Art and design were more closely tied at the turn of the twentieth
century than they are today. Artists did not see the difference
between creating an original work of art, such as a painting, and
designing a textile pattern that would be reproduced many times
over. Each was a valid creative act in their eyes.
The famed French couturier Paul Poiret moved in artistic circles,
employed Parisian artists, and collected their work. He went to
art galleries and showed his artistic sensibilities by preferring
Impressionist paintings at a time when they were new and unappreciated
by the public at large. Poiret became very interested in modern
art and said, "I have always liked painters. It seems to me
that we are in the same trade and that they are my colleagues."
The Fauvist painter Francis Picabia was his friend, and they shared
a love of bright color with other painters Maurice Vlaminck and
Andre Derain, whom he knew from sailing excursions on the Seine
in Chatou. Among other artists whose work he collected were Picasso,
Matisse, Dufy, Rouault, and Utrillo.
Poiret also loved the theater and throughout his career designed
costumes for the theater that served as a springboard for his couture
designs. He was famous for his parties, elaborate costume dramas
with decorations by modern artists.
Poirets theatrical background explains his great interest
in the Ballet Russes, whose first appearance in Paris in 1909 impressed
Poiret so much. With their colorful designs by Leon Bakst, echoing
Russian peasant art, the costumes and sets expressed for Poiret
not only the exoticism celebrated by painters like Picasso, but
the appeal of spontaneity, a concept at the heart of much modern
art. Immediately he began including "oriental" motifs
in his dress designs.
The fashion press employed fine artists to illustrate the designs
of the day. A new technique in printingpochoirallowed
fashion illustrators to show broad, abstract expanses of bright
color and a simple line. Poiret realized its potential from the
beginning and employed printmaker Paul Iribe to illustrate his radically
simplified gowns. In 1908 Iribe illustrated ten Poiret gowns in
a limited edition titled les Robes de Paul Poiret; racontées
par Paul Iribe.
Poiret was only the best known and best documented of couturiers
with connections to the art world. Many other couturiers in the
first half of the twentieth century were not only collectors,
but also friends of artists. Some collaborated with modern artists
in the design of couture or in other artistic projects, especially
for ballet and the stage.
The interest of artists in fashion was not restricted to France.
From the artists of the Glasgow School in the nineteenth
century, to the Russian Constructivists, Bakst, the Wiener Werkstatte,
many participated in other aspects of art and designincluding
illustration, theater design, decorative arts, and even advertising
art. Couturiers traditionally participated in events that showcased
the decorative arts, taking part in international expositions since
the first appearance of the designer Charles Worth at the Crystal
Palace Exhibition in London in 1851. Poiret belonged to the Société
des Artistes Décorateurs, founded in 1901 for the promotion
and display of modern French art.
Through the first half of the twentieth century, fashion
design tracked and echoed trends in modern art. The developing aesthetic
of modernism can be followed in the progression of fashion design
from the heavily corseted S-curved silhouettes that reflected Art
Nouveau interpretation of the female form early in the century to
the first uncorseted, tubular, simplified silhouette that arrived
before the First World War and continued into the 1920s, to the
streamlined, body-hugging dresses of the 1930s.
Designers in the early years of the century could choose fabrics
with designs from the stylized organic motifs of Art Nouveau or
the flat, abstract designs of the Vienna Secession movementboth
styles having originated in the 1890s. Cubist painters, whose canvases
presented greatly abstracted objects to a shocked world, influenced
fashion silhouettes. Tubular dresses and rounded cloche hats turned
womens bodies into geometric shapes that echoed those found
in modern paintings.
The chemise dresses of the early 20s were a perfect foil for surface
design. Taking advantage of the plain tubular shape as a painters
canvas, each garment could be highly decorated with beading and
ornamentation. Underlying this would be a textile pattern based
on Japanese, Egyptian, Persian, or Viennese design.
In the late 1920s, a new streamlined design aesthetic dubbed Moderne
(now known as Art Deco) combined Cubisms geometric base with
sinuous embellishments. Once again, textile patterns and fashion
design echoed the trend. Shiny fabrics only enhanced the connection
with the "speed" of modern lifeand art.
The dresses, coats, bathing suits, and evening wraps found in the
Tirocchi shop, when placed chronologically, chart for the observer
not only the changing silhouette of fashion, but reflect the fact
that fashion was part of an aesthetic that was part and parcel of
its time. From the chemise and cloche of the 1920s, echoing Cubist
concerns, to the evening dresses of the 1930s, with the body-skimming
silhouettes and reflective surfaces, each garment has a particular
relationship to the art of its time.
The designers of these garmentsand by extension Anna and
Laura Tirocchi and their clientelewere reflecting the developing
aesthetic of the early twentieth century and asking the
question, "What does it mean to be modern?" The Twentieth
Century felt "new" to people. Advances in technology increased
the speed of life and the speed of change. Artists and designers
responded to this new age with their work. The Tirocchis and their
customers watched modern trends with interest, and did their best
to wrap themselves in clothes of a new age.
>> read on about The
Influence of Fashion Magazines