Modernism in Fabric: Art and the Tirocchi Textiles


Fig. 147
Textile of silk and silver threads, overprinted in a cubist pattern
Museum of Art, RISD, gift of Dr. Louis J. Cella, Jr.

Susan Hay
Curator of Costume and Textiles
Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design

If the Tirocchi clients coveted and collected the highest quality French fashion, they also demanded the best in textiles. Whether a dress was custom-made, created from a "robe," or purchased ready-to-wear, the finest French fabrics were favored for its construction [fig. 147].

French couture held the allure of Paris and all the status that implied, but French silks were valued because of their long-standing reputation for quality and good design. The Tirocchi sisters knew this from their earlier employment in Italy, where French textiles were widely used. From skirt panels of silk net hand-beaded in French workshops in the 1910s to the sumptuous silk and rayon crepes of the 1930s, each textile from A. &L. Tirocchi now preserved in the RISD Museum bespeaks the luxury that radiated from 514 Broadway and endeared the shop to its clientele.

This was not an accident. As fashion became more simplified, as the transition to ready-made garments proceeded, and as it became possible for nearly everybody to wear up-to-date clothing, the quality of a dressmaker's textiles served more and more to maintain social distinctions that were disappearing with regard to the design of clothing itself. Anna Tirocchi, chief creative spirit in the shop and well aware of this fact, purchased the most luxurious and beautifully designed fabrics she could find from the font of all fashion: France. Whether handwoven on the drawlooms of Lyon, or, with increasing frequency in the 1920s, produced on Jacquard looms, the Tirocchi fabrics were the best that France had to offer. Since the late nineteenth century, professional artists had become increasingly interested in designing both apparel and textiles, collaborating with the couturiers of Paris and the skilled weavers of Lyon, who had long been protected by the French government and promoted worldwide for their training and talent.

The selection of fabrics packed away in the A. &L. Tirocchi shop reflects Anna Tirocchi's expert eye for beauty. As with the French couture she sold, the fabrics she chose radiated the excitement of the art world in the early years of the twentieth century, when artists and designers from all over Europe converged on Paris. Painters, printmakers, illustrators, and designers of decorative arts, jewelry, couture, textiles, and theater scenery and costume were often working in all of these areas at once. Also collaborating with literary figures, musicians, composers, dancers, and theatrical entrepreneurs, these artists gave to French design the tremendous burst of creativity and inventive renewal that came to all the arts with the advent of modernism in the early years of the twentieth century.



printer version
(will open in
new window)


< back


continue >