Art deco and Chanel



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ART DECO and Chanel

Coco Chanel had been established as a designer in Biarritz and Deauville since the WW1. Responding to the growing popularity of sports , she set about creating an elegant range of leisurewear suitable for these luxurious seaside resorts . Chanel had an incredible flair for fashion, drawing her ideas from the social circles of her male friends . During her time with Grand Duke Dimitri she adapted his traditional Russian clothes into luxurious embroidered garments for women , and opened a house of embroidery for her sister, called the House of Kitmir. Her association with Misia Sert ( who became her mentor and muse ) who was a great patron of modern art she was introduced to the artistic avante garde such as Jean Cocteau , Iliazd and Paul Mansouroff. In 1924 Diaghilev asked Chanel to design costumes for the Ballet Russes’ production of le Train Bleu. The story was set in a seaside resort , an environment which she knew well. She dressed the dancers in jersey bathing suits and sportswear, based on her own collection.

Her relationship with the Duke of Westminster provided her with yet more inspiration . The Duke was keen on outdoor life, and Chanel began wearing – with her usual style – blazers, sailor trousers, berets and polo jumpers, which she had copied in silk and wool. Her modern and androgynous style suited this boyish garconne look perfectly. An astute business woman, she would not only parade her own creations , but also hire mannequins who looked like her to promote her image.

By the end of the 1920s Chanel had established the ‘basics’ of modern fashion ; the three piece suit, designed during the war, comprising a pleated skirt, her trademark belted jumper , and the loosely cut jacket with large pockets . She also popularized the little black dress, the trouser suit, and the unusual combination of daywear and huge pieces of costume jewellery.







Famous women fashion designers of Art Deco Time:







The study of 1920s fashion demonstrates how closely its development was linked to that of Art Deco; it explains how the arts and dress nourished each other, one acting as an inspiration, the other as a medium. It also depicts the complexity and diversity of 1920s fashion, which amounted to so much more than the proverbial flapper's dress and the cloche hat.
This period was characterized by a unique collaboration between artists of the avant-garde and fashion designers, who imbued fashion with their respective skills and visions. The avant-garde saw in fashion a new and exciting canvas on which to express their ideas; ballet, theatre, fashion illustration and cinema also offered arenas for artistic expression which, ultimately, would influence mainstream fashion.
Art Deco emerged from a unique artistic conjunction. From 1905, avant-garde movements sprung up one after another throughout Europe: the Fauves and Cubists in Paris, the Futurists in Italy, the Constructivists in Russia. Meanwhile the Ballets Russes were founded in Russia by Sergei Diaghilev who, wanting to rejuvenate ballet by introducing exotic themes, sets and costumes, employed artists and musicians from the international avant-garde. Too unconventional for the conservative Russian public, the Ballets Russes moved to an ecstatic reception in Paris in 1909, a moment which historians mark as the catalyst of the Art Deco period.
The emancipation of women and the general liberalism were central to the development of fashion design. The new casual look in fashion had sharp contrast to the corset fashions popular in the previous decades. With freedom of movement a priority, designers such as Jean Patou, Madeleine Vionnet, Erte , Gabrielle Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli created the first real style for the modern woman.



1883–1971, French fashion designer.
Gabrielle Chanel was one of the greatest fashion designers of Art Deco style.

From her first millinery shop, opened in 1912, to the 1920s, Gabrielle 'Coco' Chanel rose to become one of the premier fashion designers in Paris, France. Replacing the corset with comfort and casual elegance, her fashion themes included simple suits and dresses, women's trousers, costume jewelry, perfume and textiles.
She was born in 1883 in France - her mother worked in the poorhouse where Gabrielle was born, and died when Gabrielle was only six, leaving her father with five children whom he promptly abandoned to the care of relatives.She adopted the name Coco during a brief career as a cafe and concert singers 1905-1908. First a mistress of a wealthy military officer then of an English industrialist, she drew on the resources of these patrons in setting up a millinery shop in Paris in 1910, expanding to Deauville and Biarritz.


Portrait of Coco Chanel by
Valeria Kouznetsova

Soon she was expanding to couture, working in jersey, a first in the French fashion world.  By the 1920s, her fashion house had expanded considerably, and her chemise set a fashion trend with its "little boy" look.  Her relaxed fashions, short skirts, and casual look were in sharp contrast to the corset fashions popular in the previous decades. Chanel herself dressed in mannish clothes, and adapted these more comfortable fashions which other women also found liberating.
In 1922 Chanel introduced a perfume, Chanel No. 5, which became and remained popular, and remains a profitable product of Chanel's company. Coco Chanel introduced her signature cardigan jacket in 1925 and signature "little black dress" in 1926. Most of her fashions had a staying power, and didn't change much from year to year -- or even generation to generation. 

She briefly served as a nurse in World War I. Nazi occupation meant the fashion business in Paris was cut off for some years; Chanel's affair during World War II with a Nazi officer also resulted in some years of diminished popularity and an exile of sorts to Switzerland. In 1954 her comeback restored her to the first ranks of haute couture.  Her natural, casual clothing including the Chanel suit once again caught the eye -- and purses -- of women.  She introduced pea jackets and bell bottom pants for women. She was still working in 1971 when she died. 


In addition to her work with high fashion, she also designed stage costumes for such plays as Cocteau's Antigone (1923) and Oedipus Rex (1937) and film costumes for several movies, including Renoir's La Regle de Jeu. Katharine Hepburn starred in the 1969 Broadway musical Coco based on the life of Coco Chanel.




1876–1975, French fashion designer. Madeleine Vionnet is something of a mystery. She was an architect of fashion.

She greatly influenced the course of fashion during the 20s and 30s, but, in contrast to so many fashion creators, she chose an intensely private lifestyle, avoiding public displays and mundane frivolities.
Madeleine Vionnet’s ideas led to a more natural trend in women’s fashion: freeing women from the constraints of the corset, her models followed the body’s forms, rather like Greek sculpture. Her work has been compared to that of the cubists in art, who freed painting from the confines of the traditional style of representation. She added a third dimension to clothes, giving them a flowing and supple structure, which not only expressed the body’s shape, but giving them an emotional dimension as well. To quote Madeleine Vionnet, When a woman smiles, her dress should also smile. 



Madeleine Vionnet chose fabric and line based on the client and cut with mathematical precision. She made most of her designs on wooden puppets first, letting the shape fall around them continuously until she was satisfied.
She worked for Parisian and London dressmakers and designed for the Callot Soeurs and Jacques Doucet houses before opening her own studio in 1912. In the 1920s she created a fashion revolution by introducing the bias cut, a technique that enables fabric to cling softly to the body while moving with it. Eschewing corsets and other constricting undergarments, Vionnet dominated haute couture in the 1930s with sensually draped garments that were inspired by Greek, Roman, and medieval styles but brought suavely and sexily up-to-date. Characteristic Vionnet styles include the handkerchief dress, cowl neck, and halter top. By 1940 she had retired, but her bias cut and her urbanely sensual approach to couture has been a strong and pervasive influence on contemporary fashion designers.




1890–1973, French fashion designer.
She was born in Rome, Italy of Italian and Egyptian heritage. She was a great-niece of Giovanni Schiaparelli.

Elsa Schiaparelli, born in Rome, was the design trend setter of the 1930s. With a background in the arts, she had a natural sensitivity to fashion styling. Famous for her audacious improvisations, she truly did design the unusual.

In the mid 1920s, "Schiap" got her start in Paris by sketching a sweater and having it made by an American craftswoman. The black sweater had a large white bow motif knitted into its front. It was such a novel idea that Schiaparelli immediately received an order from an American buyer. Her sweater designs fitted in perfectly with the surrealistic art of the time. One design, featuring white ribs outlined on a black background, looked like an X-ray view of the chest the forerunner of the decorated T-shirt.





Schiaparelli's first salon, opened in 1927 and called Pour le Sport, specialized in sportswear and suits. Schiaparelli used bold accents of color, especially "shocking pink," which she made famous.
When the Depression put an end to frivolity, it also ended the Flapper Look. The waist returned to its normal position and skirts fell below the knee. In addition, Schiaparelli moved the center of interest to the shoulders, which she began to widen, accentuating them by pleats, padding, or braid silhouette that remained popular through World War II. Often called hard chic, her designs were smart rather than pretty. Schiaparelli used the bias cut for dresses, giving them a sensuous, clinging look that showed off the female figure. Very photogenic because of their bold statements, her designs dominated the fashion magazines. Schiaparelli's daring nonsensical gadget accessories, such as fish buttons, foxhead gloves, and newspaper-print scarves, were just the right touch for the last frivolous, decadent years before World War 11.

She is also well known for her surrealist designs of the 1930's, especially her hats, including one resembling a giant shoe and one a giant lamb chop, both which were famously worn by the Franco-American Singer sewing machine heiress Daisy Fellowes, who was one of Schiaparelli's best clients and who owned a pink gemstone that inspired the color shocking pink. She collaborated with many surrealist artists, Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau between 1936 and 1939.

Schiaparelli also had a personal interest in her clients, often trying to help them find the clothes best suited to them. She believed that clothes should fit one's life style.






Fashion by Erte


Costume design for Diaghilev ballet by Bakst






Design by Coco Chanel







Design by Madeleine Vionnet






Design by
Elsa Schiaparelli









An additional set of images for twentieth century dress (1900-1999) can be reached by this link to an exhibition of the Cornell Costume Collection done at the Johnson Museum in 2001.




Early Art Deco (1911-1929)


This was a period of immense social upheaval, particularly for women. The period from 1911 to 1919 saw the crescendo of the Women's movement, culminating in the passage of the Suffrage amendment. This was also the decade of World War I, which both shook apart the previous social order, and also called upon women to step into roles never before filled by women, as men went off to war. After the war, there was an explosion of exhuberance in style, as a youthful generation took center stage amid a decade of prosperity. The excitement of Jazz Age life, prohibition, and the idealization of college men and coeds in the US gave a youthful emphasis to fashion.

Between 1911 and 1919, dress forms moved to a narrow, relaxed, almost semi-fitted silhouette reminiscent of the Directoire and Empire period. Although many women continued the habit of wearing corsets, the tubular clothing silhouette no longer required it. Hemlines also began to climb from ankle length in 1910 (right) to mid-calf by 1919 (left)-- and all the way up to the knee by 1925. The waistline essentially disappeared. Before 1919, it was high, just below the bustline; by 1920 it had settled at the hips.

The silhouette was basically tubular throughout the period. However, this was also a period of great experimentation in fashion--the first time in centuries that designers had a truly different silhouette to work with. Innovative seaming, draping, gauzy fabrics, beads, and feathers were all called upon. In this example (right) from the mid-1920s the use of seaming as a decorative detail can be seen.This love of surface embellishment and abstract, graphic design is a general characteristic of art deco design in other media as well. Menswear concepts were used also, including a number of sportswear ideas, such as the sweater. Knits, leather, and rayon for the first time became important fashion materials. Poiret and Fortuny were among the most well-known designers of the period before World War I. Designers such as Chanel and Patou were trend setters in the 1920s.


Late Art Deco (1930-1946)


During the depression years of the 1930's fashion was driven by the fantasies of Hollywood, and by a desire to return to a more traditionally feminine image for women, as women were forced by economics to return to a more traditional life. In the face of mass unemployment, it was generally felt that women should leave the workplace to men-- at least until the outbreak of World War II in 1941. During the early 1930s hemlines dropped again to just above the ankles, and longer dresses were again in vogue for evening wear (right). The tricks of draping and intricate seaming learned in the 1920s were now applied to making dresses that clung to the body. Soft crepe, chiffon, and satin cut on the bias were used. For evening the bared back was the new erotic zone, replacing the legs of the 1920s. As the decade advanced, hemlines would rise again. The shirt dress (left) was a new style introduced in this period that would become a classic. Vionnet and Schiaparelli were among the leading designers.

In this period movie stars like Marlene Dietrich and Katherine Hepburn made it acceptable for women to wear trousers in public (below, right). With the outbreak of World War II, as women were being encouraged to replace men in the factories and offices, clothing generally became more tailored, and frequently borrowed from military looks-- even to prominent, padded square shoulders (left). Wartime shortages led to official directives to keep dresses narrow and short, without extra draping and excessive use of fabric. Since clothing was rationed, accessories became important as a way of varying a limited wardrobe. The war also provided an opportunity for American designers to establish themselves; previously fashion ideas had emanated mainly from Paris.


Post war: the New Look (1946-1955)


After the hardships of the War, soldiers returned to take up careers and marry, and women were expected to give up their wartime careers to become homemakers and mothers. Again, with this new domesticity, there was a move toward a more feminine look. There was also a desire to indulge a yen for luxury, after the years of deprivation and rationing.


The French designer Christian Dior, in a move to fulfill this yen (and re-establish the French fashion industry) introduced the New Look in 1946. It featured long hemlines, narrow shoulders and closely fitted bodices, and full, crinolined skirts (Above, and right). In many ways, this look resembled the fashions of the Early Victorian era, which was also a period that focused on domesticity. Dior subsequently introduced a narrow long skirt, which gave a figure revealing silhouette not unlike that of 1880. The New Look also required a kind of corseting, in the form of the two-way stretch "merry widow" and matching girdle. Charles James was another designer that contributed innovative ideas in this period. Among the ideals of feminine beauty and style in this period were Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day.

Post war: St. Laurent (1955-63)


In 1955 Dior suddenly died, leaving his empire to a 21 year old assistant named Yves St. Laurent. St. Laurent proceeded to introduce a series of innovations in silhouette that established him as the trend setter for years to come. In this period, he experimented with less closely fitted styles, using materials that permitted him to sculpt shapes that stood away from the body. On the whole, the silhouette was generally more tubular than it had been. Other influential designers in this period were Givenchy, Claire McCardell and Bonnie Cashin. However, glamorous images devised by the media and the fashion designer still characterized the ideal female image. Among the ideals of the fashionable woman in this period were Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy.














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