French Fashion Plates from 1912-1914 at the Chester Beatty Library
One hundred years after the publication of the fashion magazine Journal des Dames et des Modes (1912-1914), the Chester Beatty Library exhibited over 100 of the Journal’s unique fashion illustrations, known as Costumes Parisiens.
This virtual exhibition provides a brief introduction to the Journal, the artists and designers represented, and the fashion and clothing of the period, through a stunning collection of vividly illustrated fashion plates.
No less than 186 prints were created over the course of the magazine’s two-year history. As haute couture became an increasingly important part of the French fashion industry, fashion plates became miniature masterpieces advertising the latest creations designed or inspired by the best Parisian couturiers. For a short time at the end of the Belle Époque, the Journal was one of the arbiters of Parisian culture.
Parisian fashions (Costumes Parisiens)
The illustrations produced for the Journal des Dames were created in the tradition of 19th century fashion plates. The earlier prints were designed as a way for middle and upper class women to recreate the latest Parisian trends, and as such often included detailed information about the colours and fabrics of each dress.
The Madness of the Day (La Folie du Jour)
In addition to the regular fashion plates, the first issue of each New Year included a special plate. Le Choix Difficile (A Difficult Choice) by Charles Martin (1913) and La Folie du Jour by George Barbier (1914) were dedicated to the Journal’s subscribers, collaborators and friends.
George Barbier (1882-1932)
Barbier was one of the most prolific and sought after artists of his generation. Not only did he contribute countless illustrations to the most influential fashion magazines of the time, he also produced jewellery, glass, and wallpaper designs, as well as the iconic Cartier panther. His theatrical designs for Rudolph Valentino’s film Monsieur Beaucaire (1924) and the Josephine Baker revue Paris Shakes held at the Casino de Paris (1931) were admired for their imaginative evocation of a particular time and place.
Barbier and East Asia
The 18th century fascination for Chinoiserie in Europe was followed by Japonisme in the 19th century. Barbier, a collector of Japanese ukiyo-e prints, transformed the layouts and themes for use in his fashion illustrations. Their influence can be seen in the flat, oblique angles of the simplified landscapes, floral ornament, and in the clothing. The hat in plate 116 is clearly derived from the Chinese li, a wide-brimmed hat traditionally made of bamboo.
Barbier and India
European artists and authors were obsessed by India and its many exotic and erotic treasures. Barbier’s love of all things Indian permeated both his writing and his art. Exotic plants act as backdrop to the fashions influenced by Indian clothing, like European versions of turbans and pantaloons. The silk skirt depicted in plate 69 is embroidered with a pattern in the style of the French East India Company.
Victor Lhuer (d.1952)
Lhuer specialised in costume and haute couture at the Ecole des Arts Decoratifs. After graduating he started work as an illustrator and designer for couturier Paul Poiret and later became the furrier to the Queen of England. His fashion illustrations were published in a number of French magazines.
Armand Vallée (1884-1960)
Vallée contributed illustrations to many of the leading Parisian papers and magazines of the early 20th century, particularly specialising in risqué scenes for satirical journals. His work also included graphic design for posters, stage sets for theatre, and book illustrations.
Marie-Madeleine Franc-Nohain (1879-1942)
Franc-Nohain’s delicate graphic work is mainly oriented toward children. She wrote and illustrated numerous children’s books throughout her career, such as Histoires enfantines (1931) and Alphabet en images (1933). These books alternated colour and black and white prints, with the intention that the latter could be coloured in by children.
Charles Martin (1848-1934)
For a twenty year period Martin was among a group of artists from the Ecole des Beaux Arts nicknamed ‘The Knights of the Bracelet’ (Vogue, 1922), a tribute to their ‘dandyism… and love of luxury.’ Martin’s fashion and interior design illustrations were widely reproduced, noted for their characteristic charm, fantasy, humour and irony.
Print and embroidery (imprimé et brodé)
Daywear was often made from solid or small-patterned fabrics; white, black, grey and brown were the most popular colours. Embroidery (brodée), brocading (brocart), and beading were common in both day and eveningwear, but evening gowns were often made of brighter, more varied colours and included exotic printed (imprimé) or hand-painted (peint à la main) patterns.
Fashion Furs (fourrures de mode)
Fashion furs were a status symbol; they denoted lineage, class and prosperity. Following Edith Beatty’s move to London in 1913, she sent for her furs to be shipped from New York. These included a broad tail coat with chinchilla collar, a long ermine (hermine) coat, and ermine, chinchilla, fox (renard), and sable muffs.
Designer Paul Poiret
These illustrations are some of the few that mention designers by name. Paul Poiret (1879-1944) was known in Paris as Le Magnifique, and in America as the ‘King of Fashion’ (plate 99). Poiret fantastically, and scandalously, eliminated the corset, creating clothes that followed the natural contours of the body. His ground-breaking designs helped to open the door to talented young designers, like Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel, who would come to dominate post-war fashions.
In 1912, Jeanne Paquin (1869-1936), a leading French fashion designer known for her modern and innovative designs, collaborated with Russian painter and costume designer Leon Bakst (1866-1924). Bakst provided her atelier with concepts for a line of ‘street dresses’ inspired by his Ballet Russes creations (plate 73).
Afternoon dress (Toilette d'après-midi)
Daywear was either the more formal afternoon dress or the tailleur (tailor-made suit) which featured an ankle-length skirt and matching jacket (sometimes worn with a gilet). Influenced by men’s clothing, women started wearing tailored suits in the middle of the 19th century as travel and sportswear. By 1900 they had become an important wardrobe staple.
The Journal des Dames et des Modes ceased production in August 1914 with the outbreak of World War I.
The Costumes Parisiens serve as a stunning and vivid record of Parisian culture and fashion in the last years of the Belle Époque.
The inclusion of fashion plates in the Library's collections is a testament to the diversity of the collecting tastes of the great Chester Beatty.
© Chester Beatty Library