INTRODUCTION - A. & L. Tirocchi: A Timecapsule Discovered


Paris had another aspect: a slightly sinister, even shocking cast, with its demimondaines luxuriously dressed by Worth, Jacques Doucet, Paul Poiret, and Jeanne Paquin. Actresses like Sarah Bernhardt and Rejane were veritable advertisements for the fashions created by these designers, and through photographs, Americans followed their visits, along with those of the titled and wealthy, to the races at Longchamps or to the Paris Opera.

The cultural sophistication and piquant worldliness of Paris in the early part of the century appealed to the American woman in a way that New York or London could not. Ordering and wearing a dress from Paris meant that a woman could have as her own a small bit of the unique life of the world's most distinguished elite in the world's most exciting city. In America, Paris fashion ensured that others would recognize a woman's status as a cultivated and wealthy person, perhaps able to travel to Paris, but certainly able to afford the best that her own locale had to offer. For the Tirocchi clientele - active and intelligent wives and daughters of wealthy industrialists in a thriving city of long history and old money - nothing short of Paris couture would do.

In many ways, the fantasy of Paris was true. Paris was modern. It was a time of cultural ferment in Europe and particularly in Paris, which was giving birth to recognizably twentieth-century visual and performing arts and literature. The world of fashion and textiles was closely connected with these developments. As the French recognized, "The decorative and industrial arts are, like all the forms of art, an expression of life: they evolve from era to era with the needs, moral or material, to which they must respond."(10)

Paris fashion was artistic. The designers and couturiers of the early years of the twentieth century were part of the art world. They moved in "artistic circles."Even though they did not socialize with their elite clients, who regarded them as mere dressmakers, they shared their clients' tastes for theater and gallery, lavish entertaining, and elegant display. They sent models, dressed in their very latest creations, to Longchamps and the Bois de Boulogne, where they could be sure that the elite would see them. They knew well, traveled, and socialized with artists of every stripe, from fauvist painters to avant-garde writers. They collected art and collaborated with artists in theater and interior-design projects. They belonged to the same organizations. Interconnections between painters, decorative artists, and couturiers were so common as to be institutionalized: for example, in the Societe des Artistes Decorateurs, which promoted French design and broached the idea for the famous Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes of 1925, the source for the term "Art Deco."

The clothing and textiles found in the Tirocchi shop point directly to these connections. In this book's fifth and sixth chapters, Susan Hay discusses how the developing aesthetic of modernism may be followed in the progression of fashion design. Heavily corseted s-curved dresses that show an art-nouveau interpretation of the female silhouette at the beginning of the century had given way to the first simplified, uncorseted, tubular silhouettes before the Tirocchi shop opened on Broadway. The shop contained many of the newly fashionable chemises, which dominated in the 1920s, to be followed by the streamlined, body-hugging dresses of the 1930s. The luxurious textiles used by the Tirocchis also reflected the adoption of an international modernist aesthetic influenced by cubism, the German and Austrian werkbund movements, the "moderne" style, and its 1930s outgrowth, "machine-age"design, a cultural progression that was appearing worldwide, but especially in Paris.




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