Early films can sometimes tell us a lot about earlier fashions. Below is some newsreel footage taken in 1909- although it’s labeled “Paris Fashion Week 1909,” I suspect that it was simply filmed in the Spring. In this footage, you see a mix of older and newer fashions to include the Nouveau Directoire and “Delphos”/Classical Grecian styles that were coming into vogue then; designs pioneered by couturiers such as Paul Poiret and Jeanne Paquin. Enjoy!
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…)
Costume College was busy for me this year. Besides delving into the world of Paul Poiret, I also delved into the world of haute couture during the later 19th and early 20th Centuries, an ambitious topic to say the least- one could easily go on for days and barely scratch the surface. 🙂 Fashion history has always been fascinating and even more so when one makes little discoveries that link the world of the past with today and the research process never fails to disclose tiny nuggets of useful information.
In many respects, the world of haute couture, as we know it today, got it’s start in Paris largely through the efforts of one man- Charles Frederick Worth. Moreover, he was able to capitalize on a series of trends that had been developing for quite some time. Specifically, going back to reign of Louis XIV, royal patronage driven by the consolidation of the monarchy as the supreme ruling power in France combined with France’s growth as an economic, military, and cultural power served as a catalyst for the development of the textile industry and the needle trades. All the right elements were in place and over the next 300 years a thriving garment began to develop, spurred by patronage both by the Crown and nobility (as they sought to remain in good graces with the King).
By the mid-19th Century, industrialization served to further spur the growth of the textile and needle trades (can you say sewing machine?) and the ground was fertile for a man like Charles Worth. Worth transformed a relatively decentralized industry composed of many individual dressmakers working in small establishments into a large-scale industry employing hundreds, if not thousands. Worth consolidated fabric procurement with production (before this, it was customary for clients to bring their own fabrics to the dressmaker). Also, for marketing, he employed the technique of having his clients choose from a series of sample models, modeled by an army of pretty young women; the client would make a selection and a custom garment would be created. The model was intended to give the client an idea of the final product- often, the fabrics and trim would vary to the individual client.
What also makes Worth unique is that in 1860 he was able to secure the patronage of the Empress Eugénie and this cemented his reputation; as the center of the French court, the Empress set the styles and naturally everyone of importance wanted to emulate her.
With the demise of the Napoleon III and the Second Empire, Worth was forced to seek expanded markets- no longer did he have a guaranteed client base founded on royal patronage- so he was forced to seek a wider client base. Worth was ultimately successful in this endeavor and by the time he died in 1895, he had clients on all seven continents.
In many ways, the demise of the Empress’s patronage was the best thing for both Worth and haute couture in general in that it pushed couture out to a wider audience and stimulated greater design/style creativity- styles were not determined by the whim of a few people but rather transferred the power to the designers (and ultimately their clients). It also helped couture to reach a wider audience and facilitate the diffusion of fashion.
Of course, Worth wasn’t the only couturier- there were many others. Some of Worth’s leading contemporaries were Jacques Doucet, Emile Pingat, John Redfern, and Jeanne Paquin- all fascinating as designers. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of information out there on many of these designers and they’ve become almost forgotten.
The above is only a very broad sketch of the topics that I covered in my presentation and I felt that it went pretty well. For the future, I may narrow my focus a bit but nevertheless, it wasn’t bad for a first outing. Stay tuned for more… 🙂
Isincerely apologize for things being quiet here but I have been in hibernation for the past few weeks furiously working on a series of presentations that I will be giving at Costume College. Why the last minute rush? Well, unfortunately life has a habit of getting in the way and with our relocation and all, time has been at a premium. Costume College is an annual three-day costuming arts convention sponsored by the Costumer’s Guild West and it covers all periods and genres.
Last year, I gave a presentation on American military uniforms entitled “US Army Uniforms, 1915 – 1918” and I had such a fun time with it that I decided to give an expanded version this year and this is scheduled for Friday July 28. But wait, there’s more…
On Saturday July 29, I will also be giving presentations on Paul Poiret, entitled “The King of Fashion: The World of Paul Poiret” which will give an overview of his early career. Also, I will be presenting “Haute Couture: The Early Years” where I give an overview on the rise of haute couture during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries (1870 through roughly 1905) both in terms of designers and the various styles.
Stay tuned for more!
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:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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. 🙂