Culture & Couture
What a weekend! I had a brilliant few days, with just the right mix of relaxation, friends, food, shopping and culture. A few more hours sleep here and there would have been nice (I’m not complaining), but I felt together, and more at home in this great city than ever.
On Sunday I was so excited to head out for an exhibition at Les Arts Décoratifs, on the Rue de Rivoli, housed in the same building as the Musée de Louvre. The Frog and I enjoyed the short walk from Place de la Concorde, along side the Tuileries (it’s been raining the last few days, this is no time to go walking through the muddy gardens, beautiful as they are), up to the Museum. The queue was short, and we were soon in one of the best exhibitions I have ever seen.
Madeleine Vionnet Puriste de la Mode, is a collection of dresses by the couturière Madeleine Vionnet. I studied her work at University. In her time she created thousands upon thousands of beautiful dresses. Her work was pivotal in the changes to the way women dress today. She introduced the world to the bias-cut, and in doing so, was one of the key figures in helping say good-bye to the corset as a necessary foundation garment.
The best years of her work also happen to traverse some of my favourite fashion eras, namely the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s. So this exhibition was right up my alley so to speak. The exhibition covered two floors, and at every glance was a veritable party for the eyes. Luxurious fabrics, exquisite beading, meticulous manipulation of materials and perfects cuts. There was example after example of why Vionnet was at the top of her game.
I was just in awe, and the Frog was very patient. We stayed for close to three hours, carefully studying at every garment, looking at original drawings and watching computer animations detailing the pattern pieces and methods of construction. I found it fascinating. And if the Frog was bored, which I don’t think he was, he did a good job of hiding it. He asked lots of questions about construction, and embellishment techniques. He really tested my knowledge. It was nice to affirm I could visualise the process, or the shapes of the pattern pieces or explain certain techniques to him.
An interesting fact that I’d forgotten, was that Vionnet was one of the key figures in fighting counterfeiters. She was so proud of her work (understandably so), that when people started to copy her designs and cash in on her hard work, she started cataloguing and registering her designs. All her designs or models had a number, was photographed from all angles and was meticulously recorded. There was even a small film showing Vionnet herself putting her fingerprints onto her labels with ink.
For me, there were a few disappointing aspects to the exhibition. Firstly, that some of the displays were poorly lit. This made it hard on the eyes especially where black fabric was concerned. Secondly, that some of the displays lacked mirrors, I felt like I was missing out with some pieces. I wanted to see the hidden side. And thirdly, well, I just wish there could have been more. I was enjoying myself so much I didn’t want it to end.
Sadly for Madeleine Vionnet, her advancing years, and the arrival or WWII saw her decision to close the House of Vionnet. Had she decided to keep going, who knows, we would probably see her name along side the likes of Coco Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Louis Vuitton. Her work was certainly impressive, and deserving of this level of prestige. It is perhaps unfortunate, that this work is mostly known only to those who study fashion or costume.
If you are in Paris before the 31st of this month (January 2010), make the effort and go. It’s worth the entry fee, and a good look around!