Exhibition Review: Madeleine Vionnet: Fashion Purist


A week ago today, I was in Paris, marveling over Madeleine Vionnet’s work in the Musée des Arts décoratifs exhibition, Madeleine Vionnet:  Puriste de la Mode.  The exhibition, running June 24, 2009 through January 31, 2010 (you still have this weekend!) has brought to the public the first-ever retrospective exhibition of Vionnet’s oeuvre.



The exhibition is a delightful walk through early twentieth-century design, showcasing 130 of Vionnet’s designs, dating from 1912 to 1939.  In 1952, Vionnet, one of fashion’s most celebrated designers, credited with the creation of the bias cut and the one-seam dress, and women’s transition out of corsetry in the early part of the century, generously donated her collection of dresses, patterns, and photographs to the newly created Union Française des Arts du Costume, for preservation and for the education of future generations.  Included in the donation were 126 dresses and 727 patterns, 73 copyright albums (including sketches), and more than 12,800 photographs, constituting her maison‘s entire archive.


The exhibition was staid, chronologically and thematically laid out, in keeping with the reverence with which you would expect the work of a master couturière, known as the couturier’s couturier, to be displayed, simply letting the construction and exquisite details of the dresses speak for themselves.  Greeting us when we entered was an articulated small scale mannequin which Vionnet used to drape designs.  It was humble, but its significance was repeated visually, as the exhibition’s display mannequins were all full-scale versions of the doll-like figure.


I had hoped to have many good photographs of the exhibition to share, however, photography was interdit. Even better than my grainy photos are the following short (about two minutes each) and professionally produced videos on the exhibition.

Most of the dresses were accompanied by copies of the original illustrations for the designs.  Below is one example.


The show ranged over two floors in the museum.  The first floor covered Vionnet’s early decades.  The second floor covered her later period.  It was the second floor I had to breeze through, unfortunately, as my traveling companion was more interested in the museum’s other show, the Playmobil 35th anniversary exhibit, and had kindly been quite forbearing while I examined the displays on the first floor quite thoroughly, and whose patience was rewarded with a timely exit.


For more about Madeleine Vionnet:  Puriste de la Mode, visit the Musée’s extensive web site for the show.  It is in French.  If you do not read French, the site has a marvelous slideshow of dresses, photographs, and more, for which little understanding of French is needed.  If you do read French, you will particularly enjoy Pamela Golbin’s Imaginary Interview of Madeleine Vionnet, taken from the exhibition catalogue.


On the subject of the exhibition catalogue (titled Madeleine Vionnet:  Puriste de la Mode), I made sure to purchase a copy from the museum shop, 107 Rivoli, while I was there.  I wanted the catalogue in its original language and I wanted to be frugal, so I purchased the 55 euro French language edition over the 70 euro English edition.  As I write this, I see that purchasing the English edition from Amazon would have saved me even more money.   Today’s price for the title:  US $47, plus free Super Saver shipping.  Not bad for a book weighing more than 2 kilos.  Alors, c’est la vie, I have a wonderful addition to my library, and a treasured souvenir to help me expand my French vocabulaire de la mode.   If you would like to purchase your own copy in French, the museum shop’s site does not appear to offer online shopping, but here is a link to it on Amazon.fr.





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1 Comment

  • Natassja February 04, 2011 12.09 am

    Beautifully done<3


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