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 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; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3275a–c)
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; Metropolitan Museum of Art (2009.300.3274a, b)
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:
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. 1890; Mint Museum, Charlotte, North Carolina (1998.13A-B)
Close-Up of Bodice
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.