Diana Vreeland, for many years editor in chief of American Vogue and known for her acid pen, called her nothing less than the “most important fashion designer in the twentieth century.” Azzedine Alaïa characterised her as “the source of everything that lives on in our subconscious.” And the legendary fashion journalist Suzy Menkes quite simply finds everything about her “utterly modern”. One thing is certain: among connoisseurs of fashion Madeleine Vionnet (1876-1975), member of the Paris haute couture scene of the interwar years, is considered “the mother of all couturiers.” For everyone else, Vionnet the fashion pioneer is hardly more than a name long since forgotten. Unjustly, for her artistic influence is still very much in evidence.
Although the grand master of fashion Paul Poiret claimed exclusive credit for getting rid of the corset, the young Vionnet was actually the first designer to banish the armor-like-garment from her creations. Madeleine Vionnet designed feather-light, softly draped clothing distinguished not merely by the absence of a corset. The adoptive Parisian also forged entirely new paths in her handling of fabrics. Vionnet not only experimented with cuts (she was the first to work consistently with triangular inserts, circular cuts, vents, cowl necklines and halter necks), but also, with her exceptional feel for form and pattern, raised women’s couture to a whole new level.
This fashion architects most important innovation was the bias cut, in which the fabric is cut and worked, not as usual in parallel lines, but at the bias, at 45 degrees to the direction of the thread. Vionnet was fascinated by classical antiquity and it’s draperies. She was inspired by the fall of the drapes in ancient greek robes.
Madeleine Vionnet, perhaps the most gifted fashion designer of the twentieth century, has found only a supporting role in fashions collective memory in comparison to her contemporaries Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli. Vionnet may have discovered the perfect cut, but she understood comparatively little about crowd-pleasing self promotion.
“I never made fashion – I don’t know what fashion is……I only make the clothes I believe in.”
– Madeleine Vionnet