immigrant trade.

It did not attract the NUMBERS, but was not meant to. What it did was generate profit. There were fewer passengers but they were paying more money than those is steerage had. Think about it- the majority of the liners built after the immigration laws were passed WERE tourist class liners. For every destined to fail Normandie or Conte di Savoia, there were dozens of vessels like the Vulcania, or Champlain, or Manhattan and Washington, that carried their larger but underused and costly to operate sisters. Which is why Italia wisely chose NOT to restore the burned but not destroyed Conte di Savoia after the war~ the money was better spent on smaller, more appealing, liners with low overhead.

Peter Kohler, in The Lido Fleet, put it best:

Despite their propaganda triumphs, relative popularity, and technical success, Rex and Conte di Savoia still required a huge operational subsidy. However, it seems doubtful the Italians ever expected these ships to pay their way. Their purpose was to serve as symbolic flagships popularising the Mediterranean route with the smaller, slower and more profitable ships basking in reflective glory and carrying "the bread and butter trade." It was, after all, the philosophy behind all the ships of state, most of which wre commercial disasters. By 1937 most liners favored two-class "Cabin Boats" of moderate size and speed to augment the express ships.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Lucy asked:

>Regarding ships' interiors being designed as to be as fire-resistant as possible, wasn't the United States designed on this principle? .... but I once read in one of the many liner books that there was no wood in her decor. Just what were the materials that were used as decoration in her? I know that this is a Normandie thread and that I've gone off on a tangent-sorry!!!

Etched glass. Metalwork. I believe a few mosaics. Spun fiberglass in the place of most fabrics. The United States' interiors, although often derided these days as 'not pretty' filled all of the Moderinists requirements as listed in the various 1935-'36 reviews that commented -not favorably- on the Normandie's retro aspects. She (The U.S.) was the ultimate example of Form Following Function, with little applied ornament, but with much emphasis placed on passenger comfort and space. For myself~ I'd rather spend 5 days in a place (or on a ship)where everything is bright, airy, comfortable (sit in a Normandie dining room chair for just 2 minutes and you'll see what I mean) and color coordinated, than 5 days in a heroically overdecorated, cluttered, largely windowless environment. Some of her interiors were elegant in a minimalist way (1st class dining room/ Navajo bar/ballroom) that still 'work' today~ others were less successful (particularly the polka-dotted theatre) and much of the lounge decor seems to have leapt straight from any one of 50 I Love Lucy episodes in which the lead harridan nagged Ricky into buying new furniture, but even at its worst the United States was still spacious and airy and logically laid out, something of which the Normandie could not always be accused. I guess it all boils down to which matters more to a person: should a chair be gilded, upholstered in Aubusson needlepoint, and hold one at an odd angle to the floor, or should it merely be comfortable?
 

Brent Holt

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More info continuing my previous post:

In 1920s Mauretania averaged around 800 passengers per crossing, Olympic around 950, and Aquitania about 1,100 passengers. This was roughly 50% of capacity. (Info supplied by Mark Chirnside)
Back to the Normandie, yes she was beaten by the QM in the popularity contest. But she was still high on the list of liners in terms of passenger carryings. She was certainly not a ghost ship. It would be interesting to see figures on running costs compared to the QM, but I have never seen such info.

Brent
 

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