Queen Of The Bias Cut: Madeleine Vionnet

June 22, 2016

By Tab Byrum

Today we are celebrating and remembering a Tabulous Tastemaker, born exactly 140 years ago today, French fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet.

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Vionnet was born June 22, 1876,  in Loiret, France, about 70 miles outside of Paris. Vionnet was born into a poor family and as was the practice then, she began an apprenticeship as a seamstress at the age of 12. At the age of 18 Vionnet entered a marriage that did not last long and after the death of her child Vionnet left France for London where she found work as a seamstress in a hospital. Eventually, Vionnet returned to France and began working at the Callot Soeurs fashion house, it was here that she learned about draping fabric on live models that would eventually lead to her best-known style, the Grecian style dress. (above image via)

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This evening dress from 1924 shows the changing views on fashion in the early 20th Century, with a shorter hem and bare arms. (via)

In 1912 Vionnet founded the House of Vionnet and grew her business until it was forced to close due to the beginning of World War I in 1914, she reopened in 1923 and the House of Vionnet was nicknamed “The Temple of Fashion”. Vionnet’s bias cut gowns became all the rage in the 1930’s and graced the bodies of the some of the most famous women of the era, among them Katharine Hepburn and Greta Garbo (bias cut is cutting the fabric diagonal to the grain of the fabric, this allows it to cling to the body and move and stretch with the person wearing it).

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One of Vionnet’s techniques was draping and building a garment on a doll first. (via)

 Vionnet not only brought on changes in the design of clothing for women but also changes in working in the fashion business, championing unions, paid vacations and maternity leave for women among many other things. Vionnet and Chanel are looked at as the two designers who brought the biggest changes to women’s fashion itself and how the female body were dressed, shying away from stiff, formal dressing they both embraced draping of the body and softer fabrics.

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This Vionnet evening gown is made of Silk Jersey with jeweled straps is from 1930, it’s a perfect example of the Grecian draping she was famous for (via)

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When I first saw this gown I thought it had to be an Alexander McQueen creation, but it’s Vionnet. She still has strong influence over 40 years after her death. (via)

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A dress from the Vionnet Summer 1935 collection. (via)

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In 1937 Vionnet created this silk dress and cape creation in white and silver. (via)

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A Vionnet daytime ensemble, now in the clothing collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (via)

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This black and white sheer gown was from an August 1938 Vionnet collection. (via)

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“Architect Among Dressmakers”, Madeleine Vionnet (via)

Vionnet was forced again to close her business in 1939 with the beginning of World War II and formally retired in 1940 and while she has not designed clothes for close to 80 years Madeleine Vionnet is looked at as one of the greatest and most influential fashion designers of the 20th Century, Madeleine Vionnet died in 1975 at the age of 98. 

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