Ema and fashion in the 20th century

The clothes and the calligraphy of gestures. Curated by Brunno Almeida Maia

The Ema Klabin House Museum

curatorial axes

Shopping in downtown São Paulo (1928)The Ema Klabin House Museum

What is fashion?

Fashion arose as the organization of one’s personal appearance among French and Italian nobles between the 14th and 15th centuries. From the Latin, modus, the word stems from their “mode or manner of conduct”, as they expressed their individuality and power through their dress 

Maggy Rouff by Anne-Marie Besançon de Wagner (side) Maggy Rouff by Anne-Marie Besançon de Wagner (1950) by Maggy RouffThe Ema Klabin House Museum

Calligraphy of gestures

Gilda de Mello e Souza, the Brazilian philosopher, recounts, in her book O espírito das roupas – a moda no século dezenove (The Spirit of Clothes – Fashion in the 19th Century), how, at parties, garments externalize a woman’s soul by creating a “calligraphy of gestures”.

Maggy Rouff by Anne-Marie Besançon de Wagner (detail) Maggy Rouff by Anne-Marie Besançon de Wagner (1950) by Maggy RouffThe Ema Klabin House Museum

In this manner, a woman constitutes her individuality much like a work of art, one in which the playful and aesthetic aspects of fashion transform into a style of existence. 

Dress (detail) Dress (1970) by Designer unknownThe Ema Klabin House Museum

The modernization of woman

After the third industrial revolution and during May 68, fashion entered a new phase, turning no longer to the tastes and customs of bourgeois and aristocratic life, but to the trends of the street.

Matching coat and dress (front) Matching coat and dress (1970) by Celia ChienThe Ema Klabin House Museum

Women’s rights 

In the 19th century, in a society of unequal relationships between the sexes, women were confined to the home and bound for marriage. The invention of the home sewing machine, by Isaac Singer, allowed many to gain a source of income and autonomy from being seamstresses.

Dress (detail) Dress (1970) by Marie-MartineThe Ema Klabin House Museum

The black dress 

In 14th century Italy, because of its costly dyeing process, the color black was only used by nobles and was considered a symbol of power and piety. The color emphasized austerity and moral sobriety, characteristics revisited by the bourgeoisie of the 19th century.

Dress (side) Dress (1970) by Marie-MartineThe Ema Klabin House Museum

Coat (detail) Coat (1960) by Designer unknownThe Ema Klabin House Museum

Forms, textures and fabrics 

Starting in the 14th century, fashion, exclusive to nobility and the clergy, allowed for not just social distinction, as well as the expression of individuality through clothing.

Dress (detail) Dress (1978) by Marc Bohan for Christian DiorThe Ema Klabin House Museum

The tailor as an artist – Christian Dior

Marc Bohan, then the creative director of Maison Christian Dior, created flitting dresses in light fabrics, inspired by the 1930s and 1940s. Bohan rejuvenated the femininity and romanticism that was so typical of Dior. 

Dress (back) Dress (1978) by Marc Bohan for Christian DiorThe Ema Klabin House Museum

Dress (side) Dress (1978) by Marc Bohan for Christian DiorThe Ema Klabin House Museum

Dress (detail) Dress (1978) by Marc Bohan for Christian DiorThe Ema Klabin House Museum

Dress (front) Dress (1960) by Jean PatouThe Ema Klabin House Museum

Haute couture – Jean Patou 

Jean Patou revolutionized the concept of dressing up for women in the 1920s, he favored somber color palettes and pale tones from blue to beige, renewing the feminine image with influences of the vanguard, the art deco style and jazz.

Coat (detail) Coat (1960) by Designer unknownThe Ema Klabin House Museum

Leopard skin coat

Widely used by Hollywood divas, the leopard skin coat stood out in the collections of Jeanne Paquin and Elsa Schiaparelli in the 1930s, but became more widespread in the 1960s.

Tailleur (detail) Tailleur by Designer unknownThe Ema Klabin House Museum

History of the tailleur 

The tailleur is now considered a classic in women’s wardrobes. Suffragette and composer Ethel Smyth was one of the first to smash the gender barrier by using a jacket-style coat with full skirts.

Tailleur (front) Tailleur, Designer unknown, From the collection of: The Ema Klabin House Museum
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Tailleur (detail) Tailleur, Designer unknown, From the collection of: The Ema Klabin House Museum
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Tailleur (back) Tailleur, Designer unknown, From the collection of: The Ema Klabin House Museum
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Dress Dress (1980) by Designer unknownThe Ema Klabin House Museum

The 1980s


In the 1980s, fashion hits new heights. The cradle of haute couture, France, announced the opening of the Museum of Fashion Arts, in 1982, which was later incorporated into the Museum of Decorative Arts of the Louvre. At the time, then President François Mitterrand declared:

Dress (detail) Dress (1980) by Designer unknownThe Ema Klabin House Museum

Dress (detail) Dress (1980) by Designer unknownThe Ema Klabin House Museum

Dress (front) Dress (1980) by Designer unknownThe Ema Klabin House Museum

"fashion is not something that is trivial or just decorative, which would not actually be that bad. When creating fashion, you create forms of life, the pleasure of being, the pleasure of coming and going. You inspire the masses, give seasons their colors, their attitude, their movement. Countries without fashion and designers are a bit gray. They are the countries of the uniform."  François Mitterrand

Cheongsam dress (detail) Cheongsam dress (1956) by Designer unknownThe Ema Klabin House Museum

Cheongsam

Asian art has always piqued Ema Klabin’s interest and caught her attention, forming one of the most expressive cores of her collection. Used at parties and fancy dress events onboard cruises, these traditional Chinese dresses present highly refined examples of silk embroidery. 

Cheongsam dress (detail) Cheongsam dress, Designer unknown, 1967, From the collection of: The Ema Klabin House Museum
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Cheongsam dress (side) Cheongsam dress, Designer unknown, 1956, From the collection of: The Ema Klabin House Museum
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Cheongsam dress (side) Cheongsam dress, Designer unknown, 1967, From the collection of: The Ema Klabin House Museum
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Furs

In the European courts, between the 14th and 19th centuries, fox, chinchilla, rabbit, marten, seal, bear, otter and mink furs were symbols of royalty and power and their use was restricted and strictly controlled.

Pelerine Pelerine, Designer unknown, From the collection of: The Ema Klabin House Museum
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Stole (side) Stole, Revillon Frères, From the collection of: The Ema Klabin House Museum
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Coat (detail) Coat, Lowe S.A, 1960, From the collection of: The Ema Klabin House Museum
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Dress and pelerine (detail) Dress and pelerine (1983) by Designer unknownThe Ema Klabin House Museum

History of the floral print

In the history of clothing, the use of the floral motif has its origins in India, the cradle of the  art of dyeing. The technique made its way to Europe in around the 1640s, appearing in Marseille, France, through the hands of Armenian merchants. 

In 2021, within the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Japanese brand Comme Des Garçons brought the floral motif and embroidery to its men’s collection, debuting in Paris. Rei Kawakubo, the brand’s designer, stated: 

Dress and pelerine (front) Dress and pelerine, Designer unknown, 1983, From the collection of: The Ema Klabin House Museum
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Dress and pelerine (detail) Dress and pelerine, Designer unknown, 1983, From the collection of: The Ema Klabin House Museum
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Flowers are not there only for happy times. They exist also for tough, sorrowful and painful times. Even a tiny roadside flower can heal our shredded heart. 

Credits: Story

See the Timeline of the exposition

More information on The Ema Klabin House Museum site.

ProAC
realization
Casa Museu Ema Klabin
sponshorship
Klabin
support
Texprima e Texprima LOF
Secretaria de Cultura e Economia Criativa - Governo do Estado de São Paulo

overall coordination

Paulo de Freitas Costa
curation and research
Brunno Almeida Maia
curation and research assistant
Theo Monteiro
photographic record of the pieces
Isabella Matheus e Luciana Cury
restoration
Julio Moraes Conservação e Restauro
manikin
Manequins Moulage
text revision
Ana Martini
translation
Henrik Carbonnier 


thanks
Casa Museu Eva Klabin
Dior Heritage
Guilherme Liggeri
Luisa Curvello 
Gabriela Pessoa
Getty Images
José Gayegos
L´Officiel Brasil
Ricardo Kowarick
Manon Salles
Monayna Pinheiro
Museu de Arte de São Paulo – MASP
Hanayrá Negreiros
Priscila Monteiro
Société René Gruau
Gregory Klein
Vogue Brasil 
Marcia Caetano

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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