Emile Pingat, THE Artistic Dressmaker In Paris

Lately, Emile Pingat has been a major focus here at Lily Absinthe. To us, it seems that history has largely ignored Pingat while giving exclusive focus to Charles Frederick Worth. While by no means do we mean to denigrate Worth’s achievements, we also feel that it’s worthwhile to also call attention to some of the other couturiers who today are less well known.

Just to give an example of Pingat’s reach, we found this little reference in the December 3, 1885 edition of the Marin County Journal, a newspaper that was published in San Rafael, California:

Pingat is considered the artistic dress-maker in Paris fashionable circles, Worth now playing second scissors.

Ok, maybe we’re reaching here but it’s interesting seeing a reference to Pingat, albeit a brief humorous one, in a small newspaper (granted that San Rafael is relatively close to San Francisco).

Just a fluke? Maybe not..consider this extract from the “Fashion Notes” section of the November 3, 1883 edition of The Pacific Rural Press, a newspaper that was published in San Francisco from 1871 to 1894:

A leading feature of the fashions of the season, as shown at the October openings, is that of combination costumes. Scarcely a dress among all those made by the great French dressmakers Worth, Pingat, Felix, and the rest is of a single fabric, the rule being the combination of brocade or fancy dress goods with plain material to match. This is the case especially with the fine woolens, the use of which is constantly increasing, and which will this winter be worn for everything except elegant reception toilets.

And just to further show Pingat’s reach, below is an an advertisement from the September 22, 1895 edition of the Los Angeles Herald:

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Los Angeles Herald, September 22, 1895

Of course, one does wonder if the advertised garments were actually manufactured by the designers as advertised or were knock-offs… 🙂

While the above has been focused on Pingat, it does indicate that Parisian designers like Worth and Pingat had cachet even on the West Coast of the United States in much the same way that the names Dior, Lagerfeld, and Dolce and Gabbana (to name a few) have cachet today among fashion consumers.

The above is only a small sampling and as we find more references, we will share them with you. 🙂

And Never Say Never…More On Emile Pingat

When it comes to fashion, the phrase “never say never” definitely applies. No sooner had I posted my commentary on Emile Pingat’s use of  relatively simple designs, minimal trim, and overall elegant simplicity, I immediately came across an afternoon dress made by him from circa 1896 that seems to be the opposite and in fact looks like a hot mess: 🙂

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Emile Pingat, Afternoon Dress, c. 1896; De Young Museum, San Francisco (1998.170a-b)

However, upon reflection, there is a certain logic to that “hot mess”…First, the dress has relatively clean lines and restrained sleeves place this more towards the late 1890s when the leg-of-mutton sleeve craze had passed its zenith. but what is remarkable is that skirt is a striped black and white striped cotton velveteen covered by an overlayer of purple wool flannel that had a cut out art nouveau design. In some ways, the effect is reminiscent of the slashing found on Renaissance doublets.

The bodice continues the purple flannel overlay and black and white striped cotton and the sleeves are also done in the underlying striped fabric. The bodice is structured to give the effect of a jacket with an inset faux waist of  aqua panné velvet. Overall, the silhouette is fairly conventional except for the purple overlay with the cutout design.

However, as with many of Pingat’s designs, the focus is on the fabrics themselves and this dress is no exception with Pingat’s dramatic use of the wool flannel overlay. I only wish that there were more pictures available of this dress- it bears close examination. So in the end, while it may seem to be a bit over-the-top, it does fall firmly in the Pingat “school of design” in that the style’s effect is solely based on the fabrics speaking for themselves. 🙂

Pingat- Sometimes Less Is More…

When it comes to Victorian Era fashion and especially fashion of the period from 1870 through 1900, people have the idea that a dress with more trim and accents (i.e., “bling”) makes for a more elegant and opulent dress. However, this is not always the case and sometimes too much trim and accents can have the opposite effect with the end result being a mish-mash of details that ultimately do nothing towards creating a unified style or “look.” In some cases, we see little more than a fashion trainwreck.

However, this wasn’t always the case and often designers utilized more simple designs, relying on the use of the fashion fabric alone to achieve results. One example of this can be found with this 1880s dress designed by Emile Pingat that we found on the Augusta Auctions website:

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Dress Ensemble, c. 1880s; August Auctions

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According to the website, the dress is from the 1880s and we suspect that it was made sometime in the mid-1880s. Also, although the dress is described as having both a “day bodice” and a ballgown bodice, there was no picture of the ballgown bodice thus at a minimum, this dress was probably meant as a visiting or reception dress. However, that said, our interest is that there is no trim on this dress and it only uses the fashion fabric itself.

The vertical stripes serve to accentuate the length of the dress and give a nearly cylindrical appearance. Also, at the bottom, we see two layers of narrow knife pleating separated by ruching, all from the same fabric. Unfortunately, there were no pictures of the dress from the direct front and it’s hard to get a full idea of the bodice’s appearance but it’s evident that the strips on the fabric do accentuate the curves of the bodice. Although this dress looks fairly “plain,” the manipulation of the fashion alone does the work and gives the dress an overall sense of aesthetic uniformity. In short, “less is more”.

And here’s a view of the hem detail:

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Now, admittedly, aesthetics and style are a very subjective matter and we all have our preferences but nevertheless, we see that designers utilized various methods to achieve their visions. While unfortunately we do not have a formal treatise on Emile Pingat’s design philosophy, it’s evident that he was flexible in his approach.

Many of Pingat’s designs involved clean lines and the use of the fashion fabric as the central focus. Here is another example that’s perhaps a bit more elaborate than the above example but still exhibits the same characteristics:

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Emile Pingat, Dinner Dress, c. 1883 – 1885; Smith College Historic Clothing Collection (1989.1.3ab)

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Rear View

What’s interesting here is that like this first dress above, Pingat uses only two colors as a combination only this time there are two separate fabrics, blue silk and white silk.

For a bit of contrast, let’s take a look at this reception dress from circa 1874:

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Emile Pingat, Reception Dress, c. 1874; Philadelphia Museum of Art (1938-18-12a,b)

In many respects, this dress is a precursor for the above two from the 1880s in that we see a blue and white striped silk overskirt combined with a solid blue silk underskirt and bodice. Also, we see white lace trim used to edge the overskirt and trim the bodice cuffs and front. Finally, we see white silk used along the hem and part of the underskirt for contrast. While we would expect an early 1870s to be somewhat elaborate with several layers of draped fabric, it’s sill relatively simple for the period.

Perhaps we’re reaching here a bit but it’s still interesting to consider the idea that Pingat tended to be more restrained in his designs and that he was firmly in the center- being neither too fashion forward or too regressive. Anyway, we hope you’ve enjoyed this excursion through some of Pingat’s designs. 🙂

A Portrait of Emile Pingat

We have been blessed by an early portrait of Emile Pingat that was kindly sent to us by one of our readers, M. Jacques Noel, who is a descendant of M. Pingat. M. Noel gave us permission to post the picture here and we are very grateful, anything pertaining to one of the foremost couturiers during the late 19th Century.

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An early portrait of Emile Pingat; Courtesy of Jacques Noel, jacnoel21@gmail.com

Pingat was famous for the sheer luxury of his designs, utilizing the best fabrics to create styles that, in our opinion, surpass those of Worth. Although we have discussed M. Pingat in prior posts, here’s just a sample of his work:

From day dresses…

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Reception Dress, Emile Pingat, c. 1885; Shelburne Museum (2010-75)

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Emile Pingat, Dinner Dress, c. 1883 – 1885; Smith College Historic Clothing Collection (1989.1.3ab)

To outerwear…

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Pingat, Evening Jacket, 1893; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.139)

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Opera Cape, Emile Pingat, c. 1882; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.60.42.13)

To something more formal…

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The above is just a small sampling of Pingat’s work and we salute him. 🙂

Lily Absinthe At The FIDM Museum

As part of the A Graceful Gift: Fans from the Mona Lee Nesseth Collection Exhibit that we viewed at the FIDM Museum last week, we were struck by some of the dresses that were used to accompany the exhibition. Of course, while the fans are works of beauty in their own right, it was the dresses that really stole the show (sorry 🙂 )

First, we start with a design from 1903 by Jeanne Paquin:

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Afternoon Dress, Jeanne Paquin, 1903; FIDM Museum (2012.5.12AB)(Photo: Alex Berliner)

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Close-up view of the bodice (Photo: Alex Berliner)

In terms of style, this dress is very typical of the early 1900s with its s-bend/pigeon breast silhouette. The bodice and skirt are an ivory/cream silk satin overlaid with ivory/cream lave on the skirt and black chiffon on the bodice and sleeves. The bodice is further trimmed along the neckline with a double row of ivory/cream satin to include a line of flowers. The skirt is also trimmed in rows of ivory/cream satin ribbons and flowers over layers of black chiffon. Finally, at the waist is a wide belt of black satin ribbon. What is especially remarkable about this dress is the deft use of black- and this was NOT a mourning dress. During the 1890s and on into the 20th Century, there had been a trend taking black away from its traditional association with mourning and Paquin was one of those instrumental in this movement.

Below are some views that I was able to get. Unfortunately, because the dress was set far back from the railing, it was difficult to get good pictures so we had to rely on some from the FIDM Museum above in order to present a clear overview.

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Close-up of skirt trim.

The fan was also a nice addition but unfortunately it was impossible to get a good picture, especially since the right was reflecting off it it, making the image blurry. Also, at the same time, the fan was a bit of a hinderance in that it was so large that it tended to screen the dress, making it difficult to get good pictures. In terms of overall aesthetics, it’s our opinion that the fan is simply detracts detracts from the dress.

Finally, as an interesting follow-up, here is what is believed to be the original design sketch for this dress:

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Fashion Design Sketch Entitled “Bricette” For Paquin, c. 1903; V&A Museum (E.764-1967)

The relationship between the design sketch and the actual dress is discussed in the FIDM Museum blog and it’s an interesting account.

The next dress of interest was this circa 1904 design from the House of Pingat-Wallès (in 1896, Emile Pingat sold his fashion house to another house, A. Wallès who merged his name with Pingat’s and conducted business under that name). Here is the dress itself:

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Day Dress, House of Pingat-Wallès, c. 1904; FIDM Museum

As with the Paquin design, style-wise this dress also reflects the s-bend/pigeon breast silhouette characteristic of the early 1900s (although it must be noted that the silhouette is nowhere as extreme as some others of the period that we have seen). Instead of chiffon and lace, Pingat-Wallès utilizes a black and white floral ivory silk satin skirt covered in larger black floral appliques. The bodice utilizes the same floral silk satin styled with wide lapels/revers with the same black floral appliques as the skirt. The upper bodice front is also trimmed with velvet lattice-work framing a sheer waist.

We had a chance to observe this dress up close and we noted the quality of the workmanship. For example, the spaces in the velvet lattice-work are cut out towards where they meet the waist- this sort of operation is very labor-intensive. Also, the floral appliques are neatly stitched to the skirt and bodice with dozens of tiny stitches. We shudder to think of the time that this must have taken but such is the nature of haute couture. 🙂

Below are some more views:

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And finally, here are some more detail views:

The next dress is by a lesser-known couturier by the name of Christoph von Drecoll who originally got his start in Vienna in 1896 and later opened a branch in Paris in 1902:

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Afternoon Dress, Drecoll, c. 1898; FIDM Museum

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The circa 1898 date on the this dress places it a bit earlier than the previous two but its silhouette is similar (we would venture to guess that the date given by the museum might be a bit too early). The skirt and bodice are a matching ivory/cream silk satin with floral appliques. Although it’s hard to make out from the angle of the pictures and the the black ribbon covering the bodice front, the bodice is of a cutaway design that tapers back to reveal a pleated faux-waist, also in ivory/cream silk satin. The skirt hem consists of a row of contrasting dull and shiny silk strips that harmonizes with the floral designs on the skirt. At the waist is a wide black silk ribbon belt separating the skirt from the bodice and a silk chiffon ribbon tie in front.

We have purposely omitted any discussion of the collar/neck treatment until now…in a word, it’s dreadful. The collar is completely incongruous with the rest of the neck and strikes a discordant note in what would otherwise be a smart, elegant design. The collar is thick and reads like a cervical collar and tends to draw the eye away from the rest of the dress. In some respects it reminds us of the collar/ruff on the Lucy wedding dress in Dracula. Hideous, to be sure.

Just to be fair, here are some more views of the dress:

Three different dresses from three different couturiers, all in similar ivory/cream and black and all representing three different approaches to style in the early 1900s (if we ignore the date on the Drecoll dress). Although these dresses were intended as a backdrop for the fan exhibition, we would argue that it’s really the reverse: the fans were simply an accessory to the dresses. 🙂 To be honest, if the goal was to display fans, there should have been a greater focus on that elements, perhaps sans dresses. But that’s just our opinion and in any event, it was all a work of art and sheer beauty and to be able to see these dresses “in the flesh” was a treat. 🙂