1912 - 1914

Costumes Parisiens

Chester Beatty Library

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.

Journal des Dames et des Modes
In June 1912, Italian writer Tom Antongini (1877-1967) published the first edition of his Parisian fashion magazine, the Journal des Dames et des Modes. It represented the continuation of a celebrated journal of the same name (1797-1839). The periodical was issued three times a month until it ceased production in August 1914 with the outbreak of World War I. Each magazine included high-quality fashion plates designed by the best known illustrators of the day. 

The Journal gave its artists free reign to create illustrations inspired by contemporary styles. They produced prints with a combination of copperplate engraving and pochoir (stencil), a medium that particularly suited the simple lines and vibrant colours of current fashions.

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.

Also in 1912, Chester Beatty purchased Baroda House, in Kensington Palace Gardens, and moved to London with his children and future wife, Edith Dunn.  Chester and Edith shared a love of art and historical manuscripts and she encouraged his evolving collecting practices. A great connoisseur in her own right, she acquired one of the finest collections of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in Europe. It is likely that the fashion-conscious Edith prompted him to acquire this and other fashion periodicals. The inclusion of fashion plates in the Library's collections is a testament to the diversity of Chester Beatty’s artistic interests.

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.

These 20th century plates included short descriptions beneath each print.

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.

These humorous plates illustrated the polarity between the trendy fashions of the youth...

..and the more traditional and conservative attire of the older generation.

Illustrators' impressions
 The fashion illustrators of the early 20th century knew how to capture the slender silhouette and vibrant colours of contemporary designs. They had grown up under the influence of Art Nouveau and, inspired by the arrival in Paris of the Ballet Russes in 1909 and the Cubist exhibition at the Salon d’Independants in 1911, they helped to develop the decorative language that would become Art Deco.  Artists like Charles Martin, George Barbier and Bernard Boutet de Monvel – who Vogue (1914) christened the Beau Brummels of the Brush – were ‘young men of birth and Beaux Arts training’ who made fashion the art of the day. Inspired by contemporary clothing and a modern aesthetic, they created art from fashion and fashion that was art. Many of these artists produced clothing designs for notable couturiers as well as theatrical costumes and sets. They also applied their talents to related fields like millinery, textiles, jewellery and advertising. The fashion illustrations they produced for the Journal reflect the opulence and extravagance of fashions at the height of the Belle Époque (a period which ended with the outbreak of World War I).  

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.

The 'modern woman'

At the beginning of the 20th century, a new type of woman shocked those with conventional tastes. These women went to the beach, played sports, drove cars, and took trips. They were independent, self-confident, and wore modern fashions with panache.

Barbier was drawn to this new breed of women, and his illustrations act as a record of their lifestyle.

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.

After WWI, Lhuer opened a workshop on Boulevard Raspail where he designed patterns for fabrics inspired by folk costume and wrote several books on regional dress.

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.

Rather than simple backgrounds, his illustrations often included settings appropriate to the type of dress represented and many of his plates depict multiple figures in conversation.

Drian (1885-1961)

Adrian Désiré Etienne took the pseudonym Drian while studying at the Académie Julian, Paris. In 1912, he began collaborating with French fashion designer Paul Poiret and worked with him to promote fashions throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Described in 1913 as ‘…immensely popular in Paris just now, it is easy to understand why, with the artist’s easy debonair line work and invariable pretty girls as subject matter.’

Drian's superb draftsmanship and fluid style give his figures an easily recognisable elegance.

Bernard Boutet de Monvel (1881-1949)

Coming from a family of artists and writers it is no surprise that in 1912 the Art Institute of Chicago dedicated a retrospective to Boutet de Monvel’s colour etchings. In addition, he designed menswear for Poiret and his illustrations reflect this expertise.

Gerda Wegener (1885-1950)

Danish artist, Gerda Wegener, studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen, before moving to Paris with her husband in 1912. They were thrilled to discover that they rented the same rooms in which Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) had spent his last days.

Wegener was a highly sought-after portrait painter and a prolific fashion illustrator.

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.

Franc-Nohain also produced Le Journal de Bébé (1914), a scrapbook and diary for recording a baby’s first year. It is therefore unsurprising that most of her fashion illustrations depict intimate familial scenes.

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.

Working for French and American publications, Martin was a key arbiter of sophisticated contemporary style in the years surrounding WWI.

Early 20th century fashion
Rich and exotic opulence characterised early 20th century fashion. Shunning the Edwardian corset, couturiers shifted the focus from tailoring to draping. They drew inspiration from a revivalist interpretation of ‘classicism’ with low necklines, empire waists and columnar skirts, and from Orientalism with European adaptations of harem pants, turbans and kimonos. During this period, wealthy women changed their clothing three or four times a day, depending on the season, activity or event. Not only did each mealtime carry its own dress code, but cut and cloth were also dependent on the time of day or occasion. Medium and heavy weight fabrics, such as wool (laine), velvet (velour) and serge, were used for tailored suits and sportswear, while lightweight, sheer fabrics – silk (soie), cashmere (cachemire) and muslin (mousseline) – were more popular for evening gowns. 

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.

Designers like Paul Poiret and Jeanne Lanvin were known for combining vivid colours with enigmatic silhouettes, such as the iconic ‘lampshade’ tunic and ‘hobble’ skirt (plate 181).

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.

The contemporary garments illustrated here are embellished with fox and ermine as well as otter (loutre), possum (opossum), swan (cygnet), and polecat (putois).

Demi Deuil

Black as the colour of mourning dress reached its peak during the reign of Queen Victoria, who wore black from the time of Prince Albert’s death in 1861 until her own death in 1901.

The demi deuil, or half-mourning dress, was worn during an interim period following ‘full mourning’ and before a return to normalcy. At this point a small amount of grey, white or lavender could be introduced to the outfit.

Chinoiserie and Japonisme

The French taste for Chinoiserie was expressed in the production of ornamental objects decorated with fanciful Chinese motifs, as well as a love of folding screens, lacquer cabinets, and porcelain and jade curios (plate 32).

In the fashion industry Chinese decorative themes often translated into textile patterns.

The opening of trade with Japan in 1854 had a substantial effect on the arts, and Japonisme filtered into French fashion as well.

Designers began producing the so-called kimono coat (plate 112) in c.1903.

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.

He not only broke with established conventions of dressmaking but he was the first couturier to align fashion with interior design and promote the concept of a ‘total lifestyle’. In addition to his fashion house, he established a perfume, cosmetics, and later a decorative arts company.

Bakst-Paquin Combination

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).

Shortly after the collection was launched, Vogue (New York) noted that the artist’s entry into fashion design was inevitable, with his ‘wonderful eye for color and for line and his sense of picturesqueness’.

While most of the fashion prints are accompanied by descriptions, some detail the appropriate occasions for the outfit in question – afternoon (toilette d’après-midi), travel (costume d’excursion), dinner (robe pour diner), walking (robes de promenade), or visiting (toilettes de visite).  

House Dress (Robe d’Intérieur)

Clothing worn in the morning and at home was generally more comfortable and less formal than other apparel, but it was no less fashionable.

Women of a certain class spent the morning in the dressing gown (deshabillé) or house dress (robe d’intérieur), which could take various forms depending on the activities of the day. It was only worn around members of the family and household.

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.

Dress for the races (Robe pour les courses)

The Journal noted in May 1913 that: ‘More and more our Parisian racecourses are branches of the showrooms of our great artists of dressmaking.’

The races not only provided leading couturiers with the opportunity to show their designs, they were also a favourite outing in which to display a lady’s dernier cri (‘the last word’) in fashion

Bathing costumes (Costume de bain)

By 1910, bathing costumes no longer camouflaged the contours of the female figure. The Victorian bathing skirts and bloomers were reduced to show off more and more skin.

By the second decade of the 20th century, women athletes started to become involved in competitive swimming and the need for less cumbersome swimwear and lighter fabrics led to an evolution in women’s beachwear.

Sportswear (Une Amazone)

In addition to the particularly upper-class pursuits of hunting (chasse) – most notably the fox hunt – and riding, a number of other activities became popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including tennis, golf, ice-skating and cycling.

The increasing popularity of sport stimulated a rapid development in more comfortable and flexible clothing for women such as the tailor-made suit.

Evening gowns (Habit de soirée)

The most elaborate and expensive items of clothing in a lady’s wardrobe were most likely her evening gowns. These were made of delicate, sheer fabrics and enhanced with beads, lace and other trimmings.

Fabrics included charmeuse, chiffon, tulle, crepes, and lightweight versions of satin, brocade (brocart) and velvet (velour).

While the length of the skirt remained ankle-length, often with a short train, the neckline was much lower and more revealing than in ladies’ daywear.

Evening Coat (Grand Manteau)

The French taste for Orientalism was typified in the kimono-inspired evening coat. The coat was constructed from rectangles, often from a single piece of fabric, which created the draped and wrapped design.

These coats were wide through the shoulders and narrower at the hem, leading to their designations as ‘cocoon’ coats.

They were made of the finest velvets and furs to ensure the warmth of the wearer in the cold Parisian winters.

Irish crochet

While some plates illustrated menswear, children’s clothing and accessories, the majority of the Journal’s fashion plates depicted women. The evening coat in plate 17, by Spanish artist Javier Gosé, is of particular interest because it is trimmed with Irish crochet.

The Irish lace industry enjoyed a revival in the late 19th century, with designs reflecting contemporary art movements. Leaders in the Irish lace revival encouraged crochet, which was particular to Ireland, over point lace, which had to compete with Belgian and French lace.

Fancy Dress (Arlequine)

Fancy dress balls were so popular that costumes cost as much as couture. The royal fashions of Louis XV and XVI were particularly popular for masked balls. Manon, an opera comique, was a quintessential example of the charm and vitality of the Parisian belle époque.

Other popular costumes included the harlequin (arlequine) (plate 152), the incroyable, a dandy of the French Directorate, and the cantinière, a female auxiliary of the French army.

Hats (Chapeaux)

No lady’s outfit was complete without her accessories: hats (chapeaux), gloves (gants) and bags (sacs); muffs (manchons), coats (manteaux) and stoles (étoles); and the finest jewellery (bijoux) money could buy.

The hats illustrated in the Journal were designed by the foremost Parisian milliners, Mme Marcelle Demay and Mme Arlette Carus. Each hat was made for a specific season or particular occasion and these prints are examples of the crossover between art and advertisement.

A passion for plumage

By the end of the 19th century, there was an ever increasing demand for plumes to decorate women’s millinery. Birds of paradise were desirable due to the beauty and the luxuriant texture of their mating plumes.

Between 1905 and 1920 some 30,000-80,000 birds of paradise skins were exported annually to London, Paris and New York. During the ‘plume boom’ many species of birds were almost wiped out, which led the first Audubon societies to call for a ban on the plumage trade.

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
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