Madeleine Vionnet is a designer who never fails to surprise me. Here, from the Spring of 1929, is one of her dresses for young women:
The title of the article is “Paris Keeps Evening Necks High and Hems Low for the Young Girl.”
In the 1960s, Paco Rabanne became famous for his “Disc Dresses” — dresses made of plastic discs held together with metal rings. This one, dated 1965, is in the Collection of the Metropolitan Museum:
For a better view of the Paco Rabanne photographs, visit the Metropolitan Museum’s online collection. Click here. The 1960s disc dress was usually worn over a bodystocking. It was made for dancing. It wasn’t made for comfort — nor quiet.
It looks like Vionnet attached her large, overlapping discs to a chiffon underlayer:
“Madeleine Vionnet uses rose chiffon over white satin for a winsome model with skirt of overlapping discs and scarf.”
I’m not saying Rabanne even knew about this Vionnet design. I’m just saying that, when it comes to using big discs on evening wear, Vionnet got there first.
The wittiest, and best known, later variation on the disc dress has to be the one costume designer Lizzy Gardiner wore while accepting her Academy Award for The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in 1995. It was made of hundreds of gold American Express Credit cards linked together in the style of the 1960s disc dresses.
I wonder if anyone has made a “disk dress” by wiring together old floppy disks. Probably.
There is another Paco Rabanne disc dress (1967) in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, but the site may take a while to load. Click here.
8 responses to “Vionnet Did It Before Paco Rabanne: The Disc Dress”
I wonder what Vionnet’s disks were made of.
Good question! Celluloid was used in many ways; when I searched for “celluloid spangles” the New York Times came up with an article dated 1910 about a woman whose flammable dress may have lead to her death. Celluloid has been around since 1870, and is highly flammable. Smithsonian magazine says metal sequins were used in the twenties, but I haven’t personally seen any of them.
Which goes to show that there really isn’t anything new in fashion!
The ’60s dress reminds me of modern chain-mail, only more elegant. I made a shower curtain with sections connected by metal rings once (it was for a wedding present). There’s something fascinating about the combination of textiles and metal connectors.
The Paco Rabanne dress at the Victoria and Albert museum is called his chain mail dress!
I’m really interested in the illustrated Vionnet dress. I have never seen celluloid or gelatin sequins that large so I was wondering if you know of any evidence that supports that Vionnet used such large sequins?
It’s possible that they were metal, but one layer overlaps the other in the illustration, as if they were translucent — or maybe, just black pailletes. Metal would have been awfully heavy for a chiffon support. Of course, this is a period drawing of the dress, and may not be much more accurate than modern fashion sketches. (Butterick had an office in Paris for the purpose of keeping up with — and sometimes copying — the latest styles. Since many top level designers were illustrated on the same page, the original illustration in the Delineator was not very big. I put this interesting image out there for other researchers’ to follow up on. Betty Kirke is the expert; alas, I don’t have a copy of Betty Kirke’s Vionnet book — I have to use the one in my public library. Vionnet did go through a period of heavily sequinned designs in the 1920s. I’ll try to post a picture of one of them — but it’s nothing like the “disc” dress. Happy hunting!
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