Fashion Publicity & Reaching The Mass Market…The Beginning

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.

Jean Béraud, Boulevard des Capucines,

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.

Pose de garnitures dans l’atelier de Worth, grand couturier parisien. Paris, 1907.

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.

If it's seen at Longchamps, then you're OK... :-)

If it’s seen at Longchamps, then you’re OK… As is the case today, being seen in a public place with the just the right outfit could make all the difference. 🙂

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.

Races at Longchamps, Manet, 1867

Below are just a few of the examples of the styles worn at Longchamps during the period from 1900 to 1914.

Les Modes, 1904

Les Modes, July 1904

Longchamps1

Longchamps2

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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”:

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c. 1908, “Les Nouvelles Merveilleuses” as dubbed by the press- these three models caused a furor at Longchamps when they arrived- these dresses, designed by Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix were considered scandalous at the time.

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:

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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:

1912-at-the-races

1912, Watching the races standing on chairs. The lines on these two dresses reflect the moved towards a more sleek, upright silhouette. Goodbye s-bend!

1914

1914, Here is an interesting design incorporating a waistcoat and cutaway coat.

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!

The Princess Line Dress In The 1890s: One Example From Maison Worth

With its clean silhouette, the princess line dress was a very popular dress style during the late 19th Century, offering a wealth of fashion possibilities in terms of fabric and trim choices. Originally developed during the late 1870s, the princess line dress greatly influenced a shift in styles away from the bustle, instead focusing on a more slender, cylindrical silhouette.  While the princess line was more common during the 1877-1882 time frame, one still sees exampled well into the 1890s as with this one that was created by Maison Worth in circa 1896:

Worth, Bridesmaid Dress, c. 1896; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.41.14.2)

The above example is a good illustration of the perfect princess line style: the waist is completely de-emphasized with a smooth canary yellow silk panel combining skirt and bodice into one unit. At the same time, the gold colored silk brocade sleeves, collar, and front inset panels present a contrast that draws the eye to the upper body. Although this dress is described as a “bridesmaid” dress, it would have been perfectly suitable as a dress for everyday wear (in contrast to today’s interpretation of the bridesmaid dress). Here’s some close-up of some dress details:

Rear view of the collar and shoulders.

Close-up of the collar.

Shoulder detail.

The above picture illustrates the front inset panels with beaded trim.

In terms of style, this dress is relatively restrained to the point of blandness and while it pushed no fashion boundaries, it does illustrate the basic characteristics of the prince line style. What’s especially interesting is that although the princess line style is attributed to Worth, there are very few extant examples of princess line dresses that can be linked to Maison Worth such as this one:

Worth, Day Dress, c. 1880; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti

We hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into the world of the princess line style. 🙂

Costume College 2019

It’s Sunday and all my teaching duties at Costume College 2019 are complete! It’s been a busy past two days with teaching three classes and meeting up with old friends, some who we haven’t seen in a year or more. Our classes were well attended and hopefully we were able to impart some useful information. More importantly, we also learned some new things from the many thoughtful questions posed by our students and in some areas, we’re rethinking some of our opinions. The old adage “never say never” has never been more true when applied to fashion and fashion history and it seems that just when we thought we’d gotten a handle on a certain subject, something comes along to challenge us.

We’re looking forward to 2020 at Costume College and it’s our goal to work up more classes with compelling content. Looking forward to seeing you there next year!

Paul Poiret & Resisting Change

Paul Poiret has always been fascinating to us and his designs and innovations never fail to amaze. At the same time, Poiret is also a cautionary tale on the dangers of not adapting to a changing zeitgeist (the spirit of a particular historical period). Poiret was a bit of showman and he utilized all manner of publicity in order to advance his innovations such as eliminating the corset-created silhouette as an essential design element (even though other couturiers were working on similar designs at the same time such as Jeanne Paquin) and the introduction of the jupe-culotte.

Paul Poiret, Jupe Culotte, 1911; Metropolitan Museum of Art (1983.8a, b)

Poiret was also instrumental in introducing a simpler, less structured silhouette starting with the Directoire style in 1906:

The First World War disrupted the French fashion industry and Poiret was no exception. Called up for military service, Poiret was assigned to work on simplifying the production of uniforms and while he was successful in this area, his fashion house barely kept itself afloat financially. After the war, Poiret tried to pick up where he’d left off in 1914 but the fashion world had moved on with an emphasis on more simple designs such as those created by Coco Chanel. Poiret’s designs failed to catch on and combined with financial mismanagement and a nasty divorce from his wife Denise, he was ultimately forced to close his fashion house in 1929. In future posts, we’ll delve into some of Poiret’s post-WWI designs and the overall decline of Poiret’s influence as a designer.