Today we take a look at fashion industry/haute couture in France began to transform itself from an obscure, closed world into a form that more closely resembles today’s fashion industry. “Fashion” as we know it today began to take form during the late 19th Century. Moreover, fashion was something that was entering the public consciousness on a scale broader than anything ever seen before. The industrial revolution played a major role in the development of fashion in a rising standard of living combined with the development of new methods of manufacturing textile goods made clothing more affordable for more people. Along with this was the rise of the middle class who now had the money and the leisure time to be able follow fashion more closely.
Where fashion was once limited to a monarch and his court, fashion was now becoming far more defuse with a much wider audience following it. Just as important, fashion and clothing manufacturing were developing into large business enterprises and as a result, business concerns often drove fashion trends in a way similar today only on a more limited scale with a smaller clientele.
Along with the commercialization of fashion by Couturiers such as Charles Worth, Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret, and a host of others, was the need to more effectively market their fashions.1Interestingly enough, Worth was very adverse to the press and he limited his interviews with them and never allowed journalists into areas of his atelier where they might see new dresses. This was more out the fear of fashion piracy more than anything else. Where word-or-mouth was sufficient, more direct methods of getting fashion styles (i.e., product) before the public were needed and thus developed advertising, fashion journals, fashion plates, and later, fashion photography.
With the development of the fashion industry and marketing, those who followed fashion wanted to see these fashions “live”. The concept of the runway show as a public spectacle was still years off but other ways to show off the latest styles were employed.
Once such method was dressing up models with the latest styles and sending them to various public social gathering, most notably the horse races at Longchamps and in particular, the Grand Prix de Paris which was held every year in July. More than just a horse race, it was a day-long affair that provided a venue for people to see and been seen and that of course meant what they were wearing. Naturally, the press covered these events and end was result was free publicity.
Below are just a few of the examples of the styles worn at Longchamps during the period from 1900 to 1914.
The women in the above pictures are wearing versions of the lingerie dress and one can see the influence of the s-bend corset although the silhouette is somewhat muted by the fluffy layers of fabric on the dresses. These definitely fall in the 1900 – 1905 date range.
And sometimes, fashion at Longchamps could cause a sensation…below is a picture from 1908 of three models wearing designs by Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix (known simply as Margaine-Lacroix) and dubbed by the press “Les Nouvelles Merveilleuses”:
The above three dresses definitely got public attention, in part because they completely did away with the conventional corset while at the same time creating a skin-tight silhouette by utilizing stretch fabrics in the dresses themselves to create the form-fitting silhouette.2We would definitely like to know more about the underpinnings of these models because there’s no way this look could have worked without some corset-substitute. We’re thinking an early version of Spanx.
Here’s how Susie Ralph, a fashion historian, described it in an introduction that opened an exhibit on Margaine-Lacroix in 2013:
In 1908 Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix sent three mannequins to the Longchamp race-course clad in her form-revealing robes-tanagréennes. These corsetless dresses caused a sensation among Paris’ fashionable crowd – a riot according to some newspaper reports. Worn without corsets and slit to the knee on one side over the most transparent of underskirts, their impact on the fashion world was instantaneous and resulted in major press coverage not only in Paris but around the world. In today’s parlance the style immediately “went viral”….It was Margaine-Lacroix’s daring vision that brought to an end the ideal of the rigidly corseted hour-glass figure, and ushered in the new, slim twentieth century silhouette.
Margaine-Lacroix is an interesting designer in her own right although she is relatively unknown today. Hopefully we’ll be writing more about her in the future.
Here, is where the above picture originally was featured:
Controversy is no stranger to the world of fashion then or now and the debate over what exactly is too “revealing” still rages on. Later, from 1910 to 1914, we see the public event-as-fashion show hit new highs, helped along by better cameras and film as with these:
Longchamps provided a venue for people to see “fashion in action” and for us it’s a fascinating archive of living fashion history. We can see just how garments were worn, how they fit, and even gain some insight into the people who wore them. We’ve only touched the surface here and in future posts we hope to gain further insight. Stay tuned!