Paris Between the Wars – “V” is for Madeleine Vionnet


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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Madeleine Vionnet
Madeleine Vionnet

A French fashion designer who trained in London, Madeleine Vionnet established her first fashion house in Paris in 1912. She was one of the leading fashion designers in Paris from 1919 to 1939. Called the “Queen of the bias cut” and “the architect among dressmakers”, Vionnet is best known for her elegant Grecian-style dresses.

Vionnet evening gown, 1931
Vionnet evening gown, 1931
Vionnet gowns
Vionnet gowns

Vionnet’s bias-cut clothes dominated haute couture in the 1930s, setting trends with her sensual gowns worn by such internationally known actresses as Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, and Greta Garbo. Vionnet’s vision of the female form revolutionized modern clothing, and the success of her unique cuts assured her reputation. She fought for copyright laws in fashion. She instituted what, at the time, were considered revolutionary labor practices: paid holidays and maternity leave, day-care, a dining hall, and a resident doctor and dentist for her workers. The onset of World War II forced Vionnet to close her fashion house in 1939, and she retired in 1940. Over the course of her career, Madeleine Vionnet created some 12,000 garments.

 

Paris Between the Wars – “S” is for Elsa Schiaparelli


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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Elsa Schiaparelli, 1937
Elsa Schiaparelli, 1937

Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, Schiaparelli is regarded as one of the most prominent fashion designers of the period between the two wars.

Born in Rome to an aristocratic family, Elsa was sent to a strict convent boarding school in Switzerland, but was rebellious and staged a hunger strike until her parents brought her home. Her life was comfortable, but unfulfilling, and to avoid an arranged marriage to a wealthy Russian, she impulsively married a charismatic con man in 1914. Elsa gave birth to a daughter, and her husband fled.

In Paris, Schiaparelli lived well, and she continued to receive financial support from her family, but she wanted to earn an independent income. She had no technical training in pattern making and sewing, and she relied on impulse and inspiration, sometimes using herself as the model. Her “pour le Sport” clothing line took off in 1927, and included bathing suits, ski-wear, and linen dresses. A darker tone was set when France declared war on Germany in 1939. Schiaparelli’s Spring 1940 collection featured “trench” brown and camouflage print taffetas.

 1937 | Elsa Schiaparelli shoe-hat Drawing by Marcel Vertès Source: Archivio Alinari
1937 | Elsa Schiaparelli shoe-hat
Drawing by Marcel Vertès
Source: Archivio Alinari

Paris Between the Wars – “L” is for Jeanne Lanvin


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Between 1919 and 1939, Paris experienced a cultural and intellectual boom. This blog will feature artists, writers, composers, musicians, and designers. Paris was at its cultural peak.

Portrait of Jeanne Lanvin, by Dufau, 1925
Portrait of Jeanne Lanvin, by Dufau, 1925

The woman whose name is synonymous with French haute couteur was born in Paris in 1867, the eldest of eleven children. She trained as a milliner (hatmaker) and dressmaker before establishing herself as a milliner at the age of 22.

Lanvin made dresses for her young daughter and caught the eye of some of Paris’ wealthiest individuals, who requested that Lanvin make similar dresses for their children. Soon, she was making dresses for their mothers, who became clients of her new boutique. By the 1920s, Lanvin had opened a dye factory, and shops devoted to lingerie, menswear, and furs. Her most significant creation, however, and that for which she is so widely known, was the introduction of her signature fragrance, Arpège.

Arpege

Here you see the design of mother and daughter, so appropriate as Jeanne Lanvin perfected the concept of ‘mother-daughter dressing’ in her work.

“The name Lanvin for me,” wrote Christian Dior, “was bound up with the memory of girls in robes de style whom I danced my first foxtrots, Charlestons, and shimmies with.”