Today we go to France to take a look at the start of the fashion industry. “Fashion,” as we know it today, began to take form during the late 19th Century. Essentially, fashion was something that was entering the public consciousness on a scale broader than anything ever seen before. The industrial revolution played a major role in the development of fashion in a rising standard of living combined with the development of new methods of manufacturing textile goods made clothing more affordable for more people. Along with this was the rise of the middle class who now had the money and the leisure time to be able follow fashion more closely.
Where once fashion was limited to a monarch and his court, now fashion was far more defuse. Also, just as important, fashion and clothing manufacturing were developing into larger business enterprises and business concerns often drove fashion. This is similar to what we see today but only on a more limited scale with a smaller clientele. Along with the commercialization of fashion by Couturiers such as Charles Worth, Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret, and a host of others, was the need to more effectively market their fashions. Where word-or-mouth was sufficient, more direct methods of getting fashion styles (i.e., product) before the public were needed and thus developed advertising, fashion journals, fashion plates, and later, fashion photography. With the development of the fashion industry and marketing, those who followed fashion wanted to see these fashions “live”. The concept of the runway show as a public spectacle was still years off but other ways to show off the latest styles were employed.
Once such method was dressing up models with the latest styles and sending them to various public social gathering such as the horse races at Longchamps and in particular, the Grand Prix de Paris which was held every year in July. More than just a horse race, it was a day-long affair that provided a venue for people to see and been seen and that of course meant what they were wearing. Naturally, the press covered these events and end was result was free publicity. Below are just a few of the examples of the styles worn at Longchamps during the period from 1900 to 1914.
The women in the above pictures are wearing versions of the lingerie dress and one can see the influence of the s-bend corset although the silhouette is somewhat muted by the fluffy layers of fabric on the dresses. These definitely fall in the 1900 – 1910 time frame, probably more towards 1902 – 1905. And sometimes, fashion at Longchamps could cause a sensation…below is a picture from 1908 of three models wearing designs by Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix (known simply as Margaine-Lacroix) and dubbed by the press “Les Nouvelles Merveilleuses”:
The above three dresses definitely got public attention, in part because they completely did away with the conventional corset while at the same time creating a skin-tight silhouette by utilizing stretch fabrics in the dresses themselves to create the form-fitting silhouette. Susie Ralph, a fashion historian, described it in an introduction that opened an exhibit on Margaine-Lacroix in 2013:
In 1908 Jeanne Margaine-Lacroix sent three mannequins to the Longchamp race-course clad in her form-revealing robes-tanagréennes. These corsetless dresses caused a sensation among Paris’ fashionable crowd – a riot according to some newspaper reports. Worn without corsets and slit to the knee on one side over the most transparent of underskirts, their impact on the fashion world was instantaneous and resulted in major press coverage not only in Paris but around the world. In today’s parlance the style immediately “went viral”….It was Margaine-Lacroix’s daring vision that brought to an end the ideal of the rigidly corseted hour-glass figure, and ushered in the new, slim twentieth century silhouette.
Margaine-Lacroix is an interesting designer in her own right although she is relatively unknown today. Hopefully we’ll be writing more about her in the future. Here, is where the above picture originally was featured:
Controversy is no stranger to the world of fashion then or now and the debate over what exactly is too “revealing” still rages on. Moving on, fashion photography becomes ever more pervasive during in the years from 1910 – 1914. Here are some more examples:
Public spaces like Longchamps provided a venue for people to see “fashion in action” and for us, it provides a fascinating archive of fashion history that helps us to see fashion that is alive. We can see just how garments were worn, how they fit, and even gain some insight into the people who wore them.
Originally I set out to write this blog post about the development of fashion and how it was publicized on public places. However, along the way I also discovered the Les Nouvelles Merveilleuses controversy and the work of the a relatively now forgotten designer Margaine-LaCroix. It just goes to show that you learn something new everyday!😄