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!
When it comes to couture houses of the late 19th/early 20th Centuries, Maison Rouff was one of the more obscure and in many ways is an enigma. Today, except for the occasional reference (at least in English), Maison Rouff has pretty much been lost to history except for the fact that Jeanne Paquin got her start there before venturing out on her own in 1891. Complicating matters is that it’s often confused with the designer Maggy Rouff who was originally born Marguerite de Wagner in 1896 and ultimately bought Maison Rouff in 1929 and subsequently adopted the pseudonym of “Maggy Rouff.”
From what little information we do have, Maison Rouff was founded in 1884 by a one L. Rouff. Originally located in Vienna, the house at some point moved to Paris (Interestingly enough, Maison Rouff is noted as having participated in the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago). Unfortunately, it’s going to take some real digging into non-internet sources to find out the total story but in the meantime, below are a few images of some styles for Fall 1901 that were featured in the September 1901 issue of Les Modes:
First we start with a visiting dress:
And here’s two images of a dinner dress (it appears to be the same dress from two different angles):
In all the above styles, the s-bend corset definitely creates the foundation and in all instances, the skirts have a train. Naturally, the train on in the dinner dress depicted above is the most elaborate of all and it’s quite impressive, enhanced by two very large ribbons extending down from a bow. Otherwise, the styles are fairly typical of the early 1900s. The history of Maison Rouff certainly bears more study and we hope that in future posts that we’ll have more to reveal.
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…)
One of the many projects were working on is is starting work on a new early 1900s day suit design. We’re trying to base this off of original patterns and for skirt, we’ve settled on a pattern that was first published in 1905 by The Ladies Home Journal.
The original pattern was printed on tissue paper that’s now a hundred years old and needless to say, it’s not suitable for direct use for patterning so the first step is going to be tracing the pattern pieces onto regular pattern paper and then eventually creating more permanent pattern blocks. Fortunately, the pattern pieces had already been cut out (most likely back around 1905) but it took some careful unfolding and smoothing out before the tracing could begin. Also, given the age of the pattern, we dare not iron the pieces in order to flatten them out, which is the usual procedure.
In working with period patterns, one is struck by just how minimal the instructions and markings on the pattern itself are, especially compared against what’s today’s industry standard. We were able to figure out what the markings on the pattern pieces meant and when checked against the cursory instruction sheet, made complete sense. It’s a ten-gore skirt and it’s a fairly simple pattern, similar to standard skirt pattern blocks that are used today.
After tracing out the pattern pieces, we lined them up on proper order and made sure that the seams matched up properly and that the waistband and hem line up. We had to do a little truing up on the pattern paper but it was not a real issue. Finally, we noticed that one pattern piece for the belt was missing but this should be easy to remedy.
The next stage will be to cut out a muslin or toile and check it for fit and accuracy and make any necessary corrections to the pattern pieces. One final note, this is pattern that’s definitely designed for a slender person with a waist of 24 inches (corseted, no doubt). What’s also interesting is that the seam allowance is 3/8 inches- we’ll probably add an additional 1/4 inch to bring it to a standard home sewer seam allowance of 5/8 inches (that will give some more leeway for adjustments). Eventually, we’ll probably have to grade this pattern up to several larger sizes. As more progress is made, we’ll be posting updated on the start of what should prove to be an interesting project for 2018.
Color is one of the cornerstones of any dress design and as such, it’s one of the designer’s first considerations along with silhouette, line, and fabrics. So, once the color and fabric are selected, that’s it- on to the other parts of the design, right? Well, most of the time, yes. Generally, fabric color is set during the manufacturing process either by dying the filaments before they’re spun into threads or yarns; dying the yarns/treads before weaving the fabric, or dying the fabric after it’s been woven. So it would seem that’s settled…or is it?
Well, there are exceptions…through the use of specific fabric types and fabric manipulation, the designer can present new colors as well and even create the illusion of changing colors to create new color effects while adding variety and interest to the basic design. One of the simplest techniques involves the layering one or more fabrics over each other, a style characteristic of the Nouveau Directoire style that was popular during the years 1908 -1913. One such example is this evening dress from circa 1909:
In this example, the underskirt is a medium hued turquoise colored silk satin covered with a black net overskirt. The turquoise underskirt is still visible under the black net but now it’s become considerably darker. At the same time, the shiny luster of the silk satin fabric has disappeared and the luster has been dulled down.
Below is a close-up of the upper front. In the center above the waistband, there’s a cut-out portion in the lace/net overlay where the underskirt fabric is visible and one can see the difference between the two colors side-by-side.
Finally, just for completeness, the label:
In terms of color theory, the color palette of the above dress is monochromatic: the colors one sees with and without the netting are both a turquoise but one is a darker hue than the other with the dark hue created by the addition of the black net. This is a somewhat simplified explanation but important point is that the original fabric color was modified merely by the addition of another fabric. Of course, for this to work, it relies on a more solid structured fabric to be covered by one that’s thinner and semi-transparent such as net.
The layering effect described above is more pronounced in some eras more than others with the late Edwardian Era being one of the most prominent for this style. Here are a couple more examples of this style:
Color has always been area fascination for us and we hope to present a little more of this in future posts so stay tuned.