This illustration from January 1926 is one of my favorite vintage Vogue covers, mostly because it features one of my favorite overlooked artists, Sonia Delaunay. (I’m also especially fond of the charmingly awkward style of famed illustrator Georges Lepape.) This isn’t to say Delaunay was ignored during her lifetime; she had a solo exhibition at the Louvre in 1964, a first for a living female artist, and here she is on the cover of Vogue. She was included in numerous group exhibitions, contributed to fashion, film and theater, and—along with her husband—founded Orphism, the art movement that seeks to depict simultaneous expressions of modern life, energy and movement through color. So as far as female artists go, now or then, Delaunay is certainly one of the more celebrated. And yet she is still unknown to most people. Go figure.
Part of the disconnect might come from the fact that, as an artist, Delaunay is primarily known as a painter. But she was also a deft seamstress, and a serendipitous bit of inspiration occurred when she created a baby quilt for her first born, and so she became a textile artist and fashion designer, too. Her achievements are numerous: She translated Orphism to blankets, pillows, lampshades, goblets, curtains and clothing, all of which were sold in Casa Sonia, her short-lived boutique in Spain. A friend to artists around the world, she designed costumes for Sergey Diaghilev’s Cléopâtre (see Katrina’s blog post from earlier today for more about Cleopatra’s fashion statements), but was rejected by Paul Poiret, who claimed she stole ideas from his earlier collections. In 1921, Delaunay developed a new genre, robes-poèms (poem dresses): geometric blocks of color juxtaposed with lines of poetry printed on draped garments. By 1922 she had launched her own printing workshop, Atelier Simultané, where she created elaborate embroideries in wool and silk. She invented a new stitch—point du jour—and introduced the French fashion world to tissue patterns. In 1925, Delaunay collaborated with couturier Jacques Heim for a line of furs and accessories. The oft-photographed Gloria Swanson was a regular customer and brought much attention to the atelier, though it ultimately could not survive the Depression and closed shop in 1931.
Now the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City is hosting “Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay,” an exhibition of her textile work that opens March 18 and runs through June. Her career in fabrics and clothing spanned less than a decade, but her 1920s graphics continue to inspire designers and artists today. Do you think this Vogue cover will be among the displays? —Ali Basye
Credits: British Vogue cover by George Lepape featuring Sonia Delaunay ‘Simultaneous’ dress, next to a ‘Simultaneous’ car, January 1925. Other images found at various blogs and sites across the web, including Pinball Publishing, Fashion Club and Mint Design.