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.
One hundred years before the fashion world was buzzing over Kate and Laura Mulleavy’s tutus for Black Swan, the fashion elite of Paris were doing the same over Léon Bakst’s costumes for the Ballet Russes. The company founded by Sergei Diaghilev opened in Paris in 1909, and until his death on this day in 1924, Bakst would prove to be the company’s most unforgettable costume designer. The influence of his brightly colored, graphic-print costumes on contemporary fashion would outshine even those created by Pablo Picasso and Coco Chanel, both of whom dabbled in costume design, and are still apparent in the styles of 2011.
Bakst truly caught the spirit of what Parisian women wanted to wear during the company’s second season. “…The bright, flowing silks from Schéhérazade, a kind of Arabian Nights fantasy, created something of a style revolution in Paris when it was first performed,” writes Kate Salter on “Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes,” the exhibition currently on display at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum.
His was a notorious, outrageous affair, one now considered the predecessor to modern-day fashion shows. As if that wasn’t ground-breaking enough, Poiret used the party to introduce two iconic garments of the 20th century: his shocking harem pants and revolutionary lampshade dress.
The party, it was agreed, was beyond fantastic, unmatched for its sumptuous decorations and indulgent theatrics. Fashion historian Yvonne Deslandres describes the scene in her definitive 1987 book, Poiret: “Persian orchestras sheltered in copses; there were parrots in trees studded with a thousand twinkling lights, pink ibis, multicolored cushions …” and on and on.
The 300 invited guests were required to dress in Persian-style costumes, an exaggerated, adventurous style of the times adopted by the most decadent and wealthy. Read More »