Madeleine Vionnet founded her Maison in Paris in 1912, impressing the world of couture with her totally innovative approach, her sartorial skills and the perfect balance between experimentation and elegance.
The inventor of the bias cut, “coup en bias” – which she protected from imitations with a copyright and documents of authenticity – and the celebrated queen of draping, which she tested using long cuts of crêpe, crêpe de chine, gabardine and satin on mannequins measuring 80 centimetres – half the size of an average body – Madeleine Vionnet was a star player in that revolution which, starting from the nineteen tens, modernized women’s clothing.
She liberated the body from stays and corsets, making women’s personalities, their wellbeing and their dreams the centre of fashion. Drawing inspiration from Greek art, she created garments that clung to the shape of the body, with a fluidity that echoed its movements, in the conviction that dresses must take on the personality of the person wearing them. In fact, she would say, “When a woman smiles, then her dress should smile, too”.
With the characteristic and much admired softness of her creations and the perfect fall of her garments she became the author of unique couture creations: garments to be pulled over one’s head, obtained with only one cut of the fabric, devoid of hooks or buttons; tunic-dresses to which she applied hoods both for the day and the evening; costume-dresses – “halternecks”, “American-style” dresses – which Halston successfully revived in the Seventies. Ideas that left a mark and still continue to impact strongly on contemporary style.
Born in Chilleurs-aux-Bois on 22 June, 1876, Madame Vionnet died, in Paris, on 2 March,1975. Defined as the “architect among dressmakers”, she trained in London with Kate Reilly, supplier to the British royal family, and returned to France, where she worked with the famous Callot Soeurs and later with Jacques Doucet. She founded her fashion house in 1912, being forced to close it just two years later due to the onset of the First World War. She became enormously successful in the Twenties, a success that culminated in 1923 when she opened her new premises on Avenue Montaigne, referred to, at that time, as the “Temple of Fashion”, a spectacular venue-atelier-boutique, the result of collaboration between the architect Ferdinand Chanut, the decorator George de Feure and the crystal sculptor René Lalique.
In 1932, Maison Vionnet was a five-storey atelier located in a building on Avenue Montaigne boasting 1,200 employees including seamstresses, cutters, office workers, saleswomen, shop assistants and delivery boys; a company run along modern, ethical lines, with a subsidiary in New York, the first opened by a French fashion house. Additionally, Vionnet also launched the very first collections of prêta-porter garments based on those of haute couture: an absolute innovation. She also developed perfumes (named, in a futuristic manner, with letters of the alphabet) and lines of bags and accessories. She worked with artists and art directors, members of the European and American jet set and several of the most widely acclaimed stars of Hollywood, such as Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn and Greta Garbo.
She was 63 years old when, in 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, she finally closed Vionnet. For 27 years, she had developed many of the concepts and creative and commercial strategies that still, today, characterize the fashion system.
In February 2009, exactly 70 years after the closing of the fashion house, Italian businessman Matteo Marzotto acquired Vionnet and, together with designer Rodolfo Paglialunga, began the task of reviving the historic label and reinterpreting Madame Vionnet’s design vocabulary for a modern audience. International press and buyers in the top echelons of high fashion immediately showed a renewed interest for the brand. In May 2012, Marzotto sold a majority of the company to Goga Ashkenazi, a successful global entrepreneur known for her innovative business dealings. She completed the full purchase of the brand in November of the same year.
Building upon the solid foundation established by Marzotto, Ashkenazi is committed to not only maintaining the current momentum and relevance of the brand, but is also actively building a new corporate structure and path for concrete business growth.
“Vionnet is one of the brightest names in the history of fashion”, remarks Ashkenazi. “I see a remarkable potential for the brand and am passionately committed to re-establishing its rightful place in the exciting world of 21st century fashion”.
Serving as both Chairman and Creative Director, Ashkenazi holds a unique dual role that gives her a 360 degree imprint on the brand. Upon arriving at Vionnet, she feted the brand’s 100 year birthday in Paris with a grand party and fashion show of the brand’s newly launched demi-couture collection, and quickly moving to establish new design and production teams in Milan where the company is based. Ashkenazi has significant plans for the Maison’s growth, including an ambitious retail plan that will see the rollout of Vionnet stores around the world.
For Spring/Summer 2013, Vionnet culls inspiration from its legendary founder Madame Madeleine Vionnet and the storied maison’s 100 year history. A true visionary, Madame Vionnet recalibrated fashion for the 20th century, influencing legions of designers with her radical bias cuts and signature draping. Turning inward, that foundation is revisited today: reconceived for a modern, active, socially conscious woman and building a solid block for the brand’s bright future. At the root of the collection are Madame Vionnet’s sensual, rigorously feminine silhouettes. The founder’s trademark draping techniques are used on double georgette column gowns, chiffon sleeveless tops and belted crepe de chine cocktail dresses. All envelop and enhance the body’s curves without ever constricting it. Asymmetrical cutting creates different volumes and fluid draping effects. Gentle folds on the front of tailored jackets and wide leg pants, allow traditionally masculine pieces to come alive on the female body.
Art deco patterns, stylized flower embroideries, and delicate usage of pearls all commemorate the timeless details and materials of Madame Vionnet’s golden years. Chosen for their lightness, luxurious materials create impeccable canvases for the body. Sheer layers of silk tulle or technical netting create a veil-effect over draped gowns. The tuxedo shirt has been feminized in silk or tulle. Clusters of metallic rhombus shaped sequins and 3D printed satin applications give shine to an otherwise clean and simple yet elegant and sophisticated palette of white, black and lacquer red.
Vionnet’s new signature handbag, with an inverted “V” graphic, is a collapsible canvas shopper with suede and crocodile inserts and detachable handles. Pearl crusted cuffs and sting ray clutches are glamorous extras. Sting ray, crocodile, leather or satin footwear features curved heels on classic pumps, high heeled mules, or T strap sandals, while a new printed crocodile technique is found on gold sauvage leather shoes.