Sunday, October 18, 2015

A Trio of Opulent 1920s Dresses

Sunday, October 18, 2015
Isabella reporting,

When Loretta recently wrote a post featuring the latest fashions for 1919 - the first glimpse of new styles for a new age - the simplicity of the fashions appealed to many of you. The uncorseted clothing for women of the 1920s was in fact much more relaxed, with a narrower and less complicated silhouette that hadn't been seen in fashion for over a hundred years.

But uncomplicated didn't mean plain, at least where couture dresses were concerned. In skilled hands, those simple rectangular shapes became the perfect canvas for lavish beading, lace trims, embroidery, tassels, and all-around embellishment. Rich fabrics and brilliant, saturated colors added to a lavish sense of opulence.

I saw these three dresses in the Immortal Beauty exhibition from the Fox Historic Costume Collection of Drexel University, Philadelphia. In a gallery filled with beautiful clothes, they stood out like the gems that they are.  They glowed, and I can imagine how they must have stood out in any party.

The afternoon dress on the left is the work of Vitaldi Babani,  a Parisian fashion house founded in 1894 that also imported and sold exotic goods from around the world. With its vivid color and dramatic patterning, this velvet dress reflects the international influences that were so much a part of 1920s design.

The other two dresses are evening wear, designed by the trendsetting Callot Soeurs. The three French sisters - Marie, Marthe, Régine, and Joséphine - were known for their luxurious, detailed garments, and they often incorporated Asian textiles and motifs into their designs. The dresses came from the estate of Philadelphian Amanda "Minnie" Drexel Fell Cassatt, whose taste favored the opulent creations of the Callot Soeurs.

The details in the dresses are astonishing, featuring elaborate embroidery and faux gemstones. The close-up of the bodice (click on the image to enlarge it fruther), right, shows how the metallic thread embroidery was given extra texture through the use of hundreds of tiny glass pearl beads. With the sheer shoulder straps blending into the skin, this dress would have been quite daring, a stunning, shimmering fashion statement that's still modern today.

Immortal Beauty will be on display from October 2 - December 12 in the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery on Drexel's campus at 3401 Filbert Street. The exhibition is open Tuesday-Sunday, from 11:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Above: Afternoon dress by Vitaldi Babani, c1926; Evening gown by Callot Soeurs, 1926; Evening gown by Callot Soeurs/Henri Bendel, 1919.
Below: Detail, Evening gown by Callot Soeurs, 1926.
Photographs copyright 2015 by Susan Holloway Scott.


Karen Anne said...

The necklines on the two on the right look impossibly low...

Anonymous said...

They are gorgeous. (And the click to enlarge the design in the turquoise dress doesn't work).

My mother kept one dress (which was a wild extravagance) that she had bought in the 20's - red with an assymetric hem. I wish my bones hadn't outgrown her size!

Helen Wilbers said...

It's way too easy to forget that the 1920's weren't all black and white and gold--they were gloriously, bombastically colorful too! Wow.

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