Paris to Providence: French Couture and the Tirocchi Shop


Artists in other forms also embraced abstraction in the early years of the twentieth century. Composers such as Frenchman Erik Satie, who wrote music without bar lines or key signatures, and German Arnold Schoenberg, who replaced the traditional octave by a twelve-tone scale, were in open revolt against nineteenth-century romanticism. Guillaume Apollinaire was composing poetry with nontraditional capitalization and punctuation as early as 1910. At the same time, Marcel Proust was writing his great novel cycle À la Recherche du temps perdu (Remembrance of Things Past, published between 1913 and 1927), embracing the revelations of Freudian theory by calling forth his subconscious memories -the only way, he believed -to achieve a true representation of the past. James Joyce, who came to Paris from Ireland in 1920, presented the innermost thoughts of his protagonist through an original stream-of-consciousness style in his novel Ulysses. For Ezra Pound, the American poet, or British poet T. S. Eliot, also living in Paris, modernism was free verse and verse as collage. Painters were poets, poets painters: Francis Picabia, Max Jacob, and Jean Cocteau were among them. Literary magazines encompassing contemporary poetry and illustration arose and disappeared in the years between 1910 and 1930.

Modernist artists in France were collaborating on works in all media, ranging from theatrical and related arts to illustration and textile and fashion design. The Ballets Russes arrived in Paris in 1909, creating a sensation with the choreography of Michel Fokine and brightly colored sets and costumes by Léon Bakst [fig. 97]. The group's founder and impresario, Serge Diaghilev, began to employ modern artists in musical and design collaborations, an idea that would influence dance and theater across the entire twentieth century. Claude Debussy, Paul Dukas, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Erik Satie, Richard Strauss, and Igor Stravinsky all wrote music for him. Jean Cocteau and Hugo von Hoffmansthal wrote librettos, while Natalia Gontcharova, Mikhail Larionov, André Derain, and Pablo Picasso formed an international group of set and costume designers. In 1917, Picasso provided sketches for the costumes and décor to be used in the celebrated Ballet Russes work Parade with music by Erik Satie and concept by Jean Cocteau. These were realized in the ateliers of couturiere Jeanne Paquin. In the 1920s, the Ballet Suédois, resident in Paris, would commission modernist artists to compose music and design sets and costumes for such modernballets as Skating Rink, 1922, with "cubist" costumes by Léger, and Relâche, designed by Francis Picabia in 1924. The Ballets Suédois also employed modern poets, including Paul Claudel, Blaise Cendrars, and the ubiquitous Cocteau. In the new medium of moving pictures, Léger's Ballet méchanique of 1924 had no scenario and consisted of only rhythmic images taken with a prismatic camera (recommended by Ezra Pound) and music by composer Georges Antheil.(3)

The presence of other modernist artistic centers in Berlin, Vienna, Glasgow, and elsewhere guaranteed the movement an international outlook. Anything and everything was possible. French couture benefitted from this explosion of creativity and collaboration, joining the worlds of art and fashion in a way that had never been seen before and would scarcely be seen thereafter. Couturiers Paul Poiret, at the beginning of the period spanned by the Tirocchi shop, and Elsa Schiaparelli, at the end of it, were particular foils for and participants in the artistic community. Jeanne Lanvin, Madeleine Vionnet, Jean Patou, Gabrielle Chanel, and others also undertook collaborations with modern artists at some time in their careers. In France these connections with the art world were taken as a matter of course, and because of them, the forms that French couture took in the early years of the century must be seen against the philosophical and aesthetic background of art in French culture generally.




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