Doucet & 1890s Style

While the House of Worth was the leading fashion house during the late 19th Century, it was by no means the only one. Couturiers such as Jacques Doucet, Emile Pingat, and Jeanne Paquin, just to name a few, were in constant competition with each other. In today’s post, we’ll be taking a look at Doucet and his take on 1890s style.

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Doucet was one of Worth’s leading competitors and like Worth, he utilized a number of marketing techniques that are now standard in the fashion industry to include dressing celebrities (and especially actresses). Doucet’s creations tended to have a softer silhouette, utilizing large quantities of lace, tulle, and chiffon as well as metallics and lame.

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Doucet, Ballgown, 1898 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3275a–c)

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Three-Quarter Front View

The above ballgown, made sometime between 1898 and 1900, is made from what appears to be a silk chiffon backed by layers of lame. Unfortunately there are no close-up pictures available- it would be very interesting to have a close look at the fabric. With the exception of some tulle at the top of the bodice and leaf garlands on the shoulders, there is no trim and the dress relies on the richness of the materials themselves.

However, Doucet’s designs were not always so “simple”. Here we see one of Doucet’s more iconic work, a ballgown made sometime in the 1898 – 1902 time frame:

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Doucet, Ballgown, c. 1898 – 1902; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3274a, b)

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Side Profile

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Rear View

Here once again we see the fabric itself as the central focus of the dress style only this time there is an elaborate floral pattern created by leaves and foliage appliques on a gold lame background backed by what appears to be a silk chiffon underlayer. The upper bodice and sleeves are lace the overall effect is of shimmering gold.

So what about day wear? Here’s one example:

Day Dress Doucet c. 1890

Doucet, Day Dress, c. 1890; Kyoto Costume Institute (AC10445 2001-4AC)

The fashion fabric for this dress is a silk crêpe de chine with a stencil print pattern of bamboo stalks and the sparrow motif has been hand-painted separately. The fabric was most likely made in Japan for the export market and is an excellent example of the Japonisme theme that was often utilized by fashion designers during the 1880s and 90s. One again trim is minimal, limited to the hem, sleeves and collar finished off with a silk chiffon fichu.

However, designers could also works against type as with this ballgown that Doucet made sometime around 1890:

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Doucet, Ballgown, c. 1890; Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina (1998.13A-B)

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890sDoucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Close-Up of Bodice

Doucet Ballgown c. 1890s

Rear View

The use of black and white stripes, artfully cut and blended together (especially on the bodice) reads “modern”, something we would expect to see from the 1950s. The black and white chevrons on the skirt front are especially bold and they immediately draw the eye. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about this dress (at least from what I could tell from the museum website) and it raised some interesting questions in regard to provenance- it reads so differently than the majority of Doucet’s work that we almost wonder if this is a dress that’s been mislabeled- it certainly bears further study.

Although we can see two different approaches to design by Worth and Doucet (with a bit of overlap), it’s evident that there was an increased emphasis on making using the dress itself as a canvas for creating the design’s major effect. By this time, the use of trim is completely secondary and does little to distract the eye from the main attraction of the fabric design and this can be especially seen with Doucet’s two very different ballgown designs. We hope that you’ve enjoyed this brief excursion into some of Doucet’s designs. Stay tuned as we bring you more in the future.



Something New…

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.



Inspiration Doesn’t Punch A Time Clock

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:

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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

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And here’s another view of the hem- that’s a lot of knife pleating going on there. 😉

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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.



Defining 1880s Style- The Silhouette

When it comes to mid to late 1880s style, it’s easy for one to conjure up visions of dresses with severely sculpted lines that were largely defined by an extremely angular “shelf bustle.” Naturally, as with all fashions, they manifested themselves in both extreme and moderate versions but it was the more extreme versions that caught the attention of the press and assorted satirists. One of the most oft-repeated quips was “one could set a tea service on top of the bustle.”

Here’s just one example from an 1883 German humor magazine in which the women is likened to a Centaur:

bustle-satire-fliegende-bltter-magazine-1880s

From Fliegende Blätter; Band LXXVIII (1883), p. 147.

Interestingly enough, the above cartoon was made in 1883 when the bustle was re-emerging- perhaps they were ahead of the fashion curve? 😉

All joking aside, to a great degree, 1880s style was defined by the “shelf bustle” as shown in the picture below:

Evening Dress c. 1884 -1886

Evening Dress, American or European, c. 1884 – 1886, silk; The Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.63.23.3a, b)

Structure was everything in Victorian fashion and below are some examples on how the distinctive 1880s silhouette was created:

Bustle_c._1885

Bustle, c. 1885; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.2007.211.399)

Bustle 1884

Bustle, Steel Frame, c. 1884; Victoria & Albert Museum (T.131C-1919).

Bustle 1880s

Bustle, 1880s

Within the parameters created by the basic silhouette, there was a wide variety of possible styles. As a rule, day dresses were defined by an under and overskirt, one draped over the other, and these could either in complementary or contrasting colors and/or a solid color combined with a pattern or even two different patterns. As for bodices, this could either be  one solid unit or a combination jacket and waistcoat. The waistcoat could either be a separate garment or a faux waistcoat that has been integrated into the jacket to create a single bodice. Below are just some examples:

Godeys_Jan 1887

Godey’s Ladysbook, January 1887

In the above plate, on the left one can see a combination jacket/waistcoat styled bodice combined with with a solid colored overskirt covering a patterned underskirt. Interestingly enough, the waistcoat fabric matches the pattern on the underskirt. On the right, one can see a solid bodice trimmed with an embroidered panel that matches the pattern of the underskirt. At the same time, the pattern on the overskirt matches the basic fabric of the bodice. While there may be contrasts in fabric patterns, the do harmonize in the way that they’re both used on the skirts and the bodices. At the same time, the colors also harmonize even when they’re contrast colors.

As a rule, day dresses were defined by an under and overskirt, one draped over the other, and these could either in complementary or contrasting colors and/or a solid color combined with a pattern or even two different patterns. As for bodices, this could either be  one solid unit or a combination jacket and waistcoat. The waistcoat could either be a separate garment or a faux waistcoat that has been integrated into the jacket to create a single bodice.

Magazine Des Demoiselles_1887_2

In the above plate, we see the use of different shades of the same color that are used to harmonize. The dress on the left simply combines a lighter brown with dark brown trim on the bodice lapels and are continued down the dress front (the dress appears to be a princess line but it’s hard to tell from the plate). The dress on the right is a bit more sophisticated in that not only do we see a dark and light shades of green combined, but we also see the use of a striped overskirt combined with a striped and patterned bodice. Interestingly enough, in both dresses, the dark color is only used on the trim and patterns, the light color makes up the majority of both dresses.

Below is another example of how colors and patterns could be combined:

Magazine Des Demoiselles_1887_3

Magazine des Demoiselles, 1887

On the left, we see the use of contrasting colors, in this case rose-colored vertical stripes combined with a light gray. The stripes are distributed around the skirt and on the sleeves and front of the bodice. There appears to be only one skirt. On the right, we see a solid dark gray/blue overskirt and bodice combined with a black floral pattern with a rose background for the underskirt, cuffs, collar, and bodice front. It also appears that the bodice cuts away to reveal a waistcoat of the same patterned fabric- to us, the patterned fabric conjures up visions of cut velvet.

The following fashion plates from 1886 and 1887 further illustrate some other possible combinations:

Peterson's_Nov 1886

Peterson’s Magazine, November 1886

Petersons_Feb 1887

Peterson’s Magazine, February 1887

Petersons_June 1888

Peterson’s Magazine, June 1888

Fashion plates are are well and good but what about actual dresses? Well, in answer, here are some extant examples::-)

Day Dress c. 1885

Day Dress, French, c. 1885; Silk plain weave (taffeta) and silk plain weave with warp-float patterning and supplementary weft, and silk knotted tassel; Los Angeles County Museum of Art (M.2007.211.34a-b)

1887 - 1891 Day Dress1

Day Dress, c. 1887 – 1891; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.55.40.1a, b, e)

Pingat 1 1888

Pingat, Promenade Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.7758a, b)

Day Dress 1887 - 1889 1

Day Dress, c. 1887 – 1889; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.53.68.2a–c)

Day Dress 1888 1

Worth, Day Dress, 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.665a, b)

1888 Day Dress

Madame Arnaud, Paris, Morning Dress, c. 1888; The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (2008.46.1)

For many, the typical 1880s silhouette is off-putting and in our experience, we have found that for most people looking to recreate the styles of the 1880s, they tend to gravitate towards either towards the beginning of the decade with the Mid-Bustle Era styles or towards the end of the decade where the bustle was diminishing and we start to see a more cylindrical, upright profile that was to carry on into the 1890s.

However, we would argue that while there is no denying that the late 1880s fashion silhouette was defined by an often extreme, angular bustle, this was not always the case and there are many instances where women toned it down- just looking at the variety of bustle appliances and pads that were available for sale is testament to that. As with all fashion, there were those who went to extremes and others who tended to be more conservative and especially for those of more modest means.

Just as important, if not more so, the 1880s offers a variety of styles to suit every aesthetic and a lot of room for developing a unique “signature” style that’s unique to the individual. So, why not give it a try? 🙂



1890s Evening Wear, Part 4

ball gown fashion plate 1899

By the mid 1890s, the gigot sleeve trend was in full bloom and while perhaps not as extreme as the sleeves found on day dresses, it did exert an influence on evening dresses.
Fashion Plate Ball Gown 1897 Evening Gown

Evening Gown c. 1894 Morin-Blossier

Morin-Blossier, Evening Gown, c. 1894; Vintage Textile sales website

Evening Gown c. 1894 Morin-Blossier

Close-Up Of Bodice

Maison Felix Evening Dress 1895

Maison Felix, Evening Dress, 1895; Metropolitan Museum of Art (C.I.65.16.1a–d)

Evening Gown c. 1895

Evening Gown, c. 1895; The Museum at FIT (2007.27.1)

The above are just some examples of the gigot sleeve trend going on during the mid 1890s. Although not as extreme as the sleeves found on day dresses, we still see greater attention paid to this area than before.

Evening Gown Ball Gown Worth c. 1896 - 1897

Worth, Evening Dress, c. 1896 – 1897; Galleria del Costume di Palazzo Pitti via Europeanafashion

However, as with all fashion trends throughout the ages, a particular style will be developed to an extreme and a subsequent reaction will arise in opposition. This was the situation with gigot sleeves and by the late 1890s, sleeves had once again acquired become slender proportions. Fixing a precise date as to when this shift began is not easy but even as early as late 1896, there were rumblings in the fashion world as detailed in this passage from the September 13, 1896 edition of the Los Angeles Times:

The world may stop wondering now, for at last Mrs. Fashion has consented to speak about autumn and winter modes. The gist of her talk, however concerns skirts and sleeves (after all the two vital points of dress) both of which are to grow beautifully smaller and narrower until the reaction against width has been satisfied.

Already indeed, the circumference of the smallest skirt is reduced by more than half of what it was in the spring while a skirt  with godets all around is to midish opinion, almost as old fashioned as overskirt and paniers [sic].

In reaction, evening dress sleeves began to become somewhat simplified with an emphasis on decorated straps or sleeves constructed with loose layers of gauze/tulle. Of course, there was a wide degree of variation in the sleeve style but nevertheless, one can see a movement away from the over gigot style.

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Doucet, Ballgown, 1898 – 1900; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3275a–c)

Doucet Ballgown 1898 - 1900

Three-Quarter Front View

Doucet Ballgown c. 1898 - 1902

Doucet, Ballgown, c. 1898 – 1902; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3274a, b)

Worth Ballgown 1898

House of Worth, Ballgown,, 1898; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.1324a, b)

Worth Evening Dress 1896

Evening Dress, Worth, 1896; Palais Galliera, musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris (GAL1978.20.1)

Worth Ball Gown 1899

Worth, Ball Gown, 1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art (26.381a-b_front 0004)

Aside from the sleeves, there was little else to distinguish evening dresses during the 1890s- all were designed in a distinct hourglass style with narrow waists and large multi-gored skirts with trains of varying length. Finally, although the pronounced bustles of the late 1880s had disappeared, padding was still used as a means of maintaining  a smooth silhouette and providing support to the train.

Transitions in fashion styles is not always clear-cut and direct, rather it’s often more of a blur as an older style gives way a newer one. Fashion change came at a much slower pace than what we see today and changes that were measured in years are now measured in months, if not weeks and days. By no means to we profess to have the last word when it comes to evening fashions of the 1890s but rather, we try to point out some of the salient featured. We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of 1890s evening wear and we look forward to posting more about this in the future.