A Sequinned Gown by Vionnet, 1924-1925

Mrs. Reginald Vanderbilt (nee Gloria Morgan) in a sequin trimmed black velvet gown by Vionnet. Photo by Steichen. Pond's cold cream ad, 1925.

Mrs. Reginald Vanderbilt (nee Gloria Morgan) in a sequin trimmed black velvet gown by Vionnet. Photo by Steichen. Pond’s cold cream ad, Delineator, June 1925.

In answer to Christina’s question about the Vionnet disc dress— what were the sequins really made of? — I have to acknowledge that I only saw that dress in one source, Butterick’s Delineator magazine from April 1929. As Molly Ivins said of a former president, “There is nothing so dangerous as a man who has only read one book” — a good reminder for anyone doing research.

When I find interesting things in old magazines, I try to put them in the blog so that other researchers can take the information and build on it — assuming that my source was reliable. I do try to leave a trail that can be followed — Month, Year, Name of Magazine. I have no reason to doubt the Delineator fashion sketches more than I doubt modern sketches;  Butterick maintained an establishment in Paris for the purpose of reporting on the latest styles (and occasionally, copying them . . . .)

Butterick Ad, August 1924, Delineator.

Butterick Ad, August 1924, Delineator.

“For Butterick keeps a staff of experts in Paris all the time. Wherever new models are launched, there is a Butterick expert noting each successful model. Quickly that expert cables the news. Sketches, details follow by the fast steamer. Immediately patterns are made for each of the successful new dresses.”

It’s true that Butterick ran one or two pages of sketches of Paris designs every month. In the 1920s, they were usually done by the illustrator and designer Soulie. Since there were usually five or more drawings per page, they’re not terribly large. Whether the sketches were perfectly accurate would be hard to establish without getting sketches or photos of the same garments from other sources.  ( I don’t have access to Vogue online, but that would be a good starting place.)

Mrs. Vanderbilt, photographed by Steichen in a gown by Vionnet. 1925.

Mrs. Vanderbilt, photographed by Steichen in a gown by Vionnet. Delineator, June 1925.

I found this photo of Mrs. Vanderbilt in a full page ad for Pond’s Face Cream — a celebrity endorsement. I could not find this exact dress in Betty Kirke’s Madeleine Vionnet, but Kirke did have numbered photos of similar sequin- trimmed dresses from the same collection. (It’s easy to forget that Vionnet was not averse to decoration; she just insisted that it be essential to the design, not added gratuitously.) Here is a detail of the skirt:

Vionnet using sequins on a black velvet gown, Delineator, June 1925.

Vionnet uses sequins on a black velvet gown, Delineator, June 1925.

Christina’s question was about the size and material of the paillettes on the disc dress. All the photo above shows is that Vionnet used sequins heavily in the 1920s, and could have custom work like this done to suit her needs. (Kirke does mention that.)

Vionnet dress trimmed with discs, 1929 .Sketches from Paris, The Delineator, April 1929, page 40.

Vionnet dress trimmed with discs, 1929 . Sketches from Paris, The Delineator, April 1929, page 40.

Whether the paillettes on the disc dress were celluloid or metal, I can’t say for sure, but “overlapping” metal that size would have been heavy for a “rose chiffon” support. (I suggested celluloid sequins; gelatin sequins have been used on clothing, but were unsatisfactory for several reasons — one being that they were water soluble….) So — if anybody finds out more about this disc dress, please let us know!

Whether this is relevant or not:  Many years ago, one of my friends was building costumes for a Russian circus that was going to perform in Japan. She visited their costume shop in Russia, and saw an unfamiliar machine next to a stack of clear plastic shirt collar supports — the kind used for packaging shirts so their collars don’t get squashed in shipping. When she asked, she was told that the machine was for making sequins — the costume shop had to make their own out of any scraps of shiny plastic they could salvage. When she got back to the U.S., she mailed them a big package of colored sequins.


Filed under 1920s, Vintage Couture Designs

9 responses to “A Sequinned Gown by Vionnet, 1924-1925

  1. I almost think the circles on the disc dress might be fabric.The top row looks like it has been stitched horizontally right down the centers of the circles to attach the skirt.

    I once helped build some costumes with scallops trimmed from chiffon that had a very similar look – especially on the side of the illustration where it looks like fluffy ruffles. Maybe it’s a combination of chiffon ruffles and a few celluloid discs placed in the ruffles just on the front and top edge of the skirt.

    • Brook and Myra — thank you for giving this so much thought. I love learning from you both. I did notice that line of stitching running through the top layer of circles. Perhaps they kept their shape by being invisibly stitched to the chiffon above The big discs look so reflective and stiff that I didn’t consider satin, but your point about the “ruffle” look at the side does suggest chiffon mixed in with whatever the rest was. Brava, and thank you, Brooke and Myra. P.S. I still would love to see a photo of that dress!

  2. I think it’s possible the discs were made of fabric. My first thought is perhaps they were very thin discs of mother-of-pearl which would have looked especially beautiful with the color scheme of the dress, rose chiffon over white satin…MOP would have been about as weighty as celluloid but more shimmery and more appropriately fancy for a dress such as that. Also the white satin underlining could have been used as the supportive base for the weight of the discs, thus reducing the strain on the airy chiffon. I tried to find documentative proof that Vionnet used something like that and came up with nothing, BUT I did find a rather interesting news article that described a Vionnet chiffon dress with “tucking over the hips that followed circular lines”.
    Here’s the link to that 1926 article…http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1961&dat=19260326&id=vH8hAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Z4sFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4744,2199152. So from that, we know she was using fabric to create geometric shaping, at least for that particular dress. In trying to find a picture of such a dress, I found another article from 1928 that mentioned a Patou chiffon dress with circular panels (http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1961&dat=19280301&id=0mstAAAAIBAJ&sjid=cYsFAAAAIBAJ&pg=1514,4649582) and when I tried to find a photograph of that, I found this picture of a 1928 Lanvin dress with fabric circles:
    It’s hard to tell for sure from the picture, but it looks like Vionnet may have used white satin fabric for the circles on the center front with rose chiffon loops or tucks for the more fluttery sides of the skirt and the fabric between the discs. Since we only know from the description that white satin and rose chiffon were used, as well as “discs” of some sort, I think it makes the most sense that the “discs” would have been fashioned out of the fabric, given the fabric circle trend other designers were using at the time. Plus, I think the description would surely have mentioned the color of the discs had they been made out of another material such as metal, celluloid, or mother-of-pearl.
    Just a thought:)

    • Myra, thank you for pursuing this. Those links to the Palm Beach News are great and worth moving around in — I even saw an ad that Boue Soeurs was having a ‘clearance’ sale — what we now call a trunk show! That Lanvin dress is definitely a festival of circular shapes. And, as I mentioned above, your suggestion that Vionnet used stiff white satin circles mixed with softer chiffon circles makes great sense. The more I read about Vionnet, the more amazing she seems, so nothing should surprise me. She sometimes used embellishment on sheer fabrics in order to give them the weight to hang properly (I’m remembering seeing slides of some sheer ballgowns from the thirties at a museum lecture.) I wish Betty Kirke’s book was available in paperback….! And that we had photos of every dress Vionnet ever made.

  3. Christina

    Great follow-up post with excellent comments. I have to say that I too thought the discs were likely to be fabric and I have seen round shapes almost indicative of petals used to the same effect on dresses from that period. The illustration does give the impression that the discs are solid, flat and shiny and that may be misleading. Flat and shiny may also represent satin. I would contact Betty Kirke via her website to see if she can shed light on this dress. I’m sure we would all be interested in her comments.

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