Velvet was a go-to fabric for many late 19th Century designs and sometimes it could be taken to extremes as with this circa 1897-1900 walking suit:
Walking Suit, c. 1897-1900; Galliera Musée de la Mode
This is an interesting outfit on several levels. First, it would appear that this is a walking suit of sorts with a long fitted jacket that’s more characteristic of the 1908-1912 time frame while at the same time, the upper sleeves read more late 1890s. From a silhouette perspective, we see the nipped waist characteristic of the 1890s combined with a multi-gored skirt. Unfortunately, we don’t have a frontal view of this garment so we can only guess at what’s going on but based on other examples, it’s most likely that there would have been some sort of real or faux waistcoat/waist combination. Finally, to complete the style, the cuffs are also decorated with a scaled down version of the flame pattern
This most notable feature of this suit is the use of magenta-colored silk velvet on a major scale- both the skirt and bodice/jacket use it on lavishly to the point where it appears that the suit is almost entirely velvet with accents of a lighter shade of magenta-colored fabric- perhaps wool or a silk faille. Even more compelling is that the entire lower part of the skirt is covered in velvet, tapering off in a series of flame or tentacle-like tips in the middle. The overall effect is dramatic, especially since the decorative scheme on the jacket/bodice is similar but reversed with the flames/tentacles going downwards and made from the lighter fabric. Finally, a word about color- this is one of the better examples of the use of saturated jewel tone colors, in this case two shades of magenta and effect is just stunning.
Unfortunately, on a practical level, we also realize that the fabrics and colors read “winter” and as a practical matter, replicating a walking suit similar to this wouldn’t work for us here in the American Southwest. But it would be perfect for a trip to the British Isles… 🙂
As seen in a recent post, velvet was often used as an accent both in terms of the fabric itself and the rich colors it could hold. Today we take this theme a bit further with this late 1880s day dress:
Day Dress, c. 1880; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.40.181a, b)
This dress is constructed from a medium brown silk faille with dark brown velvet panels on the front and sides of the skirt as well as panels on the bodice front. Also, one can see with the bodice that it’s been constructed to give the appearance of having an open v-neck with a faux velvet waist (it’s all actually a one-piece construction). Further decorating the bodice front, shoulders and cuffs in metallic gold filigree.
For dating the dress, although this has been labeled as being from circa 1880, we believe it was constructed during sometime in the 1888 to 1890 time frame based on the silhouette. In contrast with earlier 1880s dresses, this one’s silhouette is more moderate suggesting that the large bustle trend was beginning to taper off. Of course, it could also be the museum staging but we seriously doubt it.
Compared to the front, the back is plain and unadorned, suggesting that this was more of a mid-range dress than haute couture. This dress is interesting in that darker velvet combines nicely with the lighter brown silk faille. Darker colored velvet tend to absorb light but the gold filigree neatly counters this, thus creating a backdrop that only enhances the luster of the gold filigree decoration. One of the things that makes Victorian Era fashions so interesting is the seemingly endless unique design variations that one finds and it’s a constant source of inspiration to us.
Saturated colors and jewel tones have always been a favorite with us but they’re something that we have to use somewhat judiciously here in Southern California. Here’s an interesting circa 1894-1895 day dress that definitely embodies the idea of saturated jewel tones, enhanced by the use of silk velvet:
Visiting Dress, c. 1894-1895; August Auctions
The bodice is designed to mimic an open jacket with an inset waist, a style that was very popular during the 1890s and would be carried forward into the early 1900s.
With it’s narrow waist, multi-gored skirt, and gigot sleeves, this has the silhouette characteristic of mid-1890s dress styles. The lines are clean and there’s a minimum of trim except for ivory-colored lace on the bodice front and sleeve cuffs. What is striking about this design is that it combines jewel tone wine/burgundy-colored velvet sleeves and bodice front with a lighter jewel tone wine-colored silk taffeta (at least that’s what it looks like from the picture). Further enhancing the bodice is the use of tapered velvet stripes on the bodice back. The overall effect is rich but not overwhelming. Here’s some close-ups:
Details of the rear upper bodice. Note the use of guipure lace trim.
Upper bodice front trimmed in guipure lace and net.
Here’s an excellent close-up of the silk velvet juxtaposed to the silk taffeta. Overall, this is an interesting dress in that it nicely combines a number of style elements that neatly define mid-1890s style in an aesthetically pleasing way.
Renaissance Revival style of bodice in our collection, circa 1880, with a hand smocked center front inset, silk covered tasseled wrist lacing cords and a surprise scarlet lining for the rear tails with heavy lead weights. She’s a beauty, should we lift a pattern? 🙂
Interior view- the seam finishing is a fascinating study in itself.
We are often asked about how we get our inspiration for our designs. Well, there’s no easy answer there but there is one thing that can be definitely be said: inspiration doesn’t punch a time clock and neither do we here at Lily Absinthe! 🙂 Often inspiration can arrive at the oddest of moments- whether we’re driving to an appointment, drinking coffee in the backyard and watching the dogs, or simply thumbing through a magazine. 🙂 One just never knows but the one element that’s constant is that it’s a nonstop process.
John Singer Sargent, Carmencita, 1890, Musée d’Orsay, Paris
At Lily Absinthe, we constantly strive to explore new colors and new style elements, working them in various combinations. Some don’t feel right and are quickly discarded, others get filed away for awhile and perhaps re-worked at a future date, and some we immediately act on- there are those moments when the design exerts such a power influence that it simply can’t be ignored.
Many of our designs focus on the creation of three-dimensional effects in the fabric, something that’s achieved through combinations of fabrics of different textures and the use of complementary and contrasting colors, aesthetics that were commonly used in the 19th Century and are very relevant even in more modern designs.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at just one of our many projects:
Here we have silk velvet (the ONLY kind of velvet we use, by the way) revers and beribboned silk organza flutings for a beautiful Lily Absinthe bride. <3
And here’s another view of the hem- that’s a lot of knife pleating going on there. 😉
And a little late night silk velvet piping for one of the dresses… In this design, the whole objective to present something that’s unified yet unique in its elements. Fabrics of varying luster, weight, and texture are combined to create a dress that has a life of its own. We hope you’ve enjoyed this one example of our designs here at Lily Absinthe.