Only the truly wise know: Vionnet is, and remains, the absolute reference in terms of innovation, technique, purity and precision.
As Karl Lagerfeld once said, “Everyone, whether he likes it or not, is influenced by Vionnet”. Her unparalleled technical genius, inspired all the great fashion designers of the 20th century.
I dare say, I devote a particular devotion to Madeleine Vionnet. Beyond a professional career of rare rectitude and crazy and radical avant-gardism, it is her constant drive for rightness that makes me Madeleine Vionnet quite simply admirable.
And as such, I obviously cannot help but compare the professional and human journeys of these two women who revolutionized haute couture at the start of the 20th century: Chanel and Vionnet.
The first, which is self-baptized as “the queen of the poor look”, strips the female silhouette while also breaking it up by playing with an avalanche of necklaces and bracelets, while the other drapes the female body without any jewelry being necessary to enhance the silhouette. It’s about the woman and the dress and it’s enough.
It is Vionnet – and not Paul Poiret, as legend has it – who abandons the corset, when she is still working for Doucet. The scandal is such that the august house asks her to leave. This departure allows the opening of the Vionnet brand, on the sole capital of its founder. Again, I cannot help to put in perspective a Gabrielle Chanel, whose beginnings are funded by successive lovers, and a Madeleine Vionnet who is loyal to the business world. There is an unalterable integrity in this independent and hardworking woman.
It is Vionnet who uses crepe – a fabric of remarkable flexibility, formally reserved for the lining of dresses – because she sees it as the best way to wrap the body of the woman without constraining it.
It was Vionnet who invented the bias cut – because she saw it as the best way to drape and reveal the woman’s body as closely as possible. The exercise is extremely difficult, the bias cut requires total control of the fabric which naturally escapes from the hands and which unravels at the slightest touch.
It is Vionnet who purifies the woman’s silhouette, making her a living statue, each movement of which is draped in a glorious neoclassic aura.
There is a true rightness in her conception of the woman, if one must compare it to the ways of Gabrielle Chanel. Where Chanel erases the shape of women and makes them androgynous, Vionnet gives back their grace and their femininity a hundredfold.
Still right and sisterhood driven, when she moves the Vionnet house to 50 avenue Montaigne and has a well-lit atelier built for her workers who has the luxury of working on chairs and no longer on stools and who benefit from a dining hall, a medical and dental office and a nursery. The social rights and paid holidays granted by the Maison Vionnet are much more advantageous than what the law was providing at the time.
Eventually, she closes her fashion house in 1939, on the eve of the Second World War, with good reason, as she felt that times are changing and that things are about to get dark. At 63 years old, she withdraws from the public life and wants to be an attentive witness of an era in full upheaval, where a Gabrielle Chanel will be swimming in very troubled waters.
Vionnet put her ego aside and knowing that she had a created a working environment based in righteousness and excellence. “The important thing is to manage to live and work as one is, in truth, in short, to impose oneself … You always have to go beyond yourself to reach yourself”.
Oh how I love this woman.
The full version of the article is here: Faust Magazine
And if you want to read more, this is the book by her goddaughter Madeleine Chapsal: “Madeleine Vionnet, ma mère et moi”.
Vionnet dresses – Prada heels – Roger Vivier cuff – Eshvi bracelet – Artz Paris showroom