Explore the rich collection of 20th century fashion highlights at the Kunstgewerbemuseum Berlin
Lilac Walking Dress
Karlsbad, ca. 1900
This elegant strolling dress impresses with the tone in tone appliqué of shimmering silk taffeta in an Art Nouveau-inspired pattern of winding acanthus. The waist-length jacket has a fashionable S curve with extended breast section, which simultaneously pushed the buttocks back.
Les Robes de Paul Poiret
Paul Iribe, 1908
Feminists, physicians and artists strove to reform the unnatural style of the S-shaped sans ventre silhouette, but it was Parisian fashion designer Paul Poiret (1879-1944) who achieved the breakthrough. He forwent the corset by combining and proposing the high waist of the Empire with the loose shapes of Japanese garb.
Evening Gown with Tango Train
Paris/London, ca. 1912
This dress, with elevated waist and an asymmetrically formed skirt, is typical of the tango style popular in 1912.
Tailor and draper John Redfern (1820-1895) became established on the Isle of White in the 1850 , opened establishments in London and Paris in 1881, and later more in New York and Chicago. In 1888 he became a court supplier to Queen Victoria.
"Boissy" Evening Gown
Paris, spring/summer 1912
This model, which combines pre World War I luxury and sophistication, is typical of Jeanne Paquin’s (1869-1936) style in its indulgence in tastefully coordinated pastel tones. The skirt, converging conically downward, reflects the high waist with siren line that was popular around 1912.
Formal Gown with Rose Trim
Paris, autumn/winter 1922/23, model: 1264
This new social standing gave rise to a stylistic reorientation: Skirt hems slid upward, dresses became plain and straight. This youthful, slim line negated the chest and waist while accenting the legs. Brassieres, union suits and skin-coloured silk stockings completed the new, athletic appearance. Bobs and clinging cloches became commonplace.
The February 1922 edition of the French Vogue reported that: “Vionnet triggered a revolution two years ago … she has proposed clothes to us that not only have no lining, but are closed and that you pull at will over your head …”.
Dress with Chevron Motif
Gabrielle “Coco" Chanel
The designs by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel (1883-1971) were the epitome of this “New Objectivity”-conforming fashion. She successfully borrowed from men’s clothing, manufactured jersey materials and, in 1926, created a type of garment that has yet to lose its fascination and appeal: the “little black dress”.
In October 1926 American Vogue reported that: “Chanel has her fingers on the pulse of the time. She has a knack for creating simple, yet extraordinary garments … that express the style of the moment”.
“Sorrente“ Dance Gown
Paris, ca. 1927/28
This dress of delicate silk is covered with loosely fluttering, pointed oval leaves that progress in size and eventually form the scalloped dress hem.
Jeanne Lanvin (1867-1946) had worked as a milliner since 1890 and founded her couture house in 1910. She created ingeniously designed dresses with virtuoso technology.
A strong blue with a light mauve tint was among the favourite colours of Jeanne Lanvin. She had discovered the colour in the work of early Renaissance painter Fra Angelico and thereafter used it again and again in different nuances and colour combinations. Here it receives special radiance as a result of the lustre of the sequins.
Buckled Gold Lamé Pumps
Switzerland, ca. 1925
Clasp shoes were ideal for the wild dances, such as the Shimmy and the Charleston, that were popular in the 1920s. Instep edge and instep clasp of these elegant evening shoes are both offset with smooth gold coloured leather. A highly rectangular rhinestone buckle forms the closure.
Champagne Coloured Evening Gown
Attributed to Jacques Heim
Paris, ca. 1935
Jaques Heim (1899-1967) knew the possibilities of the bias cut and used it here to create a sophisticated play with the blunt bodice and matte reverse of champagne coloured crepe marocain.
Born in Paris, Jacques Heim took over the fashion house of his parents in 1925 and continued it successfully with his innovative ideas. He specialised in contrasting textures.
Gold Lamé Evening Gown
Attributed to Elsa Schiaparelli
Paris, ca. 1933
Italian native Elsa Schiaparelli (1890-1973) began her career as a fashion designer with cubist sweater patterns. In contrast to her rival Coco Chanel Schiaparelli wanted her models to cause a stir.
She was friendly with artists such as Salvador Dalí, whose surrealism influenced her work strongly. In 1933, Schiaparelli presented models with pagoda sleeves, which anticipated the wide shoulder of the 1940s.
Paris, ca. 1942
This afternoon dress reflects the typical shorter, fabric-saving silhouette of the 1940s. The masculine, wide shoulder is balanced by feminine draping and ruffles.
This piece illustrates the romantic-dramatic style cultivated by Robert Piguet (1901-1953). Born in Switzerland, he founded his Paris fashion house in 1933 after training as a bank clerk.
Gilbert Adrian Greenburgh (1903-1959) was chief designer for Metro Goldwyn Mayer from 1929 to 1941. The broad-shouldered silhouette he developed in 1932 for Joan Crawford in the film “Letty Lynton”, which would influence fashion up until the end of World War II, was particularly significant.
In 1941, he founded his own Couture house, “Adrian Ltd,” with ready-to-wear line in Beverly Hills. Although he now concentrated on models for working women, he knew how to lend an elegant glamour to strict cuts, as displayed by this piece.
The tailored jacket is high-necked and has a small, rounded turndown collar. A band of natural coloured wool, a simple yet striking military-like accent runs diagonally from the left shoulder to the right side, ending at waist level in the back. The band is adorned with three groups of five brass buttons.
Paris, ca. 1945
Hygiene considerations initiated by World War II prompted women across Europe to protect their hairstyles with headscarves decoratively into turbans. This was taken up here by Paris milliner Davis and fashioned into a durable model of brown felt.
Berlin fashion designer Gerd Hartung reported that it was common, particularly among fashionable women, to tie an empty tin can beneath as additional support for taller decorative turbans.
Dressed in the “New Look”
Elli Kowalski, 1951
This style, aptly deemed the “New Look” by the American press, shaped women’s fashion for a good ten years. Along with Christian Dior, Cristóbal Balenciaga (1895-1972), Pierre Balmain (1914-1982) and Hubert de Givenchy (1927), followed by Coco Chanel (1883-1971) were the leading couturiers that helped Parisian haute couture once again attain international relevance.
The one-piece coat dress, with narrow waist, exaggerated hips and wide swinging skirt, illustrates the line launched by Christian Dior in 1947 and now called the “New Look”. It revolutionized post-war fashion and, after years of a masculine-influenced clothing, initiated a return to femininity, luxury and opulence.
Two-piece Evening Dress
Paris, ca. 1950
This dramatic evening gown combines a waist-length bustier with a long form-fitting skirt that opens wide at the knee.
Jean Dessès (1904-1970), born in Alexandria, opened his own couture house in Paris in 1937 and during the 50s he was a much sought-after designer among royal European families.
Gérard Pipart for Jacques Fath
Paris, spring/summer 1955
The dress was presented in the 1955 summer collection, the first to appear after Jaques Fath’s (1912-1954) death.
This piece comes from the possession of singer, Lily Pons, who was one of the most prominent members of the Metropolitan Opera of New York from 1931-1961.
The severely tailored bodice reaches down to the hip, where the ingeniously designed skirt begins. Here the length of fabric is transversely processed, beginning in the rear centre and is guided once loosely around the body. The plethora is thereafter gradually gathered and conceals the skirt neck with a twisted sculptural ribbon.
Silk Taffeta Ball Gown
In March 1955 l’Officiel described the new, slightly shorter, Balenciaga evening gowns thus: “The new length of evening gowns is unexpected. A length that gracefully flatters the silhouette and brings out the ankles”. Cristóbal Balenciaga drew inspiration from historical models and here offers a modern interpretation of the late 19th century bustle.
The gown comes from the possession of Elisabeth Firestone (1897-1990). She was voted bestdressed woman of the year several times and counted amongst the long-standing customers of the house of Balenciaga.
Two-piece “New York” Cocktail Dress
Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior
Paris, spring/summer 1958
After the sudden death of Christian Dior in 1957, his assistant Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) took over as artistic director of the legendary fashion house. He achieved critical success with his first collection. Following the tradition of the house he called it the “trapezoid line” in keeping with its silhouette.
This two-piece cocktail dress illustrates this loose line that does away with the waist and combines a simple, square top with a flared skirt.
Olivia de Havilland in the Dior summer ensemble laying flowers at the grave of Margaret Mitchell
This dress was formerly in the possession of the US-American actress Olivia de Havilland (1916), who celebrated one of her greatest successes in 1939 with the film Gone with the Wind, which was based on a novel by Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949).
”Artemise” Dress for a Short Evening Ensemble
Yves Saint Laurent for Christian Dior
Paris, fall/winter 1959
In a 1959 issue of the New York Herald Tribune American fashion journalist Eugenia Sheppard simply summed up the 1960 fall/winter line by Dior thus: “Hobble skirts are revived by Dior”. To do so Yves Saint Laurent combined a simple corsage bodice with a sculptural, tulip-shaped skirt, as seen in this model.
Collection Overview of Models by André Courrèges
Trude Rein, 1965
In the face of this new set of needs young designers came to Paris and established the first prêt-à-porter, or ready-to-wear, lines. André Courrèges (1923-2016), Pierre Cardin (1922), Paco Rabanne (1934) and Emanuel Ungaro (1933) belonged to the 1960s avant-garde and in 1967 Yves Saint Laurent achieved worldwide acclaim after opening his rive gauche boutique. At the same time, fashion centres were being founded in Milan and New York.
Blue Suit with Blouse
Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel
Paris, ca. 1965
In 1954 Coco Chanel, then 71 years old, re-opened her fashion house, which had been closed since 1939. Although Europeans estimated the first collection as “old-fashioned”, the American fashion press reacted positively.
The suits introduced by Chanel became a particular success. This informal elegant style, which stood in stark contrast to the rigid corset-stiffened creations of other French fashion designers, helped Coco Chanel make her comeback a success.
Evening Gown with Abstract Pattern
Michel Goma for Jean Patou
Paris, ca. 1965
This full-length princess cut evening gown impresses with its clear contour that emphasises the graphic print.
The company founded by Jean Patou (1880-1936) in 1919 was continued after his death by members of his family and with the help of fashion designers including Marc Bohan (1954-1958), Karl Lagerfeld (1958-1963) and Michel Goma (1964-1972).
”Rib Cage” Cocktail Dress
Paris, ca. 1969
Pierre Cardin (1922) has characterised his designs thus: “Haute Couture is a creative laboratory where forms and volumes can be studied. The immensity of the universe and microscopy of the cell, computers and geometry: these are the sources of my inspiration. The garments I prefer are those I create for tomorrow’s world”.
Cardin, Andrè Courrèges (1923-2016), Paco Rabanne (1934) and Emanuel Ungaro (1933) belonged to the 1960s avant-garde.
Acrylic “Glass” Hat
London, ca. 1968
During the 1960s the hat became an increasingly less important aspect of headwear. This model, with its unusual material, recalls the futuristic trends of that time and offers an amazing contrast to the basic classic form of the high semi-circular crown with wide brim.
Evening Pant Suit
Italy, ca. 1970
Elegant and at the same time youthful, this evening pantsuit combines a smooth decoratively trimmed knee-length tunic with embroidered trousers.
Giovanna Ferragamo (1943), second daughter of the Italian shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo (1898-1960), presented her first Prêt-à-porter collection in 1967 at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence.
Two-piece Evening Gown
Paris, post 1973
Madame Grès (1899-1993), the “Sculptress of fashion designers”, was famous for her skilfully draped clothing. Since the 1930s founding of "Alix", her first company, each new collection presented new variations of her draped pieces. She presented the bare midriff for the first time in 1973 in the form of pleated dresses with separate tops.
Paris, spring/summer 1974
Paco Rabanne, born in Spain in 1934, studied architecture in Paris and initially designed accessories for Balenciaga, Givenchy and Dior. In 1967 he founded his own haute couture house.
This waisted jumpsuit with cropped legs is an example of Rabanne’s approach, and documents his renunciation from conventional materials.
The hot pants are entirely made of equal sized, silver coloured aluminium disks and synthetic red and black disks arranged horizontally.
The so-called hot pants, which became fashionable in 1971/72, were controversial because—like the miniskirts—a flawless figure was the single key to an aesthetic appearance.
Cocktail Dress with Asymmetrical Trim
Yves Saint Laurent
Paris, spring/summer 1988
Yves Saint Laurent (1936-2008) founded his maison de couture in 1962 and, along with Coco Chanel and Christian Dior, is considered to be the most important fashion designer of the second half of the 20th century. Many of his inventions have written fashion history. He dedicated his 1988 summer collection, with brilliantly embroidered pieces, to artists George Braque and Vincent van Gogh.
Dolce & Gabbana
Italy, ca. 1990
This festive, high-heeled sandal plays with the duality of the delicate straps that form the upper shoe and the compact platform sole that merges into a strongly, yet thin inwardly shifted wedge heel. Heel and heel cap are embroidered with stylized branches.
Evening Gown with Safety Pins
Italy, spring/summer 1994
With this form-fitting dress in column cut Gianni Versace (1946-1997) has combined the classical form with the most modern of materials and quoted punk fashion. The use of heavy, double rayon fabric, a cloqué in creased crinkle look, testifies to his great refinement and expertise in material finishing.
The side seams are moved to the front and held together, as is the navel deep neckline, by thirteen oversized gold and silver coloured safety pins which are embellished with Medusa heads, the logo of the house.
Actress Liz Hurley caused an international sensation in 1994 in another model from this collection at the premiere of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.
”Stir My Blood” High-heeled Sandal
This high-heeled sandal with tapered closed toe has a raised heel cap that ends in a loop at the back of the leg. The platform sole, bevelled at the toe, and the high inward-set curve of the heel lend the shoe a sculptural appearance.
Dutch shoe designer Jan Jansen (1941) produced the “Stir my blood” model several years and in various materials.
Text: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz / Christine Waidenschlager in: Fashion Art Works, Michael Imhof Verlag, Petersberg 2014
Concept / Editing / Realisation: Merle Walter
Translation: allround Fremdsprachen GmbH von der Lühe, Berlin
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz www.smb.museum