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Fashion in Paris of 1850 till 1950

Fashion has always been a constituent part of the people’s life. Some can deny it, others can agree, but in both cases the influence of fashion on the cultural development are undeniable. Fashion reveals the inner world of people as well as it hides negative sides and highlights positive. The power of it is drastic, and even those who consider themselves to be far from the fashionable life, reveal their attitude, negative or positive, and, therefore, importance of fashion, through acceptance or denial of its influence on humans’ life.

Paris fashion is the leading force for the bigger part of the world. Now it is difficult to imagine life without the revolution in clothes made by Gabriel Chanel in the beginning of the 20th century. However, many people do not know that Coco Chanel was not an only cloth designer who appeared in the pages of the glamour magazines of that time. French history of the period from 1850 till 1950 flaunts with talented young people who do everything to reveal their creative ideas on clothes: Coco Chanel, Madeline Vionnet, Elsa Schiaparelli, Paul Poiret, Charles Worth – to name just a few (20th century n.d.).

The importance of Charles Frederick Worth in the world’s fashion cannot be undermined. He is openly considered to be the founder of haute couture, that is the high fashion (Thomas n.d.).  Nonetheless the fact that Worth was born in England, the French fashion industry would not be so influential without him in our days. Owing to Worth, the dressmaking turned into the artistic process with an artist at its head: Fashion designer. It was Charles Worth whose steps were followed later on by Chanel, Vionnet, Poiret, Lanvin, Schiaparelli, Dior, Patou, Fortuny, Callot Soeur, Mainbocher, and Balenciaga (Kent 2003). 

Most of these designers still exist today, including many others that promote the fame of Paris as of the fashion capital. Thanks to the revolutionizing changes that these designers made in the fashion industry, French haute couture is considered to be leading in the whole world up to nowadays marking the trends in the whole world. Now I would like to attract a special attention to Madeleine Vionnet whose input into the fashion industry is enormous.

Madeleine Vionnet is often called “the architect among dressmakers” or “Queen of the bias cut” due to her elegant and sophisticated Grecian style of dresses and first use of the bias cut (Golbin et al 2009). Vionnet’s clothes is famous for its accent on the natural beauty of the female curves. She rejected everything that distorted this beauty: Corsets, stiffening, padding, etc. Her main source of inspiration was modern dances performed by Isadora Duncan:

Unlike most of the fashion designers of that time, Vionnet worked in the mass production, simplifying her designs so people of different positions can wear her clothes. It was quite a breakthrough at that period as people in 1920s and 1930s could not afford to buy trendy items. Such availability of her clothes made it well-known bringing the designer wealth and fame. Surprisingly, but she always showed her disapproval of the fashion world (Golbin et al 2009).

Her clothes were worn by such stars as Katharine Hepburn, Marlene Dietrich, and Greta Garbo. Vionnet’s perception of the woman revolutionized contemporary clothes and the outstanding success of her unusual cuts made her a great reputation (Golbin et al 2009).

Nevertheless, this breakthrough does not fulfill her list of achievements. Madeleine Vionnet was truly a fascinating woman who fought for the copyright laws in the world of fashion, too. She employed several practices concerning labor which were quite innovative for those times: Day-care, maternity leave, paid holidays, a dentist, a resident doctor, and a dining hall (Golbin et al 2009).

Unfortunately, with the beginning of the World War II, Vionnet had to close her classy house in 1939. Nonetheless, she did not stop her fashion activity and worked as a mentor for many later designers, sharing with them her principles on beauty, elegance, movement, timeless style, and architectural form (Quick 2009).

Nowadays, Madeleine Vionnet is regarded as one of the most influential designers since 20th century. Her deeply sensual approach to fashion as well a bias cut, halter neck, and handkerchief neck has a great impact on the modern couture as prove the collections of such designers as Marchesa, John Galliano, Ossie Clark, Issey Miyake, Comme des Garcons, Halston, and Azzedine Alaia (Madeleine Vionnet fashion and style n.d.).

Madeleine Vionnet together with Coco Chanel, Paul Poiret and Charles Worth set up the fundament of the kind of fashion which became felt in the whole world, marking a completely new age in the fashion industry. These designers made Paris the most prominent fashion city despite the growing influence of Milan, London, and New York. Therefore, no wonder that when looking at the world’s fashion designers, involuntarily the thought comes out that the overwhelming majority of the best comes from France, namely Paris. Of course, we can meet outstanding clothes designers around the whole world, but Paris still remains the cradle for the whole fashion industry since as early as 18th century. The main reasons of Paris becoming a capital of the fashion industry are (Stratford n.d.): a) Rose Bertin, the couturier, was called to be the Minister for Fashion in the 18th century keeping this position up to the Napoleonic times and, therefore, promoting the development of the fashion industry to the great extent; b) Charles Worth was first who put clothes on live models to help clients choose which garment they prefer; moreover, he started to implement his creative ideas into the clothes, dictating in such a way the new trends and successfully promoting other designers to do the same so they can dictate the fashion. This made anyone think that those who wanted to become famous designers must be in Paris so they can work in the couture house, or better create their own; c) During the both world wars, London, Milan, and New York had quite enough fashion influence, however, after the World War II was over, all designers went back to Paris and couture returned: Dior gained special influence, Chanel was still well-known, Yves Saint Laurent came to stage – altogether cementing Paris’ hold on style.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the unique culture of France, a special way of thinking of its people, and the confidence to take challenges of the growing society made the city a true capital of the world’s fashion whose designers marked, mark, and will continue to mark world’s development of clothes trends.

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