Something in the Air: Fabrics, 1917

Paisley, embroidery and large scale dots, March 1917. Delineator.

Print fabric, embroidery, and large scale dots, March 1917. Delineator.

At my grandmother’s house was an inexpensive child’s version of The Arabian Nights, with black and white illustrations that fascinated me.

Illustration from title page of Arabian Nights, Winston edition, 1924.

Illustration from title page of Arabian Nights, John C. Winston Co. edition, 1924. Illustrator not named.

The Enchanted Horse, illustration from Arabian Nights, John Winston Co., 1924

The Enchanted Horse, illustration from Arabian Nights, John C. Winston Co., 1924. The artist’s initial in the corner is FR.

Illustration for The Arabian Nights, probably by Rene Bull.

Illustration for The Arabian Nights, probably by Rene Bull. A feast of pattern and textures in black and white.

I recently located an edition similar to the one I loved and lost. When I began to research the illustrator, things got complicated. My 1924 book, published in America by the John C. Winston Co., says “with colored plates by Adeline H. Bolton.” But the black and white illustrations, much more exciting (to me) are not credited, and they appear to be by more than one artist, “FR” and Rene Bull among them. And some, at least, date back to 1912.

It even appears that “Adeline H. Bolton” . . .

Color illustration signed A. Bolton. Winston edition.

Color illustration signed A. H. Bolton. Winston edition. 1924

. . . may have been hired to paint like Rene Bull. I can’t identify “FR”, but at least some of the black and white illustrations are signed by Rene Bull — who had done illustrations for a 1912 British edition of The Arabian Nights, also published that year in the U.S. by Dodd, Mead, & Company. Bull illustrated The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam in 1913, and Russian Ballet, by A.E. Johnson, also in 1913.

Illustration from Russian Ballet, 1913 ed., by Rene Bull.

Illustration from Russian Ballet, 1913 edition, signed Rene Bull in lower right corner.

I’m not the first to notice that the costumes of the Ballets Russesan explosion of color, embroidery, jewels, and complex pattern — influenced fashion in the first part of the twentieth century! Oddly, the contemporary book Russian Ballet (1913) is not illustrated with costume sketches by Bakst, who designed many of them, but by that well-known illustrator of Middle Eastern tales, Rene Bull.

Looking through Delineator fashion illustrations from 1917, I keep seeing echoes of my old Arabian Nights, which may have been pirated in part from the 1912 Rene Bull edition. The stripes, the embroidery, the gauzy fabrics and large-scale prints, even the poses, show how deeply this kind of art permeated the era. “Zeitgeist” might be too strong a word, but “something in the air” might apply to fashion illustration, Rene Bull, “FR”, and textile designs inspired by them.

Illustration by FH for Arabian Nights. The Princess feigns madness.

Illustration by FR for Arabian Nights:  The Princess feigns madness. A riot of checks, stripes, dots, arabesques of sheer fabric, and embroidery.

Sheer top with embroidery Feb. 1917. Delineator.

Sheer dress with embroidery Feb. 1917. Delineator.

April 1917 lingerie dresses, Butterick's Delineator.

April 1917 lingerie dresses, Butterick’s Delineator. Embroidered circles on sheer fabric, left; widely spaced circular patterns on right.

Airy poses, and a long gown with large-scale pattern, by Doucet. 1917. Delineator.

Airy-fairy-peri poses, and a long gown with large-scale pattern of medallions of “blue and green Chinois flowers,” by Doucet. 1917. The bodice has “diamonds and sapphires embroidered over silver lace.” Delineator.

(A peri is a magical being from The Arabian Nights. There’s an illustration of one later in the post.)

Large scale pattern and drifting draperies, 1917. The Ballets Russes repertory included Greek costumes for "Narcissus" and "Afternoon of a Faun."

Large scale circular pattern and sheer, drifting draperies, 1917.

The Ballets Russes repertory included Greek costumes  (like the third, above) for “Narcissus” and “Afternoon of a Faun.” This advertisement, from much later, shows that complex black and white patterns still appealed to readers in the 1920’s.

This illustration in an ad for Needle Art appeared in 1924. Delineator.

This illustration is an ad for Needle Art which appeared in 1924. Delineator. I love the play of black and white patterns, still appealing to readers long after 1917.

Large scale patterns, stripes, emboidery, exoticism. Illustration from Russian Ballet dates to 1913.

Large scale patterns, stripes, embroidery, flowing draperies, exoticism. Illustration by Rene Bull from Russian Ballet,  1913. Note the circular decoration on their sleeves.

Large Scale Fabric Ornamentation, 1917

Embroidery and large scale patterns, 1917. Delineator.

Large scale embroidery and fabric patterns, 1917. Delineator.

Large scale prints, May, 1917. Delineator.

Large scale prints, May, 1917. Delineator. The design on the left is oriental lanterns. The prints on the right are large and widely spaced.

Large scale, widely spaced prints for summer, 1917. Delineator.

Large scale, widely spaced prints for summer, 1917. Delineator.

Large scale prints, widely spaced. Delineator, 1917.

Large scale prints, widely spaced. Delineator, 1917. Embroidery on blouse, left.

Fabrics with big dots, widely spaced. 1917.

Fabrics with big dots, widely spaced. 1917. The skirt on the right makes me think of “harem pants.”

Illustration for Arabian Nights and some fabrics with similar properties.

Bolton illustration for Arabian Nights, with some 1917 fabrics with similar properties. Was Bolton influenced by familiar dress fabrics? Or just imitating the successful illustration style of 1912 – 1913?

Checkerboard print and big dots with a hexagon design. 1917, Delineator

Checkerboard print and big dots with a hexagon design. 1917, Delineator

Checkerboards and Big Stripes, 1917

Delineator, June 1917.

Delineator, June 1917.

Stripes and squares in wild profusion; illustration by FR for Arabian nights.

Stripes, squares and dots in wild profusion; illustration by FR for Arabian nights.

Checkerboard patterned fabrics, 1917. Delineator

Checkerboard patterned fabrics, 1917. Delineator

January stripes, June checkerboard stripes, July checkerboard print.1917

January stripes, June checkerboard stripes, July checkerboard print. 1917. Delineator.

Ad for Keds shoes and a Victrola. 1917.

Ad for Keds shoes and an ad for a Victrola. 1917.

Did I mention the mania for embroidery?

A Peri (Persian Fairy) and a Prince, by Rene Bull. Arabian Nights.

A Peri (Persian Fairy) and a Prince, by Rene Bull. Arabian Nights.

Embroidered garments, 1917.

Embroidered garments, 1917.

Left: Embroidered gown by Paul Poiret, June 1917. Right: Butterick pattern, May 1917.

Left: Embroidered gown by Paul Poiret, June 1917. Right: Butterick pattern, May 1917.

Embroidery on sheer fabrick appliqued to back of 1917 dress.

Beading and Embroidery on sheer fabric appliqued to back of 1917 dress.

Front of dress bodice with embroidered applique. 1917. Private collection.

Front of dress bodice with embroidered applique. 1917. Private collection.

And that brings an end to this orgy of ornament! (Really, I just wanted an excuse for sharing all these images, whether you see any connection to Arabian Nights illustrations or not! ) — Cheerio!

Checkerboard trimmed suit from Butterick patterns. May 1917.

Checkerboard trimmed suit from Butterick patterns. May 1917.

 

 

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9 Comments

Filed under 1900s to 1920s, Dresses, Musings, Old Advertisements & Popular Culture, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage Garments: The Real Thing

9 responses to “Something in the Air: Fabrics, 1917

  1. Thank you for this invaluable information. They are going to help me for the reconstruction of blouse which I am making.

  2. What wonderful pictures! I don’t find the link between the Arabian Nights and 1917 fashion all that surprising, because of the influence of the Ballet Russes. Those designs were inspired by Russian ideas of the “Orient,” They had their own Asian areas, like Turkmenistan, with inspiring textile traditions, as well as a shared border and long contact with Persia. And I imagine Bakst had read the Arabian Nights, too! (Excuse this nerdy Russian historian comment.)

  3. What’s with the fake beard in that last pic?! Fancy dress?

  4. I love these images–what a great collection. Thanks for sharing! I’m very interested in this lately, myself–the way that during the early part of the century, but especially the late 10s and early 20s, it seems like there are so many rich cultural influences on fashion. So much wonderful embroidery and ornamentation!

  5. K.

    I had an edition of the Arabian Nights with those black and white illustrations as a child too. Not sure if I still have it, or if it ended up in my father’s home in Germany, but I’ll have a look around. I distinctly remember that last one with the Persian fairy, and the rich mix of patterns, textures, folds and drapes appealed to me as well. I do have two out of five or six volumes in a weird and lovely uncensored 1950’s edition with strange collage illustrations, though.

    Coincidentally, the Dance Museum here in Stockholm has a large collection of Ballets Russes costumes that were on display until August this year. Really wonderful to see, and like most theater costumes they are this odd, dazzling mix of rich, expensive materials, cheap muslin, burlap, silk velvet, beautiful craftsmanship, smoke and mirrors. Enormous amounts of gold lamé and bullion, beautiful embroidery, along with with makeshift mends, patches with the fabric print turned upside down, sequins disintegrating the fabric they are sewn onto and appliqués visibly off-center with several centimeters. Incredibly inspiring, especially as I love weird WWI-era fashions.

    • Thanks for that description. I’ve seen exhibitions of Ballets Russes costumes and sketches — and it’s hard to imagine dancing in some of them — wool, for instance! Keeping them from dropping glass pearls all over the stage must have been a job, too. But with the lights and the music, magic happens.

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