As part of the A Graceful Gift: Fans from the Mona Lee Nesseth Collection Exhibit that we viewed at the FIDM Museum last week, we were struck by some of the dresses that were used to accompany the exhibition. Of course, while the fans are works of beauty in their own right, it was the dresses that really stole the show (sorry 🙂 )
First, we start with a design from 1903 by Jeanne Paquin:
In terms of style, this dress is very typical of the early 1900s with its s-bend/pigeon breast silhouette. The bodice and skirt are an ivory/cream silk satin overlaid with ivory/cream lave on the skirt and black chiffon on the bodice and sleeves. The bodice is further trimmed along the neckline with a double row of ivory/cream satin to include a line of flowers. The skirt is also trimmed in rows of ivory/cream satin ribbons and flowers over layers of black chiffon. Finally, at the waist is a wide belt of black satin ribbon. What is especially remarkable about this dress is the deft use of black- and this was NOT a mourning dress. During the 1890s and on into the 20th Century, there had been a trend taking black away from its traditional association with mourning and Paquin was one of those instrumental in this movement.
Below are some views that I was able to get. Unfortunately, because the dress was set far back from the railing, it was difficult to get good pictures so we had to rely on some from the FIDM Museum above in order to present a clear overview.
The fan was also a nice addition but unfortunately it was impossible to get a good picture, especially since the right was reflecting off it it, making the image blurry. Also, at the same time, the fan was a bit of a hinderance in that it was so large that it tended to screen the dress, making it difficult to get good pictures. In terms of overall aesthetics, it’s our opinion that the fan is simply detracts detracts from the dress.
Finally, as an interesting follow-up, here is what is believed to be the original design sketch for this dress:
The relationship between the design sketch and the actual dress is discussed in the FIDM Museum blog and it’s an interesting account.
The next dress of interest was this circa 1904 design from the House of Pingat-Wallès (in 1896, Emile Pingat sold his fashion house to another house, A. Wallès who merged his name with Pingat’s and conducted business under that name). Here is the dress itself:
As with the Paquin design, style-wise this dress also reflects the s-bend/pigeon breast silhouette characteristic of the early 1900s (although it must be noted that the silhouette is nowhere as extreme as some others of the period that we have seen). Instead of chiffon and lace, Pingat-Wallès utilizes a black and white floral ivory silk satin skirt covered in larger black floral appliques. The bodice utilizes the same floral silk satin styled with wide lapels/revers with the same black floral appliques as the skirt. The upper bodice front is also trimmed with velvet lattice-work framing a sheer waist.
We had a chance to observe this dress up close and we noted the quality of the workmanship. For example, the spaces in the velvet lattice-work are cut out towards where they meet the waist- this sort of operation is very labor-intensive. Also, the floral appliques are neatly stitched to the skirt and bodice with dozens of tiny stitches. We shudder to think of the time that this must have taken but such is the nature of haute couture. 🙂
Below are some more views:
And finally, here are some more detail views:
The next dress is by a lesser-known couturier by the name of Christoph von Drecoll who originally got his start in Vienna in 1896 and later opened a branch in Paris in 1902:
The circa 1898 date on the this dress places it a bit earlier than the previous two but its silhouette is similar (we would venture to guess that the date given by the museum might be a bit too early). The skirt and bodice are a matching ivory/cream silk satin with floral appliques. Although it’s hard to make out from the angle of the pictures and the the black ribbon covering the bodice front, the bodice is of a cutaway design that tapers back to reveal a pleated faux-waist, also in ivory/cream silk satin. The skirt hem consists of a row of contrasting dull and shiny silk strips that harmonizes with the floral designs on the skirt. At the waist is a wide black silk ribbon belt separating the skirt from the bodice and a silk chiffon ribbon tie in front.
We have purposely omitted any discussion of the collar/neck treatment until now…in a word, it’s dreadful. The collar is completely incongruous with the rest of the neck and strikes a discordant note in what would otherwise be a smart, elegant design. The collar is thick and reads like a cervical collar and tends to draw the eye away from the rest of the dress. In some respects it reminds us of the collar/ruff on the Lucy wedding dress in Dracula. Hideous, to be sure.
Just to be fair, here are some more views of the dress:
Three different dresses from three different couturiers, all in similar ivory/cream and black and all representing three different approaches to style in the early 1900s (if we ignore the date on the Drecoll dress). Although these dresses were intended as a backdrop for the fan exhibition, we would argue that it’s really the reverse: the fans were simply an accessory to the dresses. 🙂 To be honest, if the goal was to display fans, there should have been a greater focus on that elements, perhaps sans dresses. But that’s just our opinion and in any event, it was all a work of art and sheer beauty and to be able to see these dresses “in the flesh” was a treat. 🙂