Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mad about Madeleine...

Evening Coat, Summer 1936

It took me by surprise, the other day. Literally, out of the blue in a clear sky...BOOM! It struck me. It happened at the bookshop. I fell in love. Head over heels! Don't misunderstand me, the attraction had nothing to do with what I feel for my husband (NOOO!), but I knew it was meant to be. I was smitten with the beauty and novelty of it all. I frantically browsed, touched, and went through it all. I had to own it, to possess it...But the price to pay was quite high. I would find a way, no matter what. And I found a way. This morning I received it from the post, special delivery from Amazon. This book, Madeleine Vionnet, edited by Pamela Golbin and published by Rizzoli, is simply irresistible! An earthquake in my fashion world.
Few designers have the honour of being labelled the "Couturier of Couturiers", but the revolutionary Madeleine Vionnet was one of them.

Madeleine Vionnet founded her fashion house in Paris in 1912, on the rue de Rivoli. She later moved it to avenue Montaigne, but both are iconic Parisian addresses.

1922: A model wearing an outfit designed by Madeleine Vionnet including a pair of ornate gloves. Picture: GETTY

Vionnet's avant-gardism saw her inventing the bias cut, her greatest contribution to fashion design. Cutting patterns along the bias forces the fabric to cling to the body and move with it - a "trick" John Galliano champions today - creating Vionnet's trademark look of draped, form-conscious clothing that was sleek, flattering, and body-skim.

A model shows off a Vionnet dress in New York

"When a woman smiles, then her dress should smile too," revolutionary Parisian couturière Madeleine Vionnet once noted, eschewing corsets, padding, stiffening, and anything that distorted or artificially moulded a woman's natural curves - instead draping classic Greek-influenced designs that floated freely and flatteringly around the body. Dominating haute couture during the 1930s until her atelier was shuttered in 1939 with the onset of World War II, stars like Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, and Greta Garbo were frequently photographed in Vionnet's distinctive designs.

Dress, Winter 1921 (red crepe romain cut on the bias)- Dress, Summer 1920 (Handkerchief Dress)- Dress, Summer 1921 (red crepe romain)
Unlike her contemporaries, she favoured fabrics like crepe de chine, gabardine, silk chiffon, and satin - typically ordered a good two yards wider than was customary in order to accommodate her then-revolutionary draping on the bias.

Four-Handkerchief dress, Winter 1920
Famed for cowl necks, halter tops, and handkerchief hems, her timeless, architectural designs are as relevant today as when they first debuted; she was and is still worshipped by designers like Issey Miyake, Rei Kawakubo, Azzedine Alaia who once gushed, "Vionnet is the source of everything, the mother of us all," John Galliano ("Her tailoring has inspired generations of designers"), Karl Lagerfeld ("Everybody, whether he likes it or not, is under the influence of Vionnet"), Cristobal Balenciaga ("Madame Vionnet is my master"), and Christian Dior ("No one has ever carried the art of dressmaking further than Vionnet.").

A Madeleine Vionnet dress. Titled Bas Relief, 1931, by Vogue photographer George Hoyningen-Huene.

Along with a major retrospective at the Musee Les Arts Decoratifs in Paris (through January 31, 2010), Rizzoli has therefore published this equally fabulous new coffee-table tome edited by Pamela Golbin, the Curator in Chief at Les Arts Décoratifs.

In addition to an illustrated chronology of Vionnet's life and career, it includes never-before-seen photos and sketches, an unpublished manuscript about the house authored by Andre Beucler, and stunning images shot by celebrated photographers including Patrick Gries, Horst, Hoynegen-Huene, and Steichen (currently exhibited at the AGO, Toronto, until January 3rd, 2010).

Evening Dress and Cape, Summer 1935 (black tulle embroidered with rectangular mother-of-pearl sequins in bayadere stripes)- 'Les Liserons'(Bindweed)Dress, Winter 1918 (black satin crepe embroidered with multicolored silk flowers)
Detail of Evening Dress, Summer 1931 (Pink chiffon overlaid with black lace and chiffon in a geometrical pattern, belt of black velvet ribbon, buckle of amber resin)
MADELEINE VIONNET Edited by Pamela Golbin (Rizzoli New York, 2009) is available for order at
Evening Dress, Winter 1938


Marie-Charlotte said...

Comme je comprends ta passion! Il y a eu une exposition au musée des Tissus à Lyon en 1995 et j'étais moi aussi tombée sous le charme de ces robes somptueuses. Inoubliable!

The writer: Christine Rochet-Jacob. said...

En 1995...Wow!Tu l'as découverte il y a belle lurette. A l'époque,j'étais en Angleterre, alors je ne savais même pas qu'elle avait eu une exposition au Musée des Tissus.
Penses-tu aller voir l'expo à Paris?

Anonymous said...

Mmmm... Je ne me lasse pas de lire et relire ton article sur le travail sublime de Madeleine Vionnet... C'est magique. Merci Xtine. Sabine

Christine Rochet-Jacob. said...

Merci, Sabine. Madeleine Vionnet est en effet une grande ensorceleuse s'il en est, de la vraie magie blanche!

Christine Rochet-Jacob. said...

Merci, Sabine. Madeleine Vionnet est en effet une grande ensorceleuse s'il en est, de la vraie magie blanche!

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