The first World War was truly traumatic for France, and its great designers were among the first to attempt to rally the nation’s arts in the war’s aftermath. The luxury goods trade had all but disappeared during these years. One of these designers, Madeleine Vionnet (1876-1975), closed her couture house at the onset of the war in 1914 and went to Rome for the duration.
Upon her return, she pressed forward with the revolutionary, often avant-garde direction of her clothes-making. She had apprenticed with lingerie makers, spurring a life-long fascination with the interplay of body and fabric. She introduced the bias cut for whole garments, in which the fabric was cut diagonally across the grain to make a springy type of drape. Vionnet’s clothes were considered very moderne, and many of her clients were celebrities and theater folk. The Art Deco style owes much to her vivid interpretations of the body in motion, especial the control and manipulation of fabric for Cubist and other modernist effects.
Take a look, too, at her official website. Items like the cowl neck, halter top, and handkerchief dress owe their inspiration to this designer. Read about her in the classic study by Sophie Dalloz-Ramaux. Interestingly, Vionnet’s skill in sewing seams and making bias cuts created huge problems for copyists and pirates, always a problem for couturiers then and now.
p.s. As a break from daily tasks, I’ve been revisiting a grand site with a fine blog, www.dandyism.net. I did a blog interview with them a few years ago while “A Rakish History of Men’s Wear” was on exhibition. Check out the new NYPL exhibition, Art Deco Design: Rhythm and Verve, on view at the Humanities and Social Sciences Library (5th Ave. and 42nd St.) until January 11, 2009.