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Madeleine Vionnet – French Couture in the 1920's

***This exposition has closed and the museum is now showcasing "An Ideal History of Contemporary Fashion from the 70s and 80s"***

Art students and aspiring designers were grouped around glass display windows admiring Madeline Vionnet’s dresses as one would the caged animals at a zoo. Sketchbooks splayed they feverishly reproduced the bones of her designs before the guard shooed them out at closing time.



A sampling from Vionnet’s repertoire is on display at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs. The exposition chronologically retraces her career between wars, from the opening of her couture house in 1912 to its closing in 1939. In those 27 years she transformed the face of Paris high fashion, liberating women from their corsets and using a bias cut to hug curves. Unique to her process, she would forego an initial sketch working directly with the fabric. Doll sized models were created before sewing gowns full scale.

A Purist, she found inspiration in the clean lines of squares, rectangles and circles. Her designs were a compromise between Poiret’s eccentricity and Chanel’s modernity. Beginning with a sleek silhouette, the dress, like a blank canvas, could be adorned in frivolous detail: lace, ruffles, fur, silk cut into fish scales, tear drops of embroidery, tulle rosettes, scalloped hems like the edges of a cloud or long strings of fringe. Here are sketches of my favorites…


Unique and beautiful, see Vionnet’s designs before the end of January in Paris, visit the museum’s archive of images online and read more about her work in the catalogue.

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