The Fashion Show…

A few years ago, a good friend of our invited us to participated in a fashion show at Clockwork Alchemy, a steampunk-themed convention annually held in the Bay Area. Participating in a fashion show has got to be one of the most stressful, yet exhilarating experiences in the fashion world and this show was no exception. 🙂

After much hard work, staying up late many nights, and otherwise working out a host of logistical details both big and small, we’re happy to say that it’s all done and we are extremely happy! We presented two dresses, an evening dress and a day dress, both following an amethyst/violet color palette. Below are just a few pictures to whet the appetite, we’ll be providing a more detailed overview in future posts:


The evening dress on the left is our latest design, the “Lucy”, named after Lucy Westenra, the ill-fated companion of Mina Harker in Bram Stoker’s book Dracula and the subsequent Dracula movies. The dress on the right, the “Camille” is a lavender day dress in shades of lavender with amethyst accents. Both dresses are executed in the Mid-Bustle Era style (late 1870s/early 1880s) and represent some our most recent creations. In future posts, we’ll be providing more details so stay tuned. 🙂

Here are a couple of pictures taken post-show against a very interesting backdrop… 😉


And here are a couple of post-show views of the Lucy dress showing the train in all its glory:



And for a little post-show silliness…it’s been a long weekend. 🙂


We look forward to being able do this in the future! 🙂

Fashion & Celebrity: The Countess Greffulhe

During the 19th Century, the connection between celebrity and fashion became increasingly intertwined. One of the first designers to exploit this connection was Charles Frederick Worth and assisted by the growth of the fashion press, Worth developed into an arbiter of fashion (while at the same time increasing his sales).

One such celebrity connection was Marie Anatole Louise Élisabeth, Countess Greffulhe née de Riquet de Caraman-Chimay (July 11, 1860 – August 21, 1952). Born to Belgian nobility and cousin of the poet and dandy Robert de Montesquiou, Comtesse de Greffulhe was the acknowledged leader of Parisian society by the 1880s and was noted for her association with various artists and writers and was even immortalized by Marcel Proust as the Duchess of Guermantes in his novel In Search of Lost Time. Some of her achievements as a patron are described here:

She was an early adept of ‘fundraising’. As founding president of the Société des Grandes Auditions Musicales, she turned charity work into public relations. With tremendous practical acumen, she raised funds and produced and promoted operas and shows, which included Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and Twilight of the Gods, Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and Isadora Duncan. In addition to this, she was a political animal – a fierce supporter, for example, of Captain Dreyfus, Leon Blum, and the Popular Front’. She was also a passionate sponsor of science: she helped Marie Curie to finance the Institute of Radium, and Edouard Branly pursue his research into wireless telegraphy (Palais Galliera).

The Comtesse was also celebrated for her beauty and taste in clothing:

Countess Greffulhe was the epitome of elegance, with glorious outfits to match. Her public appearances were highly theatrical, with a sense of their being rare, fleeting and incomparably fascinating, in a cloud of tulle, gauze, chiffon and feathers, or in her kimono jackets, her velvet coats, with her oriental patterns, her shades of gold and silver, pink and green. The outfits were carefully chosen to emphasize her slim waist and her slender figure (Palais Galliera).


Countess Greffulhe


Much of the Countess Greffulhe’s wardrobe survives to this day and in fact, is the subject of an exhibition at the Palais Galliera in Paris and will be coming to this country later this year in September 2016 at the Museum at FIT, New York. Below are both pictures of one of the dresses along with the Countess wearing it:


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

The dress itself is made from a black silk velvet decorated in white satin appliques embroidered with metal cannetilles and old sequins. The collar/bertha could be turned up like a pair of bat’s wings. Below are two pictures of the Countess wearing the dress:



When compared against the original dress, it is evident that that the collar/bertha has been altered. Also, it appears that the dress originally had a white embroidered panel running down the front that appears to have been removed.

Another Worth dress that belonged to the Countess is this iconic green tea dress:

Tea Dress by Designer Charles Frederick Worth circa 1895

Tea Dress, Worth c. 1895; Palais Galliera (GAL1964.20.4)


Three Quarter Frontal View


Three Quarter Rear View

This tea dress was constructed from a dark blue-black cut velvet on an silk satin emerald background.


Illustration Of The Tea Dress – Specific Details Unknown

Finally, we’ll wrap up with this double portrait of the Countess that was taken in 1899 by the photographer Otto Wegener in which she’s seen to be embracing herself, the figures dressed in contrasting white and black dresses. This photo was achieved by the superimposing of two negatives onto each other and it’s an interesting portrayal. The exact motive for her having this picture taken is lost to posterity but some theorize that it was meant to be a musing on the fragile nature of beauty over time. We leave to the reader to draw their own conclusions… 🙂

Otto Wegener, The Countess Greffulhe, 1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2005.100.622)

The Countess Greffulhe was a dynamic woman who was an influential force in Parisian society during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries and as such embodied the idea of “patron of the arts” and from the looks of it, fashion was no exception. In the end, fashion exists as part of society, not apart from it. 🙂

P.S. On our first trip to Paris, we discovered that the hotel we were staying at is located across the street from where the Countess’ mansion was located. Unfortunately, it’s now the site of an ugly office building.

And Now For Some 1888 Court Style…

In a previous post, we discussed the ensemble sub-style that was popularized by Charles Worth and consisted of a combination day and evening dress composed of a base skirt and two separate bodices for day and night wear. To continue this theme, we feature another ensemble dress but this time, it’s a combination court presentation/reception dress. Let’s start with this court presentation dress from circa 1888:

And here’s a close-up of the bodice:

Being presented at court marked a young woman’s introduction to society.1And signifying that they were now suitable for marriage. No matter which royal court in Europe, was an extremely ceremonial occasion and the presentation was governed by a strict set of protocols covering everything about the ceremony itself as well as what sort of dress was to be worn; all the major couturiers including Worth were knowledgeable in every nuance of court dress protocols which in turn guided their designs.2Most of what we know (at least in English) about presentation at court protocol derives from English practice. As part of the court dress protocol, feathers were an important element (at least in the English court) and below are the feathers that accompanied the dress:

In the case of the English court, the court protocol decreed that women were to wear three feathers in the style of the Prince of Wales crest with the center feather higher than the other two:

The Prince of Wales's feathers (With images) | Welsh tattoo, Welsh ...

Here’s how the feathers looked being worn. This picture is circa 1900:

So, now that one has been presented at court, what was next for the dress? Well, conceivably the dress could be worn again in a return visit to court, but this time the wearer would have been accompanying someone else who was being presented. Otherwise, one now had a dress that was pretty unusable anywhere else, in much the same way as a modern wedding dress.3While the idea of the “one-shot” dress was not unknown during the late 19th Century, it was still considered a bit wasteful and extravagant. A practical solution was to be able to convert the dress to a reception dress or ballgown by substituting some key elements. First we see more of a reception dress created by removing the train and replacing the bodice:

Worth, Court Dress Ensemble, c. 1888; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2007.385a–l)

Or a ballgown with a sleeveless bodice:

In each instance above, the pink silk satin skirt and train remains the same. For the court presentation version, there’s a matching silk floral pattern bodice and full train (per court protocol). Below are some close-ups of the bodices:

The reception or day bodice. Constructed of pink silk satin, this was front lacing and trimmed with silk chiffon/netting with what appear to be metal spangles.

The ballgown bodice, also constructed of pink silk satin and trimmed in white silk chiffon/netting with metal spangles. Below are views of the back bow/upper train, also in pink silk satin:

Finally, below are the bodice laces and bows:

The above dress is fascinating from the perspective of utility that it can transform into three different outfits for a variety of social occasions. Worth is usually associated with sheer extravagance, catering for a wealthy clientele with seemingly endless amounts of money who could afford separate dresses for each function. However, there was also a practical side to Worth his ensemble outfits.4We seriously doubt if anyone got much of a price break by buying an ensemble dress but it fit the ideal of Victorian practicality very elegantly. In future posts, we’ll be posting some more interesting ensemble dresses for your enjoyment. 🙂


Inspiration From Art…

More pictures coming, this dress was inspired by my love of Monet’s water lily paintings. Hand painted and gilded flowers and leaves, dyed to match English net, silk taffeta, and one of my antique suites of bridal lace…the bayleuse ( under petticoat train ruffles) are all in a gorgeous vintage watery satin. A good day.♡

Today’s Fashion Feature

Today we travel back to 1896 for today’s fashion, a combination of cape and evening gown or reception dress.

Here’s a rough translation of the illustration’s description:

Silk brocade skirt with large knots; bodice neckline covered with silk muslin embroidered with pearls and sown with precious stones.

The first thing that catches the eye is the dress, and more specifically, the belt with its ornate front piece. The centerpiece of this dress is clearly the Swiss Waist or corselet belt1The terms “Swiss Waist,” Swiss Belt,” and “Corselet” were often used interchangeably. and essentially was a fitted belt/sash. The dress is constructed from a yellow silk brocade with a floral pattern with large repeats. The illustration only hints at the design and it’s unknown if there was a fabric with this specific pattern. The bodice neckline is covered in an embroidered silk muslin with jewels and pearls. Depending on the number and quality of the jewels and pearls, this part of the dress could cost substantially more than the rest of the dress. 🙂 Here’s are some examples of how elaborate the Swiss Waist or corselet style could get:

John Singer Sargent, Mrs. Wilton Phipps, 1884; Private Collection

Swiss Belt; from The Cutters’ Practical Guide to the Cutting of Ladies’ Garments by WDF Vincent.

And for an extant dress:

Day Dress, 1896-1899; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.833a, b)

And some closer views of the corselet:

59.40.3a-b_detail 0002

In terms of silhouette, this appears to be either a ball or evening gown, or possibly a reception dress, characteristic of the mid 1890s and the cape would make the perfect garment for wear over gigot sleeves. Unfortunately, there’s no commentary on the cape itself but it’s probable that it was constructed from a lavender/light purple silk velvet decorated in what appears to be some sort of floral trim. Color-wise the combination of yellow and lavender/purple are complementary and make for an aesthetically pleasing combination that fits in for almost any social occasion.