Madeleine Vionnet, Vintage Designer History

Madeleine Vionnet often called ‘Mistress or Queen of the bias cut’, was a French born designer, who is most famous for her creation of the bias cut in the 1920’s.

Madeleine was born to a poor family in 1876. As a child she demonstrated great skills in mathematics and geometry, something that would become evident in her ability to cut fabrics later in life.  She was forced to give up school at the age of 11 to take up work as an apprentice to a seamstress, in order to help out the family financially.

Madeleine married at the age of 17 (in 1894) and a year later,  she divorced (I could find no info on the man she married or the daughter she apparently had that died the same year) and fled to the London, where she took up work with the London clothes manufacturer Kate O’Reilly.  She returned to Paris in 1900 and took a job with Callot Soeurs, a well known couture house.

In 1905, she took a job with another famous name of the day, Jacques Doucet.  Madeleine remained here until she decided to open her own ‘House of Vionnet’ in 1912, but it was shut 2 years later, because of the outbreak of  WWI. It wasn’t until she reopened in 1918 that she became a recognizable name.

Using miniature wooden models, Madeleine worked like a sculptor.  She would drape the material onto the models to see how the fabric would fall around the curves, allowing her to develop flattering folds and later the famous bias cut. (A similar technique was used by Paul Poiret) Madeleine did not take much interest in color and  favored embroidery, knots and drapery as  forms of decoration. She was very much inspired by the arts and style of the ancient Greeks and I think that is evident when you look at her dresses. She is also credited with inventing the halter and cowl neck.

Madeleine was very concerned about her unique designs being copied and as a result, photographed each one on 3 sides, cataloging all of them as she went along.  By the time she had retired from fashion she had filled 75 albums that she later donated to the Museum of Fashion and Textiles in Paris. Not surprisingly, she was one of the very first designers to fight for copyright laws for clothing.

Although her designs were hugely popular in the 20’s and 30’s, especially among the rich and the famous, (such as Katherine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich) when she was forced to shut down again in 1939,( due to  yet another World War), she never reopened her fashion house and as a result, is relatively unknown among those not interested in fashion. I wish I could say more about why she decided this and what she did from then until the time she passed away in 1975, but she was notoriously private and there seems to be very little written about her personal life. (If anyone knows or could suggest reading material for this, it would be greatly appreciated!) What I do know, however, is her work still inspires and influences designers today and the exhibition done of her work at the Les Arts Décoratifs (which of course ended yesterday, blast!) shows how timeless all of her creations were.

The label has been bought by several different names since 1988, first producing accessories and perfumes, then from 2006 to 2008, demi-couture collections, to finally in 2009, taken over by Matteo Marzotto, owner of a powerful Italian textile group. The head of design now working for them is Rodolfo Paglialunga, who spent 13 years previously working for Prada. Thanks to Marzotto and Paglialunga the label is starting to make a comeback and Ive seen more than a few celebs sporting the Vionnet label on the red carpet, Carey Mulligan, Natalie Portman and Cameron Diaz to name a few… (I really cant believe I missed the exhibit by a day, A DAY!) jeezussss.

Enchanted Vintage

Madeleine with one of her mini models

Enchanted Vintage

A dress from The Met Exhibit, another one I missed!

Enchanted VintageEnchanted Vintage

Enchanted Vintage

carey-mulligan wearing Vionnet

For more fabulous images I stumbled across this blog, of someone who actually went to the exhibit and took pics. Well worth a look!!

  • http://howtoplayaukulele.com sherbet

    Great research Jessica

    • Anonymous

      Thanks sherbet!

  • http://taxonomyofmywardrobe.blogspot.com/ Veshoevius

    Interesting post – I have been intrigued by the return of this label and the history of the house. I love draped styles as I think they are very flattering to the female form.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks. I would love to know more about her, Im going on the hunt for a good biography. Maybe Ill update this post when I know more. Her gowns were stunning. Id love to have seen some of the pieces in the exhibits.

  • Pingback: French Fashion | Queen Of The Bias Cut, Madeleine Vionnet()