Early 20th Century Couture by Mariano Fortuny (1871 – 1949)

Spanish-born artist and designer Mariano Fortuny (1871 – 1949) was active in Italy, where he established a textile workshop and a commercial silk printing factory. The multi-tasked artist spent most of his life in Venice where he was an architect, couturier, inventor and painter.

Working in the early 20th century, Fortuny’s gowns were especially popular among the avant garde women of ’20s and ’30s who were seeking both freedom of movement and a hint of exoticism in their wardrobe.

Fortuny rebelled against the style lines that were popular during his time period and created the Delphos gown, a shift dress made of finely pleated silk weighed down by glass beads that held its shape and flowed on the body. The pleating that he used was all done by hand and no one has been able to recreate pleating that is as fine as his or has held its shape like his dresses have for many years. He also manufactured his own dyes and pigments for his fabrics using ancient methods. With these dyes he began printing on velvets and silks and dyed them using a press that he invented with wooden blocks that he engraved the pattern onto. His dresses are seen as fine works of art today and many survive, still pleated, in museums and many people’s personal collections.

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Mrs. William Wetmore Modeling a Delphos Gown, Photograph by Lusha Nelson. Originally published in Vogue, December 15, 1935. via

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George Platt Lynes, Mai-Mai Sze, Dress by Mariano Fortuny, 1934 via

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Mariano Fortuny, Delphos Gown, 1920s via

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Mariano Fortuny, Lillian Gish in Delphos Gown, 1910s via

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Countess Elsie Lee Gozzi wearing an Eleanora dress, 1920s via

A Collection of Vintage Fashion by Charles James

Though he had no formal training, he is now regarded as one of the greatest designers in America to have worked in the tradition of Haute Couture. After designing in his native London, and then Paris, James arrived in New York City in 1940. The same year he opens Charles James, Inc. custom design business on East Fifty-seventh Street, New York. In 1943 James begins designing custom creations for Elizabeth Arden. One of his most successful collections opened in Paris in 1947 at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée. In the 1950s he spent most of his time in New York.

James looked upon his dresses as works of art, as did many of his customers. Year after year he reworked original designs, ignoring the sacrosanct schedule of seasons. The components of the precisely constructed designs were interchangeable so that James had a never-ending fund of ideas on which to draw. He is most famous for his sculpted ball gowns made of lavish fabrics and to exacting tailoring standards; in 1955 James created the Balloon dress with high Empire waist and voluminous folds and the Butterfly sheath dress with enormous bustle.  He is also remembered for his capes and coats, often trimmed with fur and embroidery, his spiral zipped dresses, and his white satin quilted jackets.

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Charles James (in black) with models during one of his fashion show, photographed by Eliot Elisofon, ca. 1950 via

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Dominique de Menil at home, dressed in Charles James and on Charles James couch, ca. 1951 via

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Charles James Butterfly Gown 1954, photo by Cecil Beaton via

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Austine Hearst in Charles James Four Leaf Clover Dress, ca. 1953 via

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Charles James, Dresses, 1959 via

A Collection of Photos Feat. Belle Epoque Dresses by Jeanne Paquin

Jeanne Paquin (1869 – 1936) was a leading French fashion designer, who created alongside her husband, Isidore Paquin, an influential couture business. In 1890 the couple opened Maison de Couture Rue de la Paix in Paris, close to the celebrated House of Worth.

The Maison Paquin quickly became known for its eighteenth century-inspired pastel evening dresses and tailored day dresses, as well as for its numerous publicity stunts, including organizing fashion parades to promote her new models and sending her models to operas and races in order to show off her designs. Jeanne Paquin withdrew from the House in 1920. She was a beautiful woman and a style icon herself, who imagined youthful and exquisite garments

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Jeanne Paquin, 1910 via

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Jeanne Paquin, 1910 via

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Jeanne Paquin. Evening gown. Reutlinger, Les Modes May 1902 via

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Jeanne Paquin. Afternoon dress by Paquin. Reutlinger, Les Modes May 1902 via

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Jeanne Paquin. Tailored suits by Paquin. Félix, Les Modes June 1909 via

Early 20th Century Fashion & Design by Paul Poiret (1879–1944)

Paul Poiret (1879 – 1944) became a legendary French Couturier. His contributions to twentieth-century fashion have been likened to Picasso’s contributions to twentieth-century art. Poiret dominated Belle Epoque fashion and reshaped women’s silhouettes by liberating them from constricting corsets and popularising the high waist. From abolishing the corset he went further with hobble skirts, “harem” pantaloons, and “lampshade” tunics, using the fabulous soirées he threw in his garden to promote such whimsies. His most famous soirée was The Thousand and Second Night party he threw in 1911. Unfortunately post war Europe and the public were not akin or sympathetic to Poiret’s style and he closed his house, heavy in debt, in 1929.

He was employed at the house of Worth but did not continue there for long. On the 1st September, 1904 he opened his own establishment at 5 Rue Auber. Between 1904-1924 he irrevocably changed the feminine form with his new fashion designs.  Poiret’s major contribution to fashion was his development of an approach to dressmaking centered on draping, a radical departure from the tailoring and pattern-making of the past. He dismissed the use of corsets, he eliminated layered petticoats, was influenced by orientalism and he introduced the first modern straight lined dress. He also was the first designer to commercialise his own perfumes, launching a now standard marketing concept. He is also quoted to have said:

“My wife is the inspiration for all my creations; she is the expression of all my ideals.”

His wife, Denise, was his muse, creative director of the fashion house, and his favorite model. However, they divorced less than amicably in 1928 (Time reported: “M. Poiret charged that his wife’s attitude was injurious; Mme Poiret counter charged that her husband was cruel”).

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Paul Poiret Studio, 1910’s

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Paul Poiret’s studio

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Paul Poiret’s costume party

Paul Poiret, 1925.

Paul Poiret, 1925

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Paul Poiret, “Amphitrite” Cape, textile designe by Raoul Dufy, 1926

Paul Poiret, 1927

Early 20th Century Photos of Iconic French Designer Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel

Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel (1883 – 1971) was a French fashion designer and founder of the Chanel brand. She is the only fashion designer listed on Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century. Along with Paul Poiret, Chanel was credited with liberating women from the constraints of the “corseted silhouette” and popularizing the acceptance of a sportive, casual chic as the feminine standard in the post-World War I era. A prolific fashion creator, Chanel’s influence extended beyond couture clothing. Her design aesthetic was realized in jewelry, handbags, and fragrance. Her signature scent, Chanel No. 5, has become an iconic product.

Chanel was known for her lifelong determination, ambition, and energy which she applied to her professional and social life. She achieved both success as a businesswoman and social prominence thanks to the connections she made through her work. These included many artists and craftspeople to whom she became a patron. However, Chanel’s life choices generated controversy, particularly her behaviour during the German occupation of France in World War II.

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Coco Chanel via

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Coco Chanel à Moulins, 1903 via

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Gabrielle Chanel, Deauville, 1913 via

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Coco Chanel via

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Salvador Dalí and Coco Chanel via

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Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel 1931 via

Stylish & Elegant Vintage Madeleine Vionnet Fashion Photography

Madeleine Vionnet (1876 – 1975) was a French fashion designer. Called the “Queen of the bias cut” and “the architect among dressmakers”. With her bias cut clothes, Vionnet dominated haute couture in the 1930s setting trends with her sensual gowns worn by such stars as Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn and Greta Garbo.

Vionnet’s vision of the female form revolutionized modern clothing and the success of her unique cuts assured her reputation. She fought for copyright laws in fashion and employed what were considered revolutionary labor practices at the time – paid holidays and maternity leave, day-care, a dining hall, a resident doctor and dentist.

Vionnet was also the first designer to introduce a prêt-à-porter (ready to wear) line based on her couture pieces, which she sold in the United States. Today, Madeleine Vionnet is considered one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century.

Madeleine Vionnet


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Edward Steichen. Marion Morehouse and unidentified model wearing dresses by Vionnet. 1930 Courtesy Condé Nast Archive © 1930 Condé Nast Publications

Cecil Beaton, Madeleine Vionnet

Madeleine Vionnet, 1935

Vionnet hound’s tooth coat with three buttons and a transformable collar, 1930

A Collection of Vintage Photos of 1930s Schiaparelli

Elsa Schiaparelli couldn’t sew and she didn’t sketch, yet she stormed Paris fashion in the 1920s and 1930s.  Along with Coco Chanel, her greatest rival, she is regarded as one of the most prominent figures in fashion between the two World Wars.

While her contemporaries Chanel and Vionnet set the period’s standards of taste and beauty in fashion design, Schiaparelli flouted convention in the pursuit of a more idiosyncratic style. Her designs were heavily influenced by Surrealists and she Invented the power shoulders, the wedge shoes, the jumpsuit, and the color shocking pink and inspired a generation of unconventional couturiers. Of her contemporaries she described Chanel as “that milliner”, while Chanel once dismissed her rival as ‘that Italian artist who makes clothes”.

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Elsa Schiaparelli, 1930’s via

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Comtesse de Zoppola in Elsa Schiaparelli, photographed by Edward Steichen, 1931 via

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Elsa Schiaparelli & Salvador Dali, Shoe-Hat, 1937/ 1938, wearing by Gala. Photo by André Caillet Fils, c. 1930s via

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A model in a Schiaparelli design, 1934 via

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The actress Ginger Rogers wearing Schiaparelli’s black velvet “Galyak” coat, 1937 via

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Marlène Dietrich in Elsa Schiaparelli evening dress, 1930s via
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Mae West in ‘Everyday’s a Holiday’, Elsa Schiaparelli designed her outfit, 1938 via

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Elsa Schiaparelli, dress and silver gloves, 1939 via