Madeleine Vionnet

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Madeleine Vionnet (22 June 1876 – 2 March 1975) was a French fashion designer. She used the bias cut, made Grecian-style dresses and introduced haute couture design to high street shops.

Life & career[change | change source]

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 making clothes in a hospital. While in London, Vionnet worked as a fitter for Kate Reily (or Reilly).[1] Reily bought original French designer dresses and brought them to her London workshop. There she had them copied, and sold the copies to her London clients for half the price of the originals.[2] Vionnet was head of her workshop (atelier), cutting, fitting and directing the seamstresses.[3]p30

Vionnet eventually returned to Paris and trained with well known fashion houses. In 1912 she founded her own fashion house, "Vionnet".[3] In the 1920s she created a stir by re-introducing the bias cut, an old technique for cutting cloth diagonal to the grain of the fabric. She developed techniques for managing the problems the bias cut caused.[4] Bias cuts cling to the body and move with the wearer. Vionnet's use of the bias cut to create a sleek, flattering, body-skimming look would change women's clothing and carry her to the top of the fashion world.

Madeleine's 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 its shape.

Vionnet's simple-looking styles were not simple to produce. She cutt, draped, and pinned 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 which 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 included the handkerchief dress, cowl neck, and halter top.

Vionnet influenced the design of mass production prét à porter (ready to wear) clothing. She had worked in mass production as a hospital seamstress, and could simplify her designs for the retail market. High fashion was too expensive for working people, and (unlike today) was not copied in the high street. Vionnet's ability to take her designs off the cat walk and into the high street revolutionised the fashion industry and popular culture.

Career stages[change | change source]

  • Apprentice seamstress, Aubervilliers, 1888–93.[3]p29–39
  • Seamstress at the House of Vincent, Paris, 1893–95.
  • Head of workroom for Kate Reilly, London, 1895–1900.
  • Brief period as a saleswomen at Bechoff-David, Paris, 1900–01.
  • Première, making the original models from designs of Mme Gerber at Callot Soeurs, Paris, 1901–07.
  • Designer for Doucet, 1907–11.[3]p35
  • Maison Vionnet, 1912–14, 1919–39; retired 1940.

Copyright on fashion designs[change | change source]

In 1930, Suzanna Laneil was caught with 48 copies of Chanel and Vionnet designs. Vionnet sued her, in a French landmark case. The Court found that the design originals by Vionnet were "real works of art" and that they were "entitled to the same protection accorded authors and copyright holders".[5] That protection has been written into the statute and ratified by European treaties on copyright law. Vionnet began as a style copiest with Kate Reilly, but became a strong supporter of intellectual property protection for designers.[6]

Awards[change | change source]

Exhibitions
  • 1987 Three Women: Madeleine Vionnet, Claire McCardell and Rei Kawakubo. Fashion Institute of Technology, New York,
  • 1991 Madeleine Vionnet, 1876–1975: l'art de la couture. Centre de la Vieille Charité, Musée de Marseille,
  • 1994 Madeleine Vionnet—les années d'innovation: 1919-1939. Musée historique des tissus de Lyon.

References[change | change source]

  1. Golbin, Pamela (2009). Madeline Vionnet. Rizzoli.
  2. Kirke, p239, says the copies were authorized.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Kirke, Betty 1998. Madeleine Vionnet. Chronicle Books, San Francisco. ISBN 0-8118-1997-3
  4. Betty Kirke (no date) A dressmaker extraordinary. [1]
  5. Gioia Diliberto 2007. Fashion's piracy paradox. L.A. Times, Oct. 10, 2007. [2]
  6. Madeline Vionnet: France's fashion soap opera [3]
  • Lydia Kamitsis 1996. Vionnet. Fashion memoir series, Thames & Hudson, London.