Born into a poor family in Chilleurs-aux-Bois, Loiret, Vionnet began her apprenticeship as a seamstress at age 11. After a brief marriage at age 18, she left her husband and went to London to work as a hospital seamstress. While in London, Vionnet worked as a fitter for Kate Reily. Vionnet eventually returned to Paris and trained with the well known fashion house Callot Soeurs and later with Jacques Doucet. In 1912 she founded her own fashion house, "Vionnet". In the 1920s Vionnet created a stir by introducing the bias cut, a technique for cutting cloth diagonal to the grain of the fabric enabling it to cling to the body while moving with the wearer. Vionnet's use of the bias cut to create a sleek, flattering, body-skimming look would help revolutionize women's clothing and carry her to the top of the fashion world.
Madeleine Vionnet believed that "when a woman smiles, then her dress should smile too." Eschewing corsets, padding, stiffening, and anything that distorted the natural curves of a woman's body, her clothes were famous for accentuating the natural female form. Influenced by the modern dances of Isadora Duncan, Vionnet created designs that showed off a woman's natural shape. Like Duncan, Vionnet was inspired by ancient Greek art, in which garments appear to float freely around the body rather than distort or mold its shape. As an expert couturier, Vionnet knew that textiles cut on the diagonal or bias could be draped to match the curves of a woman's body and echo its fluidity of motion. She used this "bias cut" to promote the potential for expression and motion, integrating comfort and movement as well as form into her designs.
Vionnet's apparently simple styles involved a lengthy preparation process, including cutting, draping, and pinning fabric designs on to miniature dolls, before recreating them in chiffon, silk, or Moroccan crepe on life-size models. Vionnet used materials such as crêpe de chine, gabardine, and satin to make her clothes; fabrics that were unusual in women's fashion of the 1920s and 30s. She would order fabrics two yards wider than necessary in order to accommodate draping, creating clothes - particularly dresses - that were luxurious and sensual but also simple and modern. Characteristic Vionnet styles that clung to and moved with the wearer included the handkerchief dress, cowl neck, and halter top.
Evening dress, 1935
Madeline Vionnet's couture house was known for finely crafted designs of particularly intricate dressmaking techniques. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, her loyal clients included European aristocrats and wealthy North Americans. This dress was worn by Lady Minoru Foley, (around 1888 to 1968), wife of the 7th Baron Foley.
In Vionnet's hands, finishing details such as hems, seams and applied decoration are executed with precision and finesse. This dress was designed by Vionnet in 1935. By this year, Vionnet had operated her own couture house for 23 years and had worked for nearly 50 years in the dressmaking and couture trades. The dress is crafted from organza and fine tulle. Its delicacy is underlined by the scattering of appliquéd velvet swallow motifs across the skirt.
Madeleine Vionnet's couture house was known for championing the bias cut, a technique of cutting across the grain of a textile to produce a carefully draped silhouette. This afternoon dress is crafted from intricately pieced sections of bias cut fabric. The built-in capelet is cleverly integrated into the dress's bodice and sash. The soft floral print is a rare instance of Vionnet using a patterned fabric.
This Vionnet design formed part of the wardrobe of Lady Minoru Foley (around 1888-1968). Lady Foley was among the women of privilege who could afford the finest quality textiles, meticulously crafted gowns and highly personal attention offered by couture houses such as Vionnet's.
Evening dress, 1935
This dress and corresponding muff represent Madeleine Vionnet at the height of her creative powers. A master geometrician, Vionnet was known for the complicated cut of her gowns and the simplicity of their lines. The floor length skirt of this design follows the fashionable eveningwear silhouette of the 1930s. Its cascading layers of soft tulle suggest the natural curve of the body beneath.
This Vionnet design formed part of the wardrobe of Lady Minoru Foley (around 1888-1968). She would have purchased this dress when she was approximately 47 years old. Lady Foley was among the women of privilege who could afford the finest quality textiles, meticulously crafted gowns and highly personal attention offered by couture houses such as Vionnet's.
Evening dress, 1935
This dress formed part of the wardrobe of Lady Minoru Foley (around 1888-1968). Lady Foley was among the women of privilege who could afford the finest quality textiles, meticulously crafted designs and highly personal attention offered by couture houses such as Vionnet's.
In the construction of this dress, equal attention was paid to the unseen elements: meticulously finished seams, finely sewn fastenings and delicately rolled hems. The dress is made from finely crafted white organza and net, a textile Vionnet favoured in the 1930s. With its full sleeves and gently gathered collar, it is a romantic expression of fashionable 1930s eveningwear.
Day dress, 1933
Madeleine Vionnet was born in 1875 in Aubervilliers, France. Apprenticed to a seamstress at an early age, she worked in the Paris suburbs in her late teens before joining Kate O’Reilly, a London dressmaker, in about 1897. She returned to Paris, working with David Bechoff, Callot Soeurs and Douçet, before opening her own house in 1912. Her work was interrupted by the World War of 1914-1918, but she re-opened in 1918, moving to 50 avenue Matignon. She retired in 1939.
Vionnet is celebrated as master of the bias-cut dress, which moulds the body without restriction and flows with its movement. She was at the forefront of the neo-classical style, and her label depicts a classical image of a woman poised on a column raising the straps of her tunic above her head. From 1924 her embroidery designs were inspired by Greek vases and Egyptian frescoes. During the 1930s she largely abandoned her famous bias-cut dresses in favour of classical-style draping and folding. Many of her garments, including the dress in this ensemble, were ingeniously constructed in one piece, devoid of fastenings. Vionnet was exceptional in that she did not sew down her draperies, but expected clients to perform a series of skilful manouevres to achieve the desired look.
Day dress, mid 1930s
This afternoon dress belonged to Lady Dovercourt. It is an outstanding example of Madeleine Vionnet's art. She was born in 1875 in Aubervilliers, France, and was apprenticed to a seamstress at an early age. She worked in the Paris suburbs in her late teens before joining Kate O'Reilly, a London dressmaker. In about 1897 Vionnet returned to Paris. She worked with David Bechoff, Callot Soeurs and Douçet before opening her own fashion house in 1912. Her work was interrupted by the First World War (1914-1918), but she reopened in 1918, moving to 50 avenue Matignon. She retired in 1939.
Vionnet was master of the bias-cut dress, which moulds the body without restriction and flows with its movement. In this garment her bias-cutting techniques allow the matt silk crêpe (woven to her specifications) to follow the contours of the body. The bodice front has intricate, meticulously executed drawn threadwork. The bodice back and sleeves take their diamond-shaped grid from the lie of the warp and weft in the fabric. The zigzag openwork seam that joins the neck yoke and bodice provides more flexibility and suppleness than a conventional seam.
Coq de Roche, 1935
This floor-length wrap-around cocktail dress, made of 'Coq de roche' coloured crepe, was designed by Madeleine Vionnet in 1935. The dress has long, flaring sleeves, and a wide collar which fastens near the left shoulder with a huge orange button. The dress fastens at hip level with two sewn lapels.
The dress is cut on the biais of the fabric, a technique mastered by Madeleine Vionnet at the beginning of the 1920s. Vionnet experimented intensively with fabrics, often letting them dictate the shape or the effect. Her work focussed on the curves and forms of the female body. Her style would come to full fruition in the 1930s and reign supreme throughout the decade.
Evening coat, ca. 1936
This stylish evening coat is typical of the 1930s Hollywood look, with its combination of gold satin and supple white ermine. Its designer, Madeleine Vionnet, was born in 1875 in Aubervilliers, France. Apprenticed to a seamstress at an early age, she worked in the Paris suburbs in her late teens before joining Kate O’Reilly, a London dressmaker, in about 1897. She returned to Paris, working with David Bechoff, Callot Soeurs and Douçet before opening her own house in 1912. Her work was interrupted by the World War of 1914-1918, but she re-opened in 1918, moving to 50 avenue Matignon. Vionnet retired in 1939.
Evening dress, 1932-1934
Madeleine Vionnet was born in 1875 in Aubervilliers, France. Apprenticed to a seamstress at an early age, she worked in the Paris suburbs in her late teens before joining Kate O'Reilly, a London dressmaker, in about 1897. She returned to Paris, working with David Bechoff, Callot Soeurs and Douçet, before opening her own fashion house in 1912. Her work was interrupted by the First World War of 1914-1918, but she reopened in 1918, moving to 50 avenue Matignon. She retired in 1939.
Vionnet is celebrated as master of the bias-cut dress, which moulds the body without restriction and flows with its movement. She was at the forefront of the neo-classical style and her label depicts a classical image of a woman poised on a column raising the straps of her tunic above her head. From 1924 her embroidery designs were inspired by Greek vases and Egyptian frescoes. Her bias-cut garments appear simple, but the cut and construction are complex and immaculately executed. During the 1930s she largely abandoned her famous bias-cut dresses in favour of classical-style draping and folding.
Evening dress, ca. 1934
The designer Madeleine Vionnet had an approach to structure that was founded on an innovative use of fabric cut 'on the bias' (against the straight grain of the material). In this case, glossy silk velvet in black makes a slip of a dress, a cross-over, slightly bloused bodice and svelte skirt that weighs a mere 380 grams. A pair of asymmetric silk georgette streamers is attached to the shoulder back - toffee pink on the left and, slightly shorter in length, royal purple on the right. This dress was worn by Mrs Opal Holt.
La Fleur, ca. 1922
This day dress for summer is made of lilac lawn. It is ankle-length, with a V-shape neckline and short sleeves. It is belted at the waist with a lilac lawn belt. The dress is made of layered, overlapping scalloped petals attached to a tulle base. Each petal shows a stylised appliqué motif of a pot containing a flowering plant.
Evening dress, 1934-1936
White silk chiffon evening dress, in bias-cut. The dress consists of a draped and bloused bodice, formed by layered chiffon, and a flared skirt. It has thin shoulder straps supporting the low decolletage and a white bias-cut silk crêpe lining.
Dress, mid 1930s
White crêpe dress with a high round neck and full bishop sleeves fastening at wrist with gold-tone metal cufflinks. Straight cut body and geometric drawn-thread openwork detailing around shoulders, yoke, and back of dress, taking its diamond shaped grid from the lie of the warp and weft in the bias-cut fabric.
Afternoon dress, mid 1930s
White crêpe afternoon dress with a V neckline and caped sleeves. The waist and sleeves are accented with geometric drawn-thread openwork in zig-zag lines, which takes its diamond shaped grid from the lie of the warp and weft in the bias-cut fabric.
Afternoon dress, mid 1930s
Afternoon dress of apricot coloured crêpe with a V neck and cape sleeves, shaped by tucks at the shoulders. The bodice front and the back of the dress are accented with geometric drawn threadwork, which takes its diamond shaped grid from the lie of the warp and weft in the bias-cut fabric.
Evening dress, 1938
Madeleine Vionnet was a consummate technician, particularly known for her innovative use of the bias cut and the mathematically precise construction of her garments. Minimalist by philosophy, Vionnet's construction details were often executed so as to create decorative effects, obviating the need for any trimming. This dress was made at the end of Vionnet's career and comes full circle with inspiration from Greek drapery, which was one of her primary influences from the very beginning of her career. Although it features a more structured form and has actual jewelry decoration on it, it has bias cowl draping at the back and a fascinating curved seam that bisects the front panel of the dress: sure indications of Vionnet's life-long unparalleled facility with fabric.
Evening ensemble, ca. 1936
Madeleine Vionnet was a consummate technician, particularly known for her innovative use of the bias cut and the mathematically precise construction of her garments. Minimalist by philosophy, Vionnet's construction details were often executed so as to create decorative effects, obviating the need for any trimming.
Layers of gossamer, yet strong, silks cut on the bias, with free-floating ties, make this evening dress an exemplar of Vionnet's work. The design also features a pastel foliate print of the type favored by the designer, here with a pattern of fern leaves. The satin ties of the dress were originally held by a jade buckle, which was not received with the gift.
Dinner ensemble, 1936–38
The classic daytime silhouette of the mid-late 30s can be seen in this here. This dress, with its ingeniously cut overblouse is typical of Vionnet's imaginative and economic use of fabric.
Evening dress, ca. 1937
This evening dress bears the hallmarks of Vionnet's design aesthetic with the use of faggoting in both construction and as decoration.
Evening dress, ca. 1937
This evening dress, with its irregular piecing, features Vionnet's signature sleeves and back draping.
Evening dress, ca. 1936
She designed by draping fabric on a ¾ -size mannequin, which not only afforded her a level of dimensionality that sketching does not it also gave her an active awareness of the physical responses of her textiles as she worked. Vionnet sought to harmonize the relationship between garment and wearer and her designs were in direct contrast to both the corseted silhouette of the early 20th century and the boxy, tubular shapes of the teens and twenties. Her expanded use of the bias cut took advantage of the elasticity and fluidity the cross-grain cut gave to whole garments, allowing them to flow over and move with the body. In this elegant use of silk crepe, Vionnet creates both a fluid skirt and inventive bodice with panels that frame a plunging back, then extend over the shoulders to be gather in a pleated drapery detail. The sinuous line and cutaway exposures of the dress make it an excellent example of the period.
Robe de Style, ca. 1939
This robe de style is from the last part of the designer's career; she retired in 1942. It may have been created by Madame Charmant, her right-hand assistant. Although the robe de style is more indicative of 1910-12 fashion, the combination of a transparent dress and slim slip underskirt puts the dress, with its active visibility of the body, firmly in the 1930s.
Dress, ca. 1927
Here, she uses intricate pleating to both shape the overblouse and add an interesting surface texture that changes when the fabric is released at the hip. In combination with the two-tiered skirt, the full effect of the graduated silhouette is reminiscent of the stepped features found in Art Deco architecture.
Evening shawl, ca. 1925
The fringed shawl was a fashion mainstay of the 1920s. In Madeleine Vionnet's hands it receives the benefit of her impressive technical skill. The weight and drapable quality of silk jersey lends itself to the fitted shoulders and interior shaping at the armholes without losing its fluidity. The shawl is cut in an irregular length, which adds to its refinement. The tomato red color is made even more dramatic by the varied placement of the fringe, which is hand-knotted through the fabric. By staggering the fringe knots, Vionnet creates subtle surface decoration along with a sense of movement, the fringe seems to spill out from the surface plane of the fabric.
Evening dress, spring/summer 1938
Though there are separate specialists for applied braid and fringe, known as the crépinières, Vionnet chose in this instance to employ an embroidery of individual graduated lengths of silk thread passed and looped through the fabric, with each thread forming two drops of fringe. The scallop arcs constitute the sole decoration of the dress.
Evening coat, ca. 1935
Hallmarks of her design sensibilities with silks translate here into fur in the fit and flare styling as well as in the dolman sleeve treatment. Notably, the coat was worn by Anna May Wong (1905-1961), the eminent Chinese-American star of both silent and sound film as well as radio, stage and television. Often regarded as the first Asian-American film star in the United States, if not the world, Wong was known for her personal style. The right front lining is embroidered with Chinese characters that represent Wong's name, "Wong Liu Tsong," in traditional Chinese.
Evening dress, 1936–37
Evening dress, spring/summer 1932
Evening dress, 1917
Evening ensemble, ca. 1935
This evening ensemble displays a wonderful use of tonal colors. Vionnet's handling of the bodice panels shows her signature economy of seaming and complex cut.
Evening dress, 1939
Evening dress, 1932
Evening dress, fall/winter 1938–39
Evening dress, fall/winter 1938–39
Cocktail dress, 1936
Evening dress, ca. 1933
Wedding ensemble, 1929
Dress, ca. 1932
Afternoon dress, 1931–32
An intensely private individual, Vionnet avoided public displays and mundane frivolities and often expressed a dislike for the world of fashion, stating: "Insofar as one can talk of a Vionnet school, it comes mostly from my having been an enemy of fashion. There is something superficial and volatile about the seasonal and elusive whims of fashion which offends my sense of beauty." Vionnet was not concerned with being the "designer of the moment", preferring to remain true to her own vision of female beauty.
With her bias cut clothes, Vionnet dominated haute couture in the 1930s setting trends with her sensual gowns worn by such stars as Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn and Greta Garbo. Vionnet's vision of the female form revolutionized modern clothing and the success of her unique cuts assured her reputation. She fought for copyright laws in fashion and employed what were considered revolutionary labor practices at the time - paid holidays and maternity leave, day-care, a dining hall, a resident doctor and dentist. Although the onset of World War II forced her to close her fashion house in 1939, Vionnet acted as a mentor to later designers, passing on her principles of elegance, movement, architectural form, and timeless style.
Today, Madeleine Vionnet is considered one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century. Both her bias cut and her urbanely sensual approach to couture remain a strong and pervasive influence on contemporary fashion as evidenced by the collections of such past and present-day designers as Ossie Clark, Halston, John Galliano, Comme des Garçons, Azzedine Alaia, Issey Miyake and Marchesa.
Madeleine Vionnet by Betty Kirke
Hardcover: 244 pages
Publisher: Chronicle Books; 100th Anniversary ed of 3rd revised ed edition (September 12, 2012)
Amazon: Madeleine Vionnet
This "spectacular tribute to a designer of breathtaking grace and originality" (Threads) is the definitive volume on the legendary Madeleine Vionnet's life and work. Now back in print with a fresh new cover, this reissue marks the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the House of Vionnet and the revival of the Vionnet brand. Lavishly illustrated in over 400 photographs, sketches, and with complete patterns for 30 of the most influential designs of this architect among dressmakers, this exquisite volume is an essential reference for fashion students and a vibrant portrait of a grande dame of 20th century couture.
More Fashion Designers at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art
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