By the early 20th century, women were beginning to experience minute intimations of civil equality, and because of the First World War, jobs were opening up for women, but it would take countless alterations for women to fairly change their status. The feminist movement based itself around equating women’s political, social, and economic rights to men. One perpetual observation of the feminist movement is that women changed their clothing silhouettes correspondingly, and as a result; the fashion plunges also changed the view of women. Women wanted their clothes to radiate independence and control without showing their subjugation from men any longer. As women took faith in their self-reliance, feminine clothing would evolve with new practical trends that men could not direct. In the early 20th century, European women of the feminist movement were gaining attention through protests for women’s rights, but the most powerful protest was the visual demonstration of women’s independence through the revolutionary clothing designs of Gabrielle Chanel and Madeleine Vionnet.
To fathom the essence and work of Chanel and Vionnet, certain works should be well read. The Collection of the Kyoto Costume Institute of Fashion; A History from the 18th to the 20th Century, is a fashion textbook written by a collection of authors that covers major designers from the 18th century to the 20th century. This textbook full of primary photographs and encyclopedic facts is used as a school textbook for major fashion schools such as Parson School for Design. Gabrielle Chanel and Madeleine Vionnet were both well included in this compiled work. Then, for Chanel, an essay in reaction to Chanel, novels with quoted Chanel, and other photographs were used to gain information on Chanel. For Madeline Vionnet, another compiled work and quoted material was utilized and a journal written in response to a Vionnet exhibit. Both Gabrielle Chanel and Madeline Vionnet lead impressive enough lives to have these numerous works written about them.
There are numerous terms significant and unique to fashion that these designers were dealing with in their height of production. Feminism is explained by The Oxford Dictionary as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Gabrielle Chanel and Madeleine Vionnet created clothes that encouraged feminism in ways that were unexpected by men. The clothes of these designers were practical for all women, but eventually Chanel and Vionnet became famous enough to own their own design corporations of “fashion houses” as “Haute Couture” designers. Haute Couture clothing is considered to be high-quality products sold through supreme fashion houses that Chanel and Vionnet ran in Paris (Oxford). CoCo Chanel was inspired by minimalist dress of flappers who cut their hair short and wore straight fitting dresses for dancing in the early 1900’s (Thames & Hudson). Vionnet was best known for her drapery: “The art of creating a dress or garment simply by arranging fabric around a body using the natural fall of the fabric and techniques like pleating, gathering” (Bland New York). It was through these specific inspirations and techniques, that Chanel and Vionnet became the head of two of the most successful fashion houses in their time.
The turn into the 20th century brought upon a revolutionary change in women’s clothes away from the whalebone, constricting corset, towards a fit to the natural shape of a woman. French designer of the 1920’s, Gabrielle CoCo Chanel (1883-1971) found it necessary for women’s clothing to be functional and youthful as women were finding more work opportunities in society (Picardie 69). Through women’s suits, men’s inspired clothing, and the famous little black dress, Chanel made a mark for women in the feminist movement. Letting women take control of their image, despite the standards of men:
“It was she who brought sense and comfort to female
clothes, shifting their control from the viewer to the
wearer, from how clothes looked to men to how they
felt to women.” (Updike 466)
Through Chanel flapper minimalist inspiration, she was urged to do away with heavy weight and complexity of the clothing of the time (Updike). Chanel explained “Some women want to be gripped inside their clothes, never. I want women to enter my dresses and to hell with everything else,” because Chanel did not want the beauty of clothing to be a hindrance to a woman’s daily life (Wallach). Overall, the designs of Chanel were practical and logical to make a woman feel good about herself and to show how she wished to be taken by men (Wallach).
American Vogue considered Chanel “The Ford of Fashion” because she came up with a realistic fashion science that affected nearly every woman in the first half of the 1900’s (American Vogue). This phrase by American Vogue took the successful, universally known masculine name and applied it to a woman; this is one of many experiences where Chanel accomplished gaining equality to men.For the feminists, Chanel sought to found issues in her everyday-life that she felt applied to other women that could be resolved in her future designs (Picardie). For example, during WWI, Chanel made her clothing waterproof with deep pockets and raisable cuffs so that women could still shop despite the absence of transportation (Picardie). Then, after spending time on the beaches of the Riviera, Chanel thought to put straps on a cork sole and make sandals (Picardie). Therefore, it was not just about designing for herself, because Chanel found that every European woman could benefit through the help of her new designs
It was not only external issues that Chanel seeked to resolve in her clothing; it was also her wish to let clothing compensate for feminine self consciousness in a way that was not restricting (Madeson). Once when walking into a gala of wealthy people that she had to make an impression on, Chanel explained “my timid entrance, my awkwardness which contrasted with a wonderfully simple white dress, attracted people’s attention” (Picardie 70). On this occasion, Chanel realized that the wealthy women in the room, who revolved around showing off their assets of wealth, were alarmed by Chanel’s unexpected appearance. It was the new shocking simplicity of her attire that the women did not expect to catch so much attention (Picardie). Another shocking aspect of Chanel’s early designs was that they proved that Chanel made choices about her image that was independent of the men in her life; in fact, the double “C” in the Chanel symbol came from a clash Chanel had with her boyfriend, boy Capel (Hirst). The diverging “C’”s are even today a universally known symbol, but underneath the fame it a story the reiterates how Chanel and her clothes are symbols of feminine self-government (Picardie).
In 1917, Gabrielle was invited to an opera with her friends, and in the disastrous event of getting dressed and accidentally exploding the gas burner in her bathroom CoCo settled for a little black dress (Wallach). In the explosion, Chanel’s white dress was engulfed in soot and her hair was fried. Chanel cut her waist-length hair up to her chin and impulsively grabbed a black dress but was astonished to find incredible youth in the new look. “With bobbed hair and a little black dress, Chanel was neither slave girl nor wife, but something of her own making” (Percardie). Chanel claimd that everyone at the Opera was looking at her, they were impressed that “the darling of the English became the beauty of Paris” (Picardie 87). With this coincidental situation, Chanel made famous an eternally timeless dress that can draw exciting attention for women in almost any occasion.
The man behind the Chanel symbol, Chanel’s true love of the time, Boy Capel, died in a sudden car accident in 1919; Chanel mourns by wearing black (Hirst). Chanel persevered through the mourning of Capel “out of the past and into the future, wearing black as a symbol of strength and freedom” (Pircardie 93). Then the black dress turned into the chicest garment of the decade and was considered a uniform as dependable as the Ford automobile in 1926 by American Vogue (American Vogue).Chanel was from then an independent woman and symbol; she never married and proved that she could make a successful, famous living through her determination and revolutionary designs that sparked a notion in feminism. Chanel concluded about her little black dress: “I imposed black; it’s still going strong today, Black wipes out everything else around” (Wallach).
Numerous celebrities advocated Chanel’s designs during and past her age; these were successful women advirtising their clothing to display their self-achievements. In 1963, Jackie Kennedy wore a Pink Chanel suit on a presidential visit to Dallas; Kennedy chose the pink suit and hat to radiate the simplicity and elegance that her husband especially admired.It was that day that JFK was shot and killed in the parade. Jackie Kennedy’s suit was stained with blood and endured the shocking tragedy of the day along with her (Figure 3). By the end of the same day Kennedy walked with the hurse of her husband, wearing the same chanel suit that was now stained with her husband’s blood (picardie 289). From then on, Jackie Kennedy became a universal symbol of women’s strength and her Chanel suit has gone down in history with it. Other powerful symbols that accentuated the success of Chanel are women such as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor. Marilyn Monroe famously wore Chanel’s top selling perfume, Chanel No. 5 (Figure 4). Elizabeth Taylor wore the quilted Chanel suit and sported the quilted Chanel for advertisements as well. All of these women were strong women in society who were able to make fortunes equal to men and who loved Chanel’s clothing for accentuating their capabilities (Picardie).
Chanel died in 1971, but her fashion house is still a top running Haute Couture line. Chanel brought her company to that height of success because she did not let her gender altercate with her ideas. She once explained, “How many cares one loses when one decides not to be something but to be someone” (Karbo). Therefore, Chanel wished to express this idea through her clothing, that once a woman loses her self-consciousness in their clothing, many major tensions that allow male dominance would be weakened. Through her fearlessness to express only true feeling, seen in the little black dress, Grabrielle Chanel could perfect her designs to protest these real feminine feelings. At one point, Chanel was the richest self-made woman in the world, but Chanel continued to do much of the design labor herself even in her later years, because it was her mind showing through in her designs that gave a woman supreme carelessness to social tensions (Updike).
Madeleine Vionnet was a revolutionary French designer in the 1920’s who believed that clothing should make one effortless statement that gave women natural grace. Her simplistic clothing flats realized to drape upon the natural shape of like a soft glaze encapsulating a woman (Taschen 404).With this, Vionnet excluded any fabric and stitching that took away from the curves of the female body in her designs (Arnold). After viewing an early exhibit of Vionnet’s work, novice designer, Issey Miywake, expressed,
The impression was similar to the wonder one feels at
the sight of a woman emerging from bathing, draped
only in a sinlge piece of beautiful cloth. It was probably
awe some the realization that her basic concept of the
relationship between the body and cloth is the bases of
all clothing. Vionnet’s clothes transcended her time. (Miyake, 12)
By cutting down on distracting intricacies on the surface of her garments, Vionnet could embrace pure romanticism by allowing “emotions and human nature” complete the dress (Miyake, 13). Vionnet grounded this idea most securely in her skill of drapery hung to maximize the fluidity of women’s movement (Arnold). Then Vionnet also became famous for her extremely difficult “bias cut,” that cut the elastic in fabric to cling to a woman (Costume). Because the designs of Vionnet forced a woman to be bold and honest about her natural figure, she became a world-renowned innovator for feminine dynamism.
When Madeliene Vionnet moved to the fashion house of Callot Soeurs in 1900, she began to experiment with what would make her uniquely significant to feminists: draping (Arnold). In this environment, Vionnet worked with real models instead of relying on her imagination translated onto paper first. Vionnet’s clothing could then be exclusive to the woman wearing it, personalizing the expression of her own body type while maximizing her comfort in the garment. Now, the priority of women designing their figures came before the etching of a molded figure onto a design sketch. Vionnet explained, “It is pity to go against nature…The best control is the natural one” (Madeleine vionnet). Vionnet was exceptional at using her drapery to give ease to pivotal points in the human figure while keeping others still from the viewer’s eye; this gave the appearance of women with healthy, carefree body types (Kirke).
In the early 1920’s Madeleine Vionnet took her simplistic concepts a step further by keeping her silhouettes sleek while uniquely folding the surface fabrics of her skirts. In this way, the varying textures of fabrics interact and the dresses would appear to be made of many fabrics with various layers, while still accentuating the woman’s figure (Taschen). It in these designs that Vionnet’s Japanese influence and appreciation of origami came through. Symbolically, these Japanese designs that Vionnet was successful with spreading, referenced the traditional Japanese woman.
In the turn into the 20th century, woman in Japan experienced a peak in their status. They had great patriarchal roles in society and were culturally viewed to have a balanced power to their husbands (Status). In Japan, the idea of equality far different than the Western world; the Japanese viewed equality between genders as the “balance of advantage, opportunity, and responsibility over time” (Iwao). Through the infusion of oriental techniques in her designs, Madeleine Vionnet could make this statement towards reaching equality based on achievement rather than gender. Through Vionnet, women’s clothes not only evolved with their increasing role in society, but purpose of the clothing also stated that women were willing to take the opportunities and responsibilities that men were filling.
Vionnet was most famous for coming up with her signature cutting technique known as the “bias cut” of fabric. The bias cut is described as a cut across the grain of fabric that lays the elastic strands of fabric vertically (Figure 1). Fabric can be pulled along its yarns or strands to be stretched, but when the fabric is pulled at an exact forty-five degree angle between the intersecting strands, its bias, Vionnet discovered that the fabric will stretch even more noticeably, especially when hung vertically. After this discovery, Madeleine Vionnet continued to adjust the weight of the fabric by laying it in checkerboard patterns so that the fabric would not be distorted with gravity and the bias would elegantly ripple (Figure 2). On the Torso, elastic strands will cling to the garment wearer, and the dress becomes form fitting, while permitting movement with the figure’s natural curves. Ultimately, this technical cut that designers today often choose not to tackle, was formfitting to a woman’s torso while the rippling in the skirt fabric played agreeably with the movement of a woman (Kirke). “When one knows one’s craft, one takes [pulls] a piece of fabric…in every possible direction,” as Vionnet explained, so that a design can be perfected and dedicated to the prevailing figure of a woman (Dorsey).
Vionnet knew herself, her clients, and her fabrics well enough to purposefully design for the body rather than for social standards. It is logical to think of the body in its structure and anatomy when designing; however, Vionnet came to think of the body as collection “concave” and “convex” areas. With this, Vionnet made clothes that “fit well, moved well, and possessed aesthetic elegance beyond its two-dimensional form” (Kirke). Vionnet often stood quietly in the background of her shows, but she was a revolutionary with her designs that spoke of equality, honesty, and elegance, helping women gain these standings during the European feminist movement (Miyake).
Because leading designers Chanel and Vionnet changed the way women were viewed with their daily dress, the feminist movement was catalyzed through visual representation. Like Grecian Godesses, woman could choose to wear whimsical dresses that expressed the virtue and capacity of the natural woman (Taschen). Also, the body language and body image of a woman is a major tool in getting across an honest impression and significant impact to the standard of men. Women protesting to work, vote, and join parliament in the feminist movement would not be able to follow through with their intentions wearing restrictive corset dresses. Fortunately, designers like Chanel and Vionnet recognized this incongruence and worked to help women during the movement. The aid of these two designers did not just support the movement however; it guided the everyday life of a woman to become a testament of feminine detachment from the leash of men. Women learned to move freely in their clothing as well as through the social eye while they wore clothing that fitted their own needs and not the needs of viewing males. It was Gabrielle Chanel and Madeleine Vionnet that clarified the definition of control when it came to a woman clothing her figure (Updike).
The 19th century experienced rapid changes of the image of a woman because Gabrielle Chanel and Madeleine Vionnet were not hesitant about standing up for the equality of gender.
Through Chanel, simplistic and even menswear clothing was designed to express superior feminine beauty. The logistics of wearing comfortable clothes that accentuated a woman in a natural way finally became tangible through Chanel (Taschen). Then through Vionnet, women could sport their sensuality without materialistic structuring, as the dresses gripped to the unique and natural structures of the body. The form of a woman was perceptible in a way that was never accepted to be publicly visible before (Kirke). Both women sought to search beyond the heavy layers of fabric that women were required to wear to find the true skin of a woman that could be exceptional in its beauty when smoothed in their designs. Clothing did not grant women direct freedoms, but its constant protuberance of protest catalyzed the revolutionary changes in the European feminist movement.
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"Status and Role Change Among Japanese Women” - Associated Content from Yahoo!
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