Paris to Providence: French Couture and the Tirocchi Shop
The period between the turn of the twentieth century, when Anna and Laura Tirocchi were being trained as dressmakers in Italy, and the Second World War, which marked the end of their business in Providence, was a time of tremendous artistic ferment. In Paris, the origin of fashion for the Tirocchi sisters and their clientele, modernism was bringing a fresh breath of air to all the arts, including the couture. It seemed that everyone looked to Paris for fashion, for art, for contemporary life. Now, artists in all media were flocking to Paris from around the world, forever changing art, as well as fashion, which converged as never before during these years.
"Paris was where the twentieth century was," wrote American Gertrude Stein about the excitement generated by early modernism in the world of art and ideas. A perspicacious observer and participant in the Paris art scene, Stein came to Paris in 1903. She soon became friendly with Picasso, who arrived from Spain the next year and met Stein in 1905. Other young modernist painters, such as Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, Sonia and Robert Delaunay, Francis Picabia, and Marie Laurençin, as well as poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire, frequented the salon that Stein hosted at her house in the rue de Fleurus on the Seine's left bank. Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse met one another for the first time there.(1) American photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz, Spanish cubist painter Juan Gris, and American writer Carl Van Vechten were frequent visitors in the 1910s, testifying to the inclusiveness and international character of the art world. After the demise of the salon in 1913, Stein befriended the Americans novelist Ernest Hemingway and modernist composer Virgil Thomson, and the Frenchmen sculptor Jacques Lipschitz and poet and designer Jean Cocteau. In the 1940s, she counted among her friends couturier Pierre Balmain.
Gertrude Stein immediately recognized that fashion was an integral part of art and literature and a major factor in the electrifying ambience of Paris. "There is no pulse so sure of the state of a nation as its characteristic art product which has nothing to do with its material life," she wrote. "Fashion is the real thing in abstraction."(2) To her, fashion reflected the revolutionary ideas and excitement of the modernist movement without theorizing or fussing: it just was.
In Gertrude Stein's Paris, early modernism in the art world revolved about the concept of abstraction [fig. 96]. In 1905, Matisse and his fellow artists had shocked critics with their paintings. For their use of bold color in ways unrelated to realism, an unsympathetic critic dubbed them "fauves" ("wild beasts"). By 1911, Braque and Picasso were painting realistic forms abstracted by converting them to geometric components, by using nonlinear perspective, and by portraying them from several viewpoints at once. Cubism's iconoclastic vision and revolt against tradition gave impetus to many other artists, including the Russian Vasili Kandinsky, who, in an analogy to music, painted purely abstract geometric forms with no relation to actual objects. Futurists Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Gino Severini in Italy, Piet Mondrian and other artists of the De Stijl movement in Holland, and the Russian constructivists employed abstraction in many media, including architecture, painting, and printmaking.
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.
When the first couturier, Charles Frederick Worth, arrived in Paris from London in 1846, he found that the couture was already recognized as one of the decorative arts and was represented in the frequently held government-sponsored exhibitions. Worth himself took first place for his white silk court train at the Exposition Universelle of 1855. By 1860, he had become a supplier to the Empress Eugénie, and his fame was growing. In 1867, Bostonian Isabella Stewart Gardner became a Worth client. In her wake came New Yorkers Mrs. J. Pierpont Morgan, Mrs. William Astor, Jr., and novelist Edith Wharton. When Worth retired, his sons took over the business, in their turn contributing to the Exposition Universelle of 1900. The French government, which had been protecting and promoting France's luxury industries since the time of Louis XIV, awarded Gaston Worth membership in the Légion d'honneur and recognized the House of Worth as an "ancien notable commerçant" ("historic notable business").(4) By the turn of the century, French couture was known worldwide, and American women who came to Paris were flocking to the ateliers of Worth, Doucet, and Paquin [fig. 98]. In the 1890s, John Wanamaker of Philadelphia and later New York was the first businessman to import French fashions to sell in his store, then fitting them to the measure of his clients. Marshall Field &Company in Chicago followed suit. Poiret, Schiaparelli, and many other couturiers soon came to be well known to fashionable women everywhere.
Paul Poiret, born in 1879, began his career with a brief stint at the House of Worth. Poiret was a quintessential Parisian who saw himself as a modernist, moved in artistic circles, patronized artists and collected their work, and thought about the issues and controversies of the contemporary art world. Through the publicity apparatus he developed by his employment of artists, his encouragement of the fashion press, and his highly visible and flamboyant lifestyle, he greatly influenced the development of modern dress.
To understand how natural was the connection of the world of fashion to the world of the arts, it is instructive to look at Paul Poiret's upbringing. The household of his father, a textile merchant, was situated in Les Halles, the great market district through which pulsed the lifeblood of Paris. Poiret discussed his childhood in perhaps the most charming section of his autobiography, En Habillant l'époque.(5) As a boy he enjoyed that most Parisian pastime of people-watching in the streets and at cultural events. Paris, with its wide spaces and elegant gardens, the Palais Royale and the Tuileries, seemed like a stage setting for fashionable women, whose elegant toilettes he admired. As an adolescent he haunted the amphitheater of the Comédie Française, where students paid one franc to see the classics, played by the celebrated actresses Réjane and Sarah Bernhardt (both dressed on and off the stage by couturier Jacques Doucet, for whom Poiret would work after his two years with Worth). Poiret attended the Théâtre Gymnase and the Vaudeville, where he was struck by the beauty of the women and their giant leg-of-mutton sleeves. He went to art galleries, attended openings, and showed his incipient avant-garde sensibilities by preferring Impressionist paintings at a time when they were still new and unappreciated by his family, at least.
As a young couturier, he became fascinated by modern art, befriending students of the École des Beaux-Arts and cultivating the company of painters, with whom he had an excellent rapport. "I have always liked painters," he said. "It seems to me that we are in the same trade, and that they are my colleagues."(6) Before his marriage in 1906, he was already friendly with fauvist painters Francis Picabia, Maurice Vlaminck, and André Derain, who shared his love of bright color. In 1910, he met illustrator Jean-Louis Boussingault and painter André Dunoyer de Segonzac, who became his friends and collaborators. After 1910, Poiret began to purchase modern paintings. He was Dunoyer de Segonzac's first patron, and the artist remembered seeing "a Picasso still-life [hanging] next to van Dongen nudes, Matisse paintings [along] with mine," placed on the walls according to Poiret's personal style. His collection, sold in 1925, also included works by Derain, Dufy, Rouault, Utrillo, and Vlaminck. Poiret had a marked effect on the artists whose pieces he collected and with whom he was close. Dunoyer de Segonzac wrote, "As important as his collecting was the active support he lent to artists throughout his lifetime. He related to them at a profound level and he delighted in their company."(7) Ironically, Poiret also patronized Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, who designed a seaside villa - never built -for the couturier during or immediately following the First World War. In later years, as the architect called Le Corbusier, Jeanneret was the foremost exponent in France of an anti-ornamental purist philosophy, which stood in opposition to Poiret's brilliant achievements in the decorative arts.(8)
Poiret's youthful addiction to the theater served as a springboard for his use of dramatic presentation in the promotion of his fashions. From his earliest days as a couturier, he recognized the publicity to be gained by costuming famous actresses in stage productions, as did many other couturiers. Between 1898 and 1900, while still serving his apprenticeship with Doucet, Poiret designed costumes for Réjane in the melodrama Zaza and for Sarah Bernhardt in L'Aiglon, in which she played a young son of Napoleon I. Poiret's costume made the aging diva look like an adolescent, emphasizing her still-slim figure, and was a forerunner of his future embrace of the Empire silhouette. Throughout his career, he used the theater to promote his designs, even during the long decline of his couture house's later years.
A larger-than-life figure with a larger-than-life ego, Poiret's flamboyant lifestyle also attracted publicity and added to his renown. In a city and an era famed for its banquets and parties, his stood out: each "fête" was an elaborate costume drama with decorations by modern artists and an historical theme. He assigned roles to his friends. They were required to play characters of all periods from ancient times to the seventeenth century and to dress the part. "Sets" were provided by his artist friends. His most famous party, in 1911, was entitled "The Thousand and Second Night" and was based upon the classic tales told by Scheherazade in A Thousand and One Nights. Three hundred guests were invited to attend in "ancient Persian" costume. Dufy and Dunoyer de Segonzac painted a huge vellum awning to hang over the buffet table, and Oriental rugs covered the floor. Dufy designed the program. Guests included photographer Edward Steichen, whom Poiret employed to take photographs of his collections; painters Kees Van Dongen and Guy-Pierre Fauconnet; the actor Édouard de Max; and Lucien Vogel, founder of the avant-garde fashion magazine Gazette du Bon Ton, which he was to establish in 1912 and which employed the illustrators Poiret also patronized.(9) Poiret also gave lavish dinner parties that were likely to be attended by Picasso, Apollinaire, and Dufy, as recorded by fellow guest Marie Laurençin.(10)
Other artists had similar backgrounds and took part in similar activities. Isadora Duncan, as a young woman in Paris, provided herself with an education in the cultural world of the capital. Together with her brother, she attended the Louvre, the theater, the Exposition Universelle of 1900 with its Oriental temples and exotic music. Nearly penniless at first, they got to know the city by walking its streets and elegant public spaces. Her career began in earnest when she was asked by Parisian intellectuals to dance at their salons, which she did barefoot wearing only a Greek tunic. Some years later, when she was famous and the mistress of the wealthy Paris Singer, heir to the Singer Sewing Machine fortune, she held her own lavish parties, one of which took place at Versailles. There in the park were marquees with every sort of refreshment from caviar and champagne to tea and cakes. After this prelude, in an open space on which tents had been erected, "the Colonne orchestra...gave us a programme of the works of Richard Wagner...After the concert, a magnificent banquet...lasted until midnight, when the grounds were illuminated, and, to the strains of a Vienna orchestra, every one danced until the small hours."(11) Duncan became one of Poiret's better clients, putting aside her Greek tunics in favor of his high-waisted, slender gowns, which she wore, like her tunics, without a corset. She also employed him to design the interior of her studio in Neuilly in 1908.
Poiret's theatrical background also helps to explain his great interest in the Ballets Russes, whose first appearance in Paris in 1909 impressed him so much. The boldly designed costumes by Bakst, their bright colors echoing Russian peasant art, expressed for him not only the exoticism celebrated by painters such as Picasso, but the appeal of spontaneity, a concept at the heart of much modern art. Immediately Poiret began including Oriental motifs in his dresses, and the turban he created for his wife, Denise, became a classic. For "The Thousand and Second Night" event he created an "Oriental" costume for his wife that included harem trousers topped by his famous "lampshade tunic." Oriental motifs continued to be part of his designs until the end of his career [fig. 99].
Poiret's innate sympathy with artists, his employment of them, and his support of the artistic and fashion press gave couture, and his own designs, a new exposure. The perfecting by illustrators of the pochoir printing technique -in which colors were brushed onto the paper through thin zinc or copper cut-out stencils -was an important boost for the art of fashion illustration, and Poiret was one of the first to realize its possibilities. In 1908, he hired the young printmaker Paul Iribe, whose works in the pochoir technique appealed to the couturier because their simple line and broad, flat, abstract expanses of bright color perfectly captured the Empire dresses he was then making [see fig. 156, p. 181]. Iribe executed ten images of Poiret gowns, which were reproduced by pochoir in an edition of 250 copies, called Les Robes de Paul Poiret, racontées par Paul Iribe (Paris: 1908). It was the first time a couturier had looked to modern art to represent his creations, and it sounded the call for a redefinition of fashion illustration, while making a name for Iribe, who went on to a career in the graphic and decorative arts. In 1911, Poiret again published a brochure of his designs, this time created by another young artist, Georges Lepape, who had been trained in the atelier run by Fernand Cormon, where Toulouse-Lautrec, Van Gogh, Sérusier, Matisse, and Picabia had all studied.(12) Les Choses de Paul Poiret, vues par Georges Lepape appeared in a larger edition: one thousand copies were printed (Paris: 1911). Lepape, too, had absorbed the lessons of bright color taught by the Ballet Russes, and his pochoir prints of Poiret's still high-waisted fashions in this brochure and later in the Gazette du Bon Ton used line drawings with large areas of blues, greens, reds, pinks, and yellows [fig. 100]. Photography was only just becoming a tool of the fashion press. The technology of reproducing a photograph on the same page as text had been perfected in the 1890s, but Poiret exploited it innovatively by hiring Edward Steichen to record his collections.
Poiret was also close to the fashion press as it developed in the early twentieth century. Lucien Vogel, a publisher of art books and a friend of Poiret who had been one of the guests at the "The Thousand and Second Night," was inspired by Poiret's brochures and by other works of young artists to begin a new kind of fashion magazine illustrated by modern artists. As an art publication, it would be totally different from other contemporary fashion publications, such as Vogue, which included literature and articles of interest to women on other subjects such as architecture, society goings-on, and travel. Vogel's Gazette du Bon Ton emphasized fashion and art with fine pochoir illustrations by Jacques and Pierre Brissaud, as well as Lepape and others.
Vogel, like Poiret with his Empire-waisted dresses, was looking back to the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, when such fashion magazines as Galerie des Modes and Journal des Dames were charmingly illustrated. In the first issue of the Gazette du Bon Ton, Henri Bidou summarized the atmosphere in which it appeared: "Today, as at the end of the 18th century, the entire public pays attention to Fashion...Painters collaborate with couturiers. The dressing of women is a pleasure to the eye that is not judged inferior to the other arts."(13) Each number was to have fashion designs by modern artists, in addition to drawings by these artists of fashions designed by couturiers like Poiret, Paquin, Lanvin, and others who agreed to collaborate with the magazine. The Gazette du Bon Ton became a magnet for young illustrators, including Georges Barbier, André Marty, Charles Martin, Lepape, and in later years the Russian Erté. All of these artists produced fashion illustrations, but were variously talented as painters, commercial artists, and stage, furniture, or textile designers: yet another example of the close connections of art and design in the first decades of the century.
Other magazines in the same vein as the Gazette du Bon Ton appeared in 1912. Le Journal des Dames et des Modes, published between 1912 and 1914, used many of the same illustrators -as did the journal Modes et Manières d'Aujourd'hui (1912-22) -and published short articles on fashion by many modern writers, including Claude Roger Marx, Jean-Louis Vaudoyer, and Jean Giraudoux, among others. Although many of these journals lasted for only a short period of years (the Gazette du Bon Ton merged with Vogue in 1925), they utterly shifted the direction of fashion illustration. Mainstream journals like Vogue, Harper's Bazar (which ultimately hired Erté), Vanity Fair, Les Feuillets d'Art, and L'Illustration continued to publish fashion images by modern artists after the demise of the smaller journals. As Elsa Schiaparelli has pointed out, until the Second World War such magazines encouraged the connections of fashion designers and artists in a way that has not been seen since, and she felt that their editors were among her main supporters. "It was not a matter of pure advertising interests: of who bought and how widely a model could be reproduced," she said, "but how creative the presentation of fashion could be."(14)
In 1911, Poiret established Barbazange, a gallery for the fine arts in the ground floor of his showrooms in the rue d'Antin, where he intended to display avant-garde artworks. A story recounted by Roger Shattuck about this gallery in his wonderful book on early modernism in France, The Banquet Years, illustrates perfectly the interpenetration of the arts at this period and the degree of involvement of Poiret himself. In March 1920, an event took place in Poiret's gallery that expressed all the creativity, all the experimentation, all the excitement, and all of the good humor of the days of early modernism. Actor Pierre Bertin sponsored a concert with music by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky and by Les Six, the group of French composers surrounding Erik Satie. Also on the program was a play by Max Jacob with "furniture music" by Satie and Darius Milhaud to be played during the first intermission. The program directed the audience to treat the music "as if it did not exist, as if it were a chair on which one is or is not seated." When the musicians began to play, however, the audience sat down and began to listen. At this, Satie "rushed around the gallery exhorting them to appropriate behavior. Talk, keep on talking. And move around. Whatever you do, don't listen!'"(15)
Although Poiret is the best known and most documented of the couturiers with strong connections to the art world, there were many others who were not only collectors, but also friends of artists and collaborators with them in the design of couture or in other artistic projects, especially for the ballet and the stage. Before Poiret, and no doubt an inspiration to him in his own collecting, was Jacques Doucet, Poiret's mentor, whose family fortune, supplemented with the profits from his hugely successful couture house, had enabled him to become a major art collector. Doucet had begun collecting eighteenth-century art in the late nineteenth century and by 1910 had amassed a large group of furnishings and textiles, as well as painting and sculpture. Concurrently, Doucet put together a library of books, reproductions, photographs, engravings, drawings, sale catalogues, and other documents for the study of art history.
In 1912, he sold his art collection and gave his library, which he had opened to scholars, to the University of Paris. Soon thereafter, he began commissioning decorative arts by such young modern artists as Paul Iribe, Eileen Gray, Marcel Coard, and Pierre Legrain for his apartment in Paris, and, later, his studio in Neuilly, while purchasing paintings by Manet, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Derain, Braque, and Picasso. Interested in literature since 1896, when he had become involved briefly with the group of symbolist poets surrounding Paul Valéry, Doucet now had the idea of forming a library for the study of the origins of modern literature. He began collecting manuscripts and issues of small, short lived, but important modernist literary reviews and commissioning regular reports from poets such as Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy, and others then in cubist circles. Jacob's letters to Doucet, kept intact in this second important library, which was also eventually given to the University of Paris, are now of great importance for the study of literature at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Doucet hired essayist André Suarès as his library's curator. Suarès was succeeded in 1920 by the surrealist poet André Breton. Breton, in the modernist spirit, believed that literature and art were intimately connected, so closely connected that they could not be separated. He advised Doucet to add to his collection of paintings what Breton considered to be the great landmarks of modern art: Seurat's Le Cirque; Picabia's La Musique est comme la peinture; La Charmeuse de serpents by Douanier Rousseau; Marcel Duchamp's Deux Nus; and paintings by Matisse, Max Ernst, and Giorgio DiChirico, among others. Breton also guided him to the purchase of African art. Perhaps the most famous acquisition Breton counseled Doucet to make was Picasso's controversial Les Demoiselles d'Avignon with its images derived from African art (now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York).(16) Following Breton's departure as curator, Doucet continued to add to the collection until his death in 1929. Much of it was sold in the 1930s. Exceptions were made for Rousseau's La Charmeuse de serpents, promised to the Louvre in accordance with the wish of Robert Delaunay, from whom Doucet had purchased it, and a substantial legacy to his nephew, which now forms the collection of the Fondation Angladon-Dubrujeaud in Avignon. Doucet's library of modern literature, however, went to join the Library of Art and Archaeology at the University of Paris.
Doucet's contemporary, Jeanne Paquin, while never a patron of modern painting, collected old master artworks, which she left to the Louvre after her death. She did, however, acquire contemporary jewelry, mostly by Cartier and Lalique, and employed Louis Süe to design her villa at St. Cloud, called Les Treillages. Robert Mallet-Stevens built her villa at Deauville, and Lalique did the interior decoration of her dining room in Paris as late as 1931.(17) Paquin in turn designed and executed costumes for the theater and the ballet. Very prolific before World War I, she produced costumes for more than thirteen works in 1913, including Jeux, choreographed for the Ballets Russes by Vaslav Nijinsky to Debussy's music with costumes designed by Léon Bakst.(18)
Paul Poiret's sisters Nicole Groult and Germaine Bongard also designed clothing and possessed the Poiret family's interest in the art world. Nicole, the wife of André Groult, a designer of modern furniture and a member of the Artistes Décorateurs, had a couture salon in the rue d'Anjou, where she created "artistic" fashions. Her brother accused her of "borrowing" his designs. An article in American Vogue in April 1912 made her famous in the United States. Through her husband, she knew the coloriste artists: cubist painters, architects, and designers including Van Dongen, Laurençin, and Picabia. Dufy, Martin, and Süe also belonged to the circle around André Groult. Van Dongen, Laurençin, and Süe each painted Nicole Groult's portrait.(19) After World War I, Groult reopened her salon in 1919, commissioning her friend Gabrielle Picabia, estranged wife of the painter, to introduce her creations in the United States. By coincidence, the future couturiere Elsa Schiaparelli, then a struggling young mother who had just been abandoned by her husband, met Mme Picabia in New York and assisted her in selling Groult's designs. Like her brother, Nicole Groult also designed theater costumes. Groult's couture business continued throughout the Depression years, while her brother's was in desperate straits. Her clients were an international "who's who," including Dorothy Parker; Virginia Woolf; the Comtesse Marie Laure de Noailles, perennial best-dressed of Frenchwomen; and the actress Madge Garland.(20)
Despite the war, Germaine Bongard set up a couture salon for children in 1916. At this time, cubist painter Juan Gris commissioned an outfit from her for his wife, offering a painting of Bongard's choice in exchange. With her connections to the avant-garde and the assistance of purist painter Amédée Ozenfant, she opened her salon to exhibitions of paintings for the benefit of "the painters at the Front," like Léger, whom she counted among her friends, along with Derain and Ozenfant. After the war, she established an avant-garde art gallery, which she managed in addition to her couture house. In 1921, she constructed the costumes Picasso had designed for the ballet Cuadro Flamenco. She herself composed a ballet that was to have music by Francis Poulenc and costumes by Marie Laurençin. The project did not come to fruition, but it demonstrates once more the degree of openness to collaboration that was one of the most novel and exciting characteristics of early modernism.(21)
Another couturiere who collected modern art was Jeanne Lanvin. One of the favorite designers of the Tirocchi clientele in the 1920s, she collected impressionist and fauvist paintings. The portrait she commissioned from Édouard Vuillard shows her at her worktable and is now in the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. In the 1920s, Lanvin employed architect Paul Plumet to design her town house, for which she purchased furniture by Armand Rateau and Jean Dunand, now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris.(22)
Madeleine Vionnet, endowed with a great sensitivity to geometry, in 1921 hired Italian futurist artist Ernesto Michelle, called Thayaht, to illustrate her designs in the Gazette du Bon Ton. In these works, he employed an American system called "dynamic symmetry," which used geometrical formulas based on the golden mean of the ancient Greeks to produce pleasing proportions for depictions of the natural world and the human figure. Vionnet also employed him to design surface ornament for her simple chemise gowns in the 1920s.(23) Like Lanvin, she patronized modern artists for furniture for her salon, purchasing items from Dunand, Lalique, and Boris Lacroix.(24)
In this period of experimentation, artists in various media and from many European countries designed items of dress. In 1913, the same year that his costumes for Jeux were made in Paquin's workshops, Bakst also collaborated with her to produce dresses for the couture [fig. 101]. Russian émigré painters Sonia and Robert Delaunay were designing "reform" costumes as early as 1914, using the abstract theories of color placement they called "simultaneous Orphism" [figs. 102-103]. In an article in Mercure de France, Apollinaire described Robert Delaunay's "red coat with blue collar, green vest, sky blue shirt and red tie," next to Sonia Delaunay's violet suit with bright "color zones" on the jacket ranging from rose to blue to scarlet.(25) Sonia Delaunay's "simultaneous fashions" in abstract prints and embroideries to her design were displayed at the famous decorative arts exhibition of 1925.
Elsewhere in Europe, Russian constructivists and Italian futurists both tackled apparel from the point of view of ideological reform, seeking "sanity in dress" and designing many variations for both men and women. Madeleine Vionnet produced Thayaht's invention, the tuta, a futurist "overall" for men. The artists of the Wiener Werkstätte also designed clothing, and the fashion department was the most commercially successful of all their varied enterprises. At the same time, all were participating in many other aspects of art and design, including painting, sculpture, book and magazine illustration, theater design, decorative arts, textile design, and even advertising art.
Couturiers traditionally participated in events that showcased the decorative arts. Doucet, Paquin, Poiret, and Delaunay all showed their work at the exhibitions of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs, founded in 1901 for the promotion and display of French decorative art. It was this body that originated the idea for an international exposition to showcase modern French design in all areas of the decorative arts. The eventual result was the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes of 1925.
French design and the superior craftsmanship employed in its realization had always guaranteed access to the world's luxury markets for all of the decorative arts, including the couture. At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, revival styles were common in France, and even art nouveau, created in the 1880s in an attempt to develop a French style competitive with the English arts and crafts aesthetic, was suffering from the omnipresence of cheap machine-made copies. Moreover, French artists feared that French design was beginning to be overshadowed by decorative arts from Germany, particularly those produced by the Vereinigten Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk (United Workshops for Art in Handwork) of Munich and the Austrian artists of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops). Founded in 1897, the Munich Workshops aimed to bring designers and manufacturers together to develop decorative arts of a truly modern German style for industry. Products created by the workshops in what came to be known as Jugendstil were modeled on English arts and crafts principles of simplicity and appropriateness, but their output was based on machine manufacture. Their ensembles of practical, inexpensive furniture showed how interiors could look when all elements were designed with a single aesthetic in mind, even when made industrially.
The artists of the Vienna Workshops, of like mind with the founders of the Munich Workshops, wanted to develop a national style particularly expressive of Austria. They looked back to the Biedermeier period of the early nineteenth century as the last period of genuine Viennese design accomplishment. Unlike the Munich Workshops, however, the Vienna Workshops' concept was basically that of hand craftsmanship, in which the artist maintained complete control over what was produced, even though machines were used in its manufacture. The Wiener Werkstätte established textile and fashion departments in 1910, which would both borrow from and exert an immediate influence upon French design. These workshops were visited by Paul Poiret soon after their founding, and he brought back examples of their work for resale in his salon.(26)
It was in response to the challenges of Germans and Austrians that French designers banded together to form the Société des Artistes Décorateurs in 1901. Like the German and Viennese workshops, its members numbered artists in many media, including the couture. This gave the designers more visibility through annual exhibitions and provided a forum where they could meet to discuss their interests vis-à-vis Germanic theorists and practitioners. After 1910, when the Munich Workshops exhibited at the Paris Salon d'Automne, showing decorative arts with brilliant color schemes accompanied by contemporary German paintings, pressure on French designers increased. By this time, both the annual exhibitions of the Société des Artistes Décorateurs and the Salons d'Automne had assimilated the German practice of showing ensembles designed according to a single aesthetic, but French designers and critics continued to argue over the matter of style. One camp, which included mostly older artists and craftsmen, developed an approach based on the sinuous curves and muted colors of art nouveau and looked to the late eighteenth century prior to the Revolution as the last genuine French period of style. Their ensembles were luxurious and formal, appealing to aristocratic taste.
A second group included younger artists such as Süe, André Mare, and André Groult, all of whom knew Paul Poiret and his sisters and were patronized and encouraged by them. This group favored bright colors to create the ambience for their rooms: many designers of furniture, textiles, and architecture participated in making eclectic ensembles. They placed themselves within the French artistic tradition by looking to the Directoire, Empire, and Louis-Philippe periods as the last "true styles," to which they were the successors. Their sources ranged from French peasant and provincial art to cubist painting, and by 1912 they were collaborating outright with painters to produce an atmosphere conducive to the appreciation of cubist paintings, such as those which hung in Mare's Maison Cubiste at the Salon d'Automne of 1912. Collaborating on the projects of these so-called "coloristes" was a circle of young artists that included Laurençin, Raymond Duchamp-Villon (designer of the façade of the Maison Cubiste), Léger, Dunoyer de Segonzac, Albert Gleizes, Jean Metzinger, and others with impeccable cubist credentials.(27)
Paul Poiret was well aware of these issues when in 1907 he designed his first loose, elegant dresses with high waistlines and no corsets beneath, which looked back to the Empire period for inspiration. He claimed to have instigated the demise of the corset in these dresses, but the antecedents for this were many. Dress reformers had been urging the abolition of the corset since the mid-nineteenth century, but the movement did not penetrate high fashion, and the failure of the reviled bloomer is well known. "Reform dress," as it was called, did make headway among the pre-Raphaelites in England, and the loose gowns depicted in their paintings came to be known as "aesthetic dress." By the turn of the century, women were wearing at-home gowns, or tea gowns, with minimal corseting and a long, slim shape. Fashion designers took up this new, classicizing simplicity. In 1900, Paquin designed a ball gown in the Empire style and exhibited it at the Exposition Universelle, for which she was chairman of the couture pavilion. Variants of the Empire line were seen in 1905 in New York as well as Paris. By 1907, when Poiret released his versions, the Venetian painter Mariano Fortuny had already developed the pleated "Delphos" tea gown that clung to a woman's uncorseted body like the tunic of the famed Attic sculpture, the (male) Charioteer of Delphi. Fortuny pioneered the use of sheer silk-velvet coats that fell straight from the shoulder [fig. 104]. Isadora Duncan's corsetless tunics were also forerunners of the trend, as couturiere Madeleine Vionnet acknowledged in explaining her own uncorseted designs, which she launched in 1906 just before Poiret's designs appeared.(28)
Between 1908 and the end of the 1930s, the tubular silhouette, with its emphasis on slimness and the natural motion of the body, remained fashionable and, indeed, with the exception of some silhouettes of the 1940s and 1950s, has remained in fashion throughout the twentieth century, reflecting the persistence of modernism in the arts and its expansion into the general culture, as well as the changing role and status of women. The best end-of-the-twentieth century example of this style is perhaps the work of American couturier Geoffrey Beene, which is based on the same themes that inspired couturiers at the beginning of the century: the liberation of the body, the simplification of its contours to their constituent geometries, and the importance of motion. All these themes emerged in the early years of the century, promoted by Callot Soeurs, Doucet, and especially Poiret, then taken up by younger couturiers like Patou, Chanel, and Vionnet.
Poiret dominated the world of couture between 1907 and the First World War as no personality had done since Worth, but by 1914 there were ominous signs that his work was not universally appreciated in France. In a controversy that revealed the extent to which the couture could be viewed as a serious and influential art, critics on the extreme right used criticism of Poiret's work to attack the whole panoply of early modernism as it had been developing in Paris.(29) In a climate rife with war-driven anti-German feeling, newspapers published diatribes against cubism, the Ballets Russes, contemporary music, and other manifestations of the avant-garde, which were called "Germanic" and "barbarian," a repudiation of all that was "French." Cartoons appeared in the press ridiculing Poiret's fashions for precisely the Orientalist details that had made them so popular. The "lampshade tunic" that Madame Poiret had worn at the "Thousand and Second Night" fête in 1911 was particularly recognizable and thus a symbol of all Poiret's work [see fig. 100, p. 138]. His well publicized sorties into Austria, Germany, and Eastern Europe to show his collections also made him an easy target. Beginning in 1915, the journal La Renaissance attacked Poiret for "boche taste." The fact that his creations were favorites in Germany was used to "prove" his sympathy for the enemy, the same argument used to place cubist art in the realm of "foreign snobs and indigenous neurotics," i.e., the avant-garde.(30) After several reiterations of this calumny, Poiret sued, which only served to perpetuate the scandal and remind people further of his connections with Germany. In the end, La Renaissance apologized publicly to Poiret, whose "subversive" work merely reflected the internationalist, cosmopolitan character of all modern art before World War I. Artists banded together to defend Poiret, but the damage was done.
After the War, Poiret fought to reestablish his reputation in France, aided by letters from the artists who knew and supported him. Dunoyer de Segonzac wrote an especially telling missive in which he praised Poiret as "a child of Paris," possessing "all the independence of spirit, fantasy, and candor" that implied. "In many ways, Revolutionary' France has become more conservative than Medieval' Germany," he concluded, recognizing that the slander of Poiret was not only an attack on fashion, but an offensive against all the arts.(31) In his perceptive book Esprit de Corps, Kenneth E. Silver has shown how these threats eventually intimidated French artists with their calls for a "return to order" and chilled the character of artworks produced after the War. Poiret approached the struggle to restore his name with his usual élan. Returning from the Front, he continued to produce his Orientalist fashions, and, during the Exposition of 1925, rented huge barges to show his works on the banks of the Seine, a grandiose gesture funded entirely by himself. Its outrageous cost, combined with the negative publicity generated by his critics, doomed his efforts to continue business in his pre-War style. Although some of his most beautiful creations date from this period and his popularity was at its height in the United States, he was forced to close his couture house entirely in 1929 [figs. 105-106].
The First World War brought many changes to the couture. Men like Paul Poiret and the young Jean Patou were drafted into the military, and their houses closed. Commerce was curtailed between France and the United States, and, although the Lyon silk industry remained in operation, many of its weavers, as well as its clients, were called into the army. Meanwhile, new personalities appeared, including the young Gabrielle Chanel. In 1915, Chanel was in Deauville producing hats and making her first essay into the couture with loose-fitting chemise dresses belted at the hip. By 1916, she was making casual pleated skirts from the practical Rodier wool jersey that had been used primarily for men's underwear before the war. She topped the skirts with Breton sailors' sweaters in the "sportswear" mode that had begun to appear in Vogue and the Gazette du Bon Ton several years earlier and that was to become so important in the 1920s. Chanel was still little known in the United States.
The French government regarded support of the couture industry to be essential during the War. It sent to the Panama Pacific International Exposition of 1915 in San Francisco a selection of apparel by the "old masters": Paquin, Doucet, Lanvin, Chéruit, Callot Soeurs, Doeuillet, de Beer, Premet, and Martial et Armand. Most had long full skirts with tucked-in waists, while tailored suits had long jackets with loose belts [fig. 107]. One or two designs even returned to corseting. All of these houses dated from early in the century. A mere handful of references to them appear in the Tirocchi record books of the 1920s. Only Lanvin, well represented by several models in the San Francisco exposition, was still a force among the Tirocchi clientele by the mid-1920s.
During the War, fashion began to simplify, as Poiret's Ballets Russes dresses disappeared with his induction into the army and as their extravagant decorations began to seem inappropriate. A sober, even retrograde, mood prevailed. In the face of wartime shortages, Chanel's practical, albeit expensive, jerseys seemed an instant modern classic, appealing to wealthy clients because, in the words of historian Valerie Steele, "they made the rich look young and casual."(32) Couturiers like Paul Poiret returned from the War to find that the aristocratic society lauded by the promoters of the San Francisco exposition as "that aristocracy of diplomates [sic]" no longer existed. Russian nobles who had fled to Paris after the Revolution of 1917 were living in penury, having been deprived of their incomes. Once well-to-do Russian women were earning their livelihoods by decorating dresses by Patou and Chanel with the traditional embroidery that they had learned as a female accomplishment in their former lives. Balkan and Eastern European monarchies had disappeared altogether. Many French and English aristocrats had been killed in the great battles of World War I, and the postwar cycles of depression and inflation created instability and financial uncertainty.
When Paris did revive, it awoke to a younger society with a different style and an American tinge. The spacious stage setting that had been Paul Poiret's Paris in the Belle Epoque once again served fashion, as the newly wealthy installed themselves in the Hotel Ritz and patronized cafés like the avant-garde Le Boeuf sur le Toit or Le Jardin de Ma Soeur, the nightclub that Elsa Maxwell created for couturier Edward Molyneux. Artists and designers, resuming their quest for an overarching French style, found it in the coalescing of what was then referred to as the "moderne" (renamed "Art Deco" long after the Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes of 1925, which was the source of the name). Technological innovations had changed life physically as well: the electric light, the radio, the motion picture, the automobile all came into common use. Life accelerated. Everything was in motion. Women drove cars, went out to work, played tennis and golf, and learned ballroom dancing. Some agitated for the vote and for complete equality with men. In Providence after 1920, when women were granted the franchise, Tirocchi client Harriet Sprague Watson Lewis found it important to record in her "Line A Day" diary each time that she went out to vote.
Clothing changed with women's evolving roles in modern society, particularly with the idea of increased freedom for women. Although society matrons of a certain age continued to wear conservative garments, forward-looking and younger women now made sportswear their dress of choice. The formal mood of the pre-War world was giving way to a more casual approach. The tubular dress of Paul Poiret had metamorphosed into a similar but shorter silhouette with pleated, gathered, or slit skirts, making ease of motion the rule in women's fashion for the first time in its history.
If Anne Hollander is correct, however, there is much more to be said about the emergence of the 1920s chemise, which, topped with the cloche hat, became the uniform of the early to middle years of the decade. Hollander maintains in Seeing Through Clothes that "developments in fashion are like changes in pictorial art; in clothes, as in pictures, technical inventions and social change are secondary to visual style." According to Hollander, garments on the body please not so much because they serve specific uses or circumstances (although they do), but rather because they resemble "a current pictorial ideal of shape, line, trim, texture, and motion."(33) Developments in art and fashion during the years from 1906 onward had accustomed the modern eye to the abstract by the early 1920s. The challenges that cubism presented in the Armory Show of 1913 in New York had now been assimilated. The tubular, slim silhouette proposed by Poiret, Fortuny, and Vionnet had now become the norm. The cylindrical silhouette of the body and the ovoid of the head accented by close-cropped hair and cloche hat are the geometries of Picasso, Léger, Duchamp-Villon, and others throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century [figs. 108-109; compare fig. 104, p. 144, and fig. 128, p. 161].
When the long-awaited Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes finally did occur in 1925, instead of introducing "moderne" fashion, it simply confirmed what Tirocchi clients had already accepted. The Exposition had been conceived some years before World War I as a way to renew French domination of the decorative-arts industries. It was postponed because of the War; and had to be put off further due to the straitened circumstances of the French government and postwar scarcity and economic depression. Finally, the exhibition opened in the various national and international pavilions that occupied the area from the Grand Palais to the Invalides, including the banks of the Seine. After the War, the economic need was even greater than in 1913 to reestablish the French luxury industries, and the Exposition emphasized opulence at the expense of modest but well designed decorative arts that could be produced industrially.
Fashion -perhaps the quintessential luxury industry -took a prominent place in the displays. The Exposition, extensively reported in America, threw the spotlight on the chemise and cloche, presented by designers ranging from the unknown Genevieve O'Rossen to the well-known Jean-Charles Worth, Callot Soeurs, Sonia Delaunay, and Paul Poiret, all of whom exhibited clothing in the tubular silhouette. In the end, the Exposition of 1925, instead of celebrating the advent of the overarching French style sought by artists, marked the beginning of the decline of the "moderne" or Art Deco style. The presence among the ensembles of such designers as Ruhlmann, Süe, and Mare, and Poiret's boutique Martine of several "streamlined" creations, appropriately enough, for railway cars and steamships, and of a "purist" pavilion by Le Corbusier that rejected both styles, showed the direction in which art was moving -from "moderne" ornamentation to "machine-age" simplicity to the emerging "international style" advocated by the Bauhaus and promoted in France by Le Corbusier.
During and after the Exposition of 1925, decorative artists such as Ruhlmann, Dunand, and Paul Folliot were still producing luxury "moderne" interiors and individually handcrafted objects that only the wealthy could afford; and Le Corbusier continued to criticize them for their refusal to make beautiful, functional objects that could be mass-produced by machine for the benefit of ordinary people. In 1929, this purist, anti-ornament faction withdrew from the Société des Artistes Décorateurs to form the Union des Artistes Modernes, appropriating for themselves the adjective "modern." The two distinct factions would remain in contention until the Second World War. Perhaps put off by these controversies, and having been shown the folly of political engagement in the art world by the tribulations of Paul Poiret, couturiers had less and less to do with decorative arts organizations during the 1920s, although they still responded to the same artistic trends. By 1925, with the "moderne" style reflected so beautifully in the clothing shown by couturiers at the Exposition, a simplifying, classicizing trend also became visible, together with another trend welcomed by American clients: an explosion of sportswear.
By 1921, Madeleine Vionnet's unstructured styles were making a quiet revolution with their attention to cut and simple elegance, rather than ornament. Working between 1921 and 1925 with Thayaht (the son of an Italian friend of Vionnet), who had studied under Jay Hambidge at Harvard in 1920, Vionnet collaborated on an effort to design modern clothing according to Hambidge's principles of "dynamic symmetry," a system derived from classical proportions and based on a geometrical analysis of the Parthenon. Hambidge believed that the system could be applied in any field of art to objects of any style to assure the most beautiful results [fig. 110]. The Main Gallery of the RISD Museum, designed by American architect William Aldrich, is an example of "dynamic symmetry" applied to a classical-style building [fig. 111].(34) Thayaht used the theory of "dynamic symmetry" in creating some surface designs for Vionnet, and in one dress, Vionnet experimented with actually cutting the silk according to Thayaht's ideas.
Betty Kirke believes that from that time forward, Vionnet, having assimilated the ideas of "dynamic symmetry," used them in her innovative cuts, which combined straight grain with bias to create elegantly draped clothing of superb fit that clung to the body beneath it.(35) "The couturier should be a geometrician, for the human body makes geometric figures to which the materials should correspond," Vionnet told Jacques Griffe, revealing her instinctive understanding of the importance of geometry in the design of clothing in the 1920s.(36) Vogue christened these dresses "anatomical cuts" in an article of 1925, and they were very successful in America. Vionnet's clothing based on the principles of geometry harmonized with the aesthetic of the machine, which was developing in America for everything from locomotives to decorative arts. This was also in line with what French purist artists Ozenfant and Le Corbusier were advocating, in that her dresses were classically simple, unornamented, and possessed of the shiny surface and perfect curves of the newest machines [fig. 112; compare fig. 144, p. 169]. It took an especially fine figure to wear one of these creations, and only six of Anna Tirocchi's clients tried. As usual, the chic Mrs. Byron S. (Isabel) Watson led the way by purchasing a blue velvet afternoon dress by Vionnet in 1926.
Even more important to the Tirocchi clientele was Jean Patou, who had worked as a tailor before World War I and had established his own fashion house on being demobilized in 1919. At first he produced loose dresses with sheer panels, as did many other couturiers, for a clientele that included both French and English aristocrats. In 1920, however, Patou's sister married French tennis champion Raymond Barbas, who introduced Patou to tennis star Suzanne Lenglen. In 1921, Lenglen appeared at Wimbledon in Patou's knee-length pleated skirt and sleeveless cardigan sweater, setting a fashion copied by many other women on and off court. The similarity of Patou's concept to that of Chanel's skirts and sweaters is unmistakable, but this is less a case of Patou copying Chanel than of the arrival in force of sportswear on the fashion scene. At first, Patou was aiming at a different clientele from that of Chanel: sports clothing for players of sports, wherever they found themselves [fig. 113]. For these women, simplicity was not only a design virtue, but a necessity, as Patou learned from Suzanne Lenglen.
A friend of Dunoyer de Segonzac and patron of André Mare and Louis Süe (who designed his salons in the rue St. Florentin), Patou was well aware of artistic trends. After 1921, he adapted the two-piece sweater-and-skirt format in luxurious wool jersey for morning dresses or sports suits, employing cubist ornament and collage principles to decorate them. For all the renown of Chanel (Valerie Steele calls her " the acknowledged dominatrix of fashion during the period between the wars"),(37) the Tirocchi clientele preferred Patou to Chanel by an overwhelming margin. In the 1920s and 30s, purchases of fashions and accessories by Patou outnumbered those by Chanel sixty-four to thirty-four, a definitive vote of confidence in the debonair young couturier who would die so prematurely in 1936. No labeled Patou was found among the dresses remaining in the Tirocchi shop, but several refer directly to his design principles [see fig. 34, p. 46].
In step with the "return to order" that infused a post-war classicism into all the arts, the clothing of Patou, Chanel, and others represented a new idea, one that suited the range of possibilities now opening before the modern woman: "classic" clothing that was never out of style, easily cared for, and constructed for ease of movement. Clothing based on "classical" models was a theme visited off and on throughout the modern period, beginning with Fortuny's Delphos dresses of 1906-07, which continued to be made all throughout the period and are still obtainable today. The Empire silhouettes of the 1910s also relate to this theme, and a draped satin opera coat of 1931 from the Tirocchi shop [fig. 114] marks the continuation of the trend. "Classic" clothing, however, had nothing to do with antiquity; rather, "classic" clothing meant clothing that could be worn over and over again, clothing without copious ornament or complicated silhouette to date it [fig. 115]. The "classic" was epitomized in a simple sports dress by Patou, a black lace dinner dress by Chanel, or an exquisitely fitted black dress by Molyneux or Mainbocher.
Both Molyneux and Mainbocher specialized in a kind of slim, fitted apparel that perhaps seemed simple when compared to the extravagances of the 1920s, but was wholly satisfying in its beautiful tailoring and quiet elegance. Richard Martin, in his book Contemporary Fashion, declared that Molyneux, a friend of author Noel Coward (who himself embodied classic, elegant style of the most refined manner), produced "spartan clothing" in an "early and intended version of the International Style,"(38) and this is surely what "classic" clothing is meant to be. With the coming of age of the anti-ornamental purist element in art after Le Corbusier's breakthroughs in the late 1920s and the growth in philosophical importance of Germany's Bauhaus school, fashion's own "return to order" was the "classic" clothing of the 1930s.
Mainbocher, an American from St. Louis who combined his first and last names once in Paris, was beloved for his pure, uncomplicated, simply cut designs -what Harper's Bazaar called his "deceptive plainness" -that clients viewed as investments for the long haul.(39) Made famous by his selection as designer of the Duchess of Windsor's wedding gown in 1939, Mainbocher came to the attention of the Tirocchi clientele too late to have much impact on the shop. A search of Tirocchi records turned up thirteen references to garments by Molyneux, the first purchased as early as 1924, while only one outfit by Mainbocher was supplied to a client -the always fashionable Mrs. Byron S. Watson -in 1939.
Sportswear also qualifies as "classic," and its simple utility further identifies it with the International Style. For American women, sportswear took off immediately and became the style of the century. Nothing shows this more clearly than the Tirocchi records. In no record does the word "sport" appear before 1918, and only seven mentions were found in 1918 and 1919. Between 1920 and 1930, more than one hundred and sixty-six entries record sport suits, sport dresses, sport skirts, sport sweaters, sport coats, etc. From 1930 onwards, sports dressing remained popular among clients of all ages; peaking in 1931; remaining steady between 1932 and 1936; then falling off only in proportion to the decline in client numbers in the late 1930s.
In 1927, a new designer of a younger generation took the stage with an intuitive knowledge of the place of fashion late in the decade. Elsa Schiaparelli understood instinctively the relationship between the "classic" and the modern. For her, modernity was rooted in classicism and in respect for the human body. More than any couturier since Paul Poiret, Schiaparelli was involved in and inspired by the world of art. In her 1954 autobiography, written partly in the third person, she credits her appreciation of the "surroundings of beauty" that inspired her clothing designs to her upbringing in a well-to-do and intellectual family in Rome. "She felt that clothes had to be architectural; that the body must never be forgotten and it must be used as a frame is used in a building," Schiaparelli wrote. "The Greeks, more than anybody else except the Chinese, understood this rule, and gave to their goddesses...the serenity of perfection and the fabulous appearance of freedom."(40) Her first evening gown was "a plain black sheath of crepe de Chine down to the ground, with a white crepe de Chine jacket with long sash that crossed in the back but tied in front. Stark simplicity; That was what was needed."(41) She also understood the fact that fashion, as well as art, was moving toward the "classic" and the purist. Even her very first success, a sweater with knitted-in trompe-l'oeil bow at the neckline and a simple black pleated skirt, fit the definition, since it followed the lines of the body, while the knitted-in neckline trimming remained flat. It was the sweater of the future. Schiaparelli made many of them, and they were widely copied, to her great satisfaction [fig. 116].
In the early 1930s, Schiaparelli's bread and butter was these sweaters, for which she used cubist, geometric, and trompe-l'oeil patterning, and her simple, slim-silhouette black dresses, suits, and coats. Because the effects of the Depression were quickly felt in France, Schiaparelli knew that she needed to mobilize the worldwide markets that had opened to French couture in the 1920s. Her cause had already been taken up by Harper's Bazaar and the New York press, and in 1928 she was selling her sweaters and jersey shorts through Saks Fifth Avenue. Although the simple classic blacks and tailored wools seem plain when compared to her later work, Schiaparelli was slowly letting her surrealist wit begin to show. In the early 1930s, she designed long black evening gowns with black cock's feathers protruding at the shoulders and black suits with buttons shaped like cicadas. In the early 1930s, her styles appeared frequently in Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, and by 1934, these designs were being illustrated by Jean Cocteau and Christian Bérard and photographed by Man Ray. Two years later, she was collaborating outright with surrealist artists, designing the "Desk Suit," a fitted, tailored suit of perfectly "classic" outlines, with drawer pulls on its many pockets, from a sketch provided by Salvador Dali. In 1937, a collaboration with Dali resulted in her "Tear Dress," again a perfectly classic shape with unexpected trompe-l'oeil decoration [fig. 118]. A linen jacket of around the same time (now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art) is but one of Schiaparelli's collaborations with Jean Cocteau [fig. 117].
Schiaparelli's surrealist ideas paralleled the increasing popularity of surrealist art and the use of surrealist imagery in the decorative arts, particularly in photography and magazine illustration. Surrealism continued to grow in popularity throughout the 1930s. The Paris Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne of 1937 was a case in point: the couture industry's Pavillon d'Élégance was surrealist in decor. Schiaparelli herself took part in the Exposition with an installation provoked by the ridiculous mannequin she was assigned (or so she claimed in her autobiography). In surrealist fashion she transmogrified the inappropriate mannequin into sculpture by placing it on the ground and hanging the creations it was meant to display on a line nearby, as if on washing day.(42)
The Exposition Internationale of 1937 anticipated the Société des Artistes Décorateurs salon of 1939, the last salon before World War II, which was presented in the guise of a surrealist street at night. Sponsored by the Parisian electric power company, the exhibition had lighting designed by Man Ray and was meant to be a fantastic contrast to the evil events in the real world, where Hitler was on the march. Surrealism flourished in the late 1930s as the Second World War loomed over the horizon. In 1938, the largest surrealist exposition to date took place in Paris, and Americans saw Dali's water ballet at the 1939 World's Fair in New York.
Throughout the existence of the Tirocchi shop, its clients adopted stylish French silhouettes. The records, photographs, design books, and extant garments give an excellent overall view of fashion's changing lines and surface designs over the thirty-plus years up to 1941, when the customer base declined sharply. Little clothing remained from the 1910s in the shop itself in 1990, but the paper records and the design books referred to by Anna Tirocchi and her customers illustrate the advance of modernism. From about 1912 onwards, the records show a progression from the loose, liberating Empire styles of the 1910s through the chemise dresses of the 1920s to the restrained elegance of the streamlined, "classic" apparel of the 1930s and early 40s.
Among the earliest of the Tirocchi garments is a dress with high waistline, free-falling form, and gaily colored peasant embroidery strongly reminiscent of those Paul Poiret was designing in the 1910s. Found in the family quarters at 514 Broadway, this much worn dress [fig. 119] tempts the speculation that it belonged to Laura Tirocchi Cella herself -who then would have been just the type of slim young girl that Poiret used as his models -and was lovingly preserved first by her and later by her daughter Beatrice.
Dating from about 1918, an exquisite evening dress of pink gauze with silver paillettes appliquéd to the net bears the pin tag used by the Tirocchi sisters to indicate a dress included in the inventory they took of stock around 1920. The inventory itself reveals that no. 434 was "Flesh &Spang. robe 30.00," probably indicating that the sisters made the dress from a ready-to-cut, pre-embroidered dress-length called a "robe" in the trade. These pieces were a French tradition dating back at least to the eighteenth century for mens' waistcoats and ladies slippers, and at least to the nineteenth century for women's garments. The dress remained unpurchased, but was never disposed of by the sisters. In later years some of this early clothing was sold to clients for fancy dress; they were referred to by the Tirocchi bookkeeper as "ancient dresses" and were often altered to suit new occasions. Several garments from this period show the popularity of folk motifs such as those employed by Poiret in the early teens. Peasant embroidery, smocking, and the use of brightly colored fabrics are trends of the time represented in clothing in the Tirocchi collection [figs. 120-121].
Few couturiers' names can be associated with client purchases of this period, but several design books from various suppliers are preserved from this date. One, from B. Altman &Company, shows dresses for which materials and a photograph could be purchased from the New York department store. In 1919, three Tirocchi clients ordered dresses from B. Altman sketches: Mrs. William F. Chapin, Jr., purchased a serge dress, Altman's no. 2379, while Miss Helen Harris bought a blue embroidered serge, and Mrs. Barnes Newberry ordered a dress to be made based on B. Altman's sketch entitled "Tosca" in henna chiffon [see fig. 17, p. 34]. Tirocchi clients also made use of such fashion magazines as the widely available Harper's Bazar, to which the sisters subscribed, or Vogue, and could order a dress made after one of their sketches. Vogue illustrated as many as thirty-three models from Paris in each issue and about twice as many American dresses in the "Seen in the Shops" section. In addition, each issue contained pages of line drawings of its patterns, a service the highly skilled Tirocchi dressmakers did not use. Advertisements provided many more images.
In America, Vogue not only provided sketches and patterns of fashions derived from Paris models, but also actively promoted the French couture. In 1909, the magazine published a ground-breaking article about Paul Poiret with plates from the 1908 booklet Les Robes de Paul Poiret, racontées par Paul Iribe and in 1913 closely followed his trip to America. In April 1910, following another article on Poiret, it presented a piece on Lucile, Lady Duff-Gordon, who, although a British-born designer, worked in Paris. The issue of January 1923, the magazine's thirtieth anniversary year, was full of Paris. With a cover designed by French artists Pierre Brissaud and Georges Lepape, it contained articles entitled "So this was Paris, 1904-1911"; "Thirty Years of the Mode" (meaning "the mode that originates in Paris"); and a page of photographs and illustrations by "Our French Artists in Paris," including Lepape, Brissaud, Martin, Marty, Édouard-Garcia Benito, and others who were illustrators for the Gazette du Bon Ton and various magazines that began to appear in 1912.
Typical of the imagination that went into Vogue's promotion of French couture was a special feature, "The Six Characters in a Delightful New French Comedy, entitled A Prize Contest Staged by Vogue and gowned by ???? [sic]": seven pages of illustrations by Vogue's French artists of unidentified gowns by couturiers Worth, Lanvin, Chéruit, Poiret, Jenny, Doucet, Premet, Beer, Doeuillet, Patou, and Martial et Armand and the question "...for you to decide, Madame, is which couturier has dressed each lady?" A correct answer with a statement of the contestant's reasons for matching the couturiers with their gowns brought a first prize of any one of the original models illustrated. Ironically, the second prize was an evening gown from Henri Bendel in New York, and the third an afternoon gown from Thurn dressmakers, the most famous New York shop of the time (perhaps Vogue assumed that the second and third prizes would be copies of Paris fashions).
In the same issue, Vogue printed many of the accolades it had received from French designers. Doeuillet wrote: "Everywhere the name of Vogue is synonymous with chic, and...I think of the way in which your organization has always upheld the interests of the haute couture française and enhanced its prestige throughout the whole world."(43) Paul Poiret was more direct: "[Vogue] is today one of our best methods of communication with a distinguished clientele." His remark revealed how essential it was for him to reach American customers at this stage of his career. Thanks to these fashion magazines and an enthusiastic response from the United States, French couture itself was changing. By the 1920s, the industry was well on its way to world-wide distribution.
Because of the onslaught of publicity about Paris designers and the availability in local department stores of good ready-to-wear models that were advertised in Vogue and Harper's Bazar, Tirocchi clients changed their ways. More and more they asked for clothing by couturiers, rather than designs sewn and trimmed by the Tirocchi dressmakers themselves. By 1920, the Providence elite were placing their confidence in Paris. Anna Tirocchi turned this development to her own advantage by making a conscious decision to offer her customers copies of Paris couture from supply houses in New York. The New York companies purchased models in Paris; paid for the right to copy them in the same materials as the original (although illegal copying was rife and bitterly resisted by the couturiers); and stitched up copies to order for retailers like Anna.
Several of the design books for ordering purposes sent to the Tirocchis by New York importer Maginnis &Thomas have survived, and these may be compared with Anna's customer ledgers to suggest something of the Tirocchi clients' tastes. In spring 1925, Mrs. A. T. Wall purchased a black satin chemise designed by Chéruit with elaborate ruching and a shoulder boa [fig. 122]. Tirocchi clients also liked the new designers who appeared after the First World War. Their all-time favorite was Jean Patou. One example of a design by Patou sold in the shop is a sophisticated brown crepe satin chemise with uneven hem and cubist-influenced contrasting shiny and dull satins [fig. 123], ordered by Mrs. Charles (Ruth Trowbridge) Smith III in 1924, shortly after her marriage. Its tight band around the hipline could only have been worn by a young woman with a perfect figure.
Chanel was the second most favored designer of the Tirocchi clientele in the 1920s. Maginnis &Thomas's interpretation of Chanel is to be seen in a series of designs ordered by Mrs. Charles D. Owen in April 1925, which shows her taste for tailored day wear over frilly evening gowns and provides a glance at what Maginnis &Thomas considered the best from several French couturiers. A Lanvin suit of beige "Kashette," probably a knock-off of Rodier's famed "Kasha" cashmere fabric, was combined with a black and white polka-dot silk lining that showed on the garment front, sleeves, and skirt pleats [fig. 124]. The three-quarter line of the middy-style chemise is emphasized by a seam just above the knee, to which a box-pleated skirt is attached. In the drawing the suit is worn with a turban, still popular after its arrival on the scene in the early 1910s with the Orientalist styles of Paul Poiret. An original by Callot Soeurs, a three-piece outfit of blue crepe and blue printed crepe de chine, has a plain blue dress with a skirt facing and a plaid scarf [fig. 125]. The coat is the three-quarter length that Mrs. Owen clearly found becoming and that allows the facing on the skirt to show. It combines plaid with plain and, a couture touch, is reversible. For evening, Mrs. Owen chose a heavy black lace dress with floating panels, typical of the "little black dresses" produced by its designer, Chanel [fig. 126], and a chemise with many draped panels of sophisticated black and gray chiffon by the now-forgotten designers Miler Soeurs that must have looked wonderful on the dance floor [fig. 127]. Last, and perhaps most interesting, is a three-piece costume with a green dress and a three-quarter coat of embroidered chintz [fig. 128]. In this case, the coat was sold to Mrs. Owen after the dress had been purchased by Mrs. Watson. This transaction was a coup for the Tirocchis, who ordered the dress and coat at wholesale for $65, and shows how dressmakers did not hesitate to charge whatever the market would bear. Mrs. Watson paid $88 for the dress, and the coat brought $79 from Mrs. Owen.
Surviving dresses from the 1920s discovered in the shop continue the theme of chemise and variations. The many beaded dresses purchased by the Tirocchis, perhaps more than any other form found in the shop, express the many facets of the art world that concerned artists and designers in the 1920s. This is because the chemise was a perfect foil for surface design. Taking advantage of the plain tubular shape by using it as a painter's canvas, each garment could be highly decorated in any of the numerous ways available to the "moderne" style. The Tirocchis' choices reflect their appreciation of such garments. Quintessentially "moderne" floral ornament appears often on these dresses [fig. 129]. Oriental and exotic sources remained popular: one exquisite pink-and-white beaded dress has a flower pattern in the Japanese taste [fig. 130]. Others have Persian or Egyptian imagery or motifs derived from textiles made at the Wiener Werkstätte [figs. 131-132] French designers were still looking in large part to international sources for early modern ornamentation, despite the upheavals of World War I.
The Tirocchis also sold opera coats, of which Anna apparently was especially fond, since several survived in the shop. Dating to about 1926 is a coat attributed to Paul Poiret with Persian patterning [figs. 133-134]. Anna marked several creations on the program of Poiret's salon, which she visited when she went to Paris in 1926-27, but she apparently did not purchase this coat at the time. It was probably sewn in Providence from a "robe" made in New York from a Poiret design, judging from the fact that the back panel of the coat has been incorrectly placed. It is upside-down, a rare example of an outright mistake on the part of the Tirocchi sewing staff [fig. 133]. A glamorous coat by Lucien Lelong from about 1926 has a fur collar and is made from an exquisite silk velvet printed with futurist swirls [fig. 135], while an elaborately sequined coat in pinkish beige dating to about 1926 has the shiny, metallic "machine-age" look [fig. 136].
Daywear from the 1920s is particularly interesting, since so little of it survives from this period in museum collections. A staple of Tirocchi sales was the lace or voile afternoon dress. These were actually imported from France, rather than copied in New York, where the hand-finishing required for transparent fabrics could not be done in a cost-effective way. Knitwear was also a prime seller and appeared in large numbers in the 1920s. The two-piece jersey sport dress popularized by Chanel and, above all, Patou, could also employ motifs that reflected contemporary art, and geometric, cubist-inspired motifs appeared often in these knits. In 1928, just after Elsa Schiaparelli brought out her famous trompe-l'oeil sweater paired with black skirt, the young Kathleen Fielding-Jones rushed to A. &L. Tirocchi to buy just such an outfit, surely a knock-off made in New York [see fig. 116, p. 153]. For her sweater, Schiaparelli had developed a new technique, that of using a flat, Armenian stitch that did not stretch and would hold the shape of a knit-in pattern. A 1930s sweater-and-skirt outfit found in the shop is made with a similar technique. Although machine-knit, it too holds its shape without stretching. The wonderful pattern is typical of the "machine-age" images of skyscrapers and of factories belching smoke, composed in a stepped design that reflects artworks of the time and echoes the forms of skyscrapers themselves [figs. 137-139].
Sports dressing became more popular in the 1920s, and the 1930s saw a diversification of forms from the simple two-piece jerseys of Patou and Chanel to specific garments for specific activities such as dancing, tennis, golf, and swimming. A wonderful example of a wool-jersey bathing suit from 1930 survived in the Tirocchi shop. Patterned with contrasting yellow and green areas, the suit has a felt jacket and large straw hat to match, both trimmed with huge "moderne" flowers in felt [fig. 96, p. 132; figs. 140-141]. This contemporary motif in bright, sun-filled colors reflects the lifestyles of the Tirocchi clients, who went off to their beach houses in summer or to the Caribbean in winter. A group of evening dresses found in the shop point to another side of the woman in motion. A handful of long, wide-skirted, narrow-waisted, colorful gowns of chiffon and other lightweight materials fairly scream "tango," bringing to mind the South American dances popular in the mid-1930s [fig. 142].
Reflecting streamlined 1930s design, as well as women's new social permission to wear trousers, is an outfit attributed to Molyneux, purchased with its own white sweater and jacket from the New York supplier Russell in 1933 [fig. 143]. The bell-bottomed pants and sweater were preserved in the shop, but the jacket was not to be found. Perhaps it was sold separately when the entire outfit failed to appeal to any client. Streamlined design is epitomized in the elaborately cut satin and velvet evening dresses of the 1930s. These pieced dresses are collages in themselves. Several examples of these cuts popularized by Madeleine Vionnet in the late 1920s and early 30s remained in the shop. All are stylishly svelte and gleamingly reflective, those two attributes of "machine-age" styling that applied to all the arts [figs. 144-145; see also fig. 112, p. 150, and fig. 123, p. 159].
The Tirocchi records become less and less informative about style during the mid-1930s. The bookkeeper stopped recording designers and couturiers, except on rare occasions, more often naming only the importer. Rodier wool dresses and suits increased in popularity throughout the late 1930s. Liberty "loan" (lawn, a light-weight cotton fabric) dresses become popular for summer wear. By 1933, the effects of the Depression began to be seen, as clients delayed payment and canceled orders. The client base shrank over these lean years from the heyday of the 1920s until finally, by 1941, only the faithful few were left. Mrs. Frederick Stanhope Peck, Mrs. Harold J. Gross, and Mrs. Byron S. Watson remained from the early days. One of the last entries in the customer ledger is Mrs. Watson's visit in May 1939, when the bookkeeper suddenly abandoned her policy of not recording designers' names. Chic as always, Mrs. Watson purchased a print dinner dress by Mainbocher, a Chanel suit, a fitted dinner dress in wine-colored silk by Molyneux, and a Jay-Thorpe hat. In 1944, only Mrs. Peck was being dressed by Anna, who by then was ill and probably unable to handle a larger clientele.
Even if the records in the Tirocchi Archive do not reveal in visible detail every dress that passed through the shop or every sport suit purchased by its clients, they explicitly document the changing silhouettes and styles of decoration between 1915 and 1941. The dresses, coats, bathing suits, and evening wraps found in the shop, if arranged chronologically, chart for the observer not only the different silhouettes of fashion, but also the overall aesthetic of modernism as it developed through the years. From the chemise and cloche in a cubist mode of the 1920s to the evening dresses of the late 1930s with their body-skimming silhouettes and "machine-age" reflective surfaces, each garment has a particular relationship to the art of its time.
Raymond Loewy, the industrial designer of everything from the Pennsylvania Railroad's streamlined Broadway Limited train to the Studebaker Champion Cruising Sedan, made this point unforgettably in his "Evolution Chart of Design."(44) He compares the changes in architecture, from the ornate houses of earlier centuries to streamlined modern architecture up to the 1930s, with developments in female dress, starting with the seventeenth century's long, full, enormous skirts, full sleeves, and high coiffures and ending in 1934 with the svelte, form-fitting evening gown, exactly reflecting the silhouette of gowns found in the Tirocchi shop [fig. 146]. In the same chart, using a woman clad in a bathing suit, he shows how the very ideal of a woman's figure changed from the plump form of the 1890s to the thin, long-legged creature of 1935.
Fashion designers conceived each of their garments in the context of the greater art world, and were themselves recognized as decorative artists familiar with the concerns of their time. The question they attempted to answer -what does it mean to be modern? -is as much in contention now as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century. The concepts of modernism are still present in the Western aesthetic at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The search for elegance in fashion at the start of the new millennium reflects the concerns and debates of the early modern period as they are revealed in fashions from the Tirocchi shop. Although their elaborate Art Deco fabrics and often exuberant ornamentation may have come to look less and less "modern" as the century progressed, among them are many garments that could be worn with great pride today.
The author wishes to thank Professor Emerita Lorraine Howes, Rhode Island School of Design, for her helpful comments on an earlier version of this essay.