In our last post, we discussed Mme. Paquin’s early years as a couturiere in the 1890s. However, it was not until the early 1900s that she began to come into her own and in this post, we’ll be taking a look at this period. During the early 1900s, Paquin’s fashion house grew in stature, aided by her husband’s business acumen, she proved to be an expert marketer, frequently utilizing publicity stunts to attract public attention. More importantly, Paquin made an extra effort to cater to her clients’ needs, taking into account their personalities and preferences; this was in contrast to the aloof approach taken by some of the other fashion houses such as Worth and Poiret who tended to operate on the “we know what’s best for you and you’ll like it” principle.
Paquin’s working style was noted at least as early as 1896 as detailed in the March 22, 1896 issue of the Los Angeles Herald:
Ask Paquin to make you a dress, and say “What shall I have?” Does this clever artist recall a gown worn by Empress this or Queen that, or Actress So-and-So, and say such and such a thing “would be pretty.” Not at all. Your figure is taken into consideration in selecting rough or smooth, large pattern or plain goods. Your eyes, hair and skin are considered In selecting the chief color. Then with a roll of the warp printed silk for a cue, Paquin will coil a twist of one color about it. and then another, and the harmony and contrast are decided upon, end when you are clothed in the result of this cogitation you go forth In the nearest degree to a right mind on the subject of dress that you have ever had likely.
In terms of design, Paquin was also solidly grounded, using a combination of color, light, and texture to create dazzling effects. Many of her designs were inspired by Oriental influences or by previous historical eras and many of her designs were novel that combined various fabrics and trim in unexpected ways. At the same time, Paquin was also practical, incorporating elements in her designs to give women greater mobility such as the use of hidden gussets in hobble skirts to allow greater leg movement.
Paquin’s stature was such that in 1900 she was elected as the President of the fashion section for the 1900 Exposition Universelle and later was honored by the French Government with the Legion of Honor in 1913.
Below are some representative examples of Paquin’s designs during the early 1900s. First we start with some day wear:
And now for some formal styles such as these two 1895 vintage ball gowns:
Looking at the above two examples, they’re essentially the same design only with different fabrics and trims. In terms of design, both are relatively simple although the second one is more elaborate with a beaded pattern continuously running on both the skirt front and the rear skirt/train.
Moving forward to 1900, we see another of Paquin’s designs:
Design-wise, we see a continuation of the earlier 1890s style. The skirt and bodice are constructed of an ivory silk satin covered with a beaded floral motif and supplemented by yellow silk velvet ribbons and white lace which all combine to create a three-dimensional effect.
And in 1904, we see a drastic reduction of the train in this evening dress:
Unfortunately, examples of Paquin’s earlier work are not abundant to it’s hard to get a complete picture of where she was going design-wise. Compared to Worth or the other leading designers, her designs are relatively simple (and I use this term loosely) but nevertheless betray a certain elegance. In future posts, we’ll be showing examples from later years which reveal some amazing details that set her apart from other designers.
(To be continued…)