Vionnet, Madeleine (1876–1975)

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Vionnet, Madeleine (1876–1975)

French fashion designer . Born in 1876 in Chileurs aux Boix, near Paris, France; died in 1975; daughter of a plumber and a cafè owner.

Worked in ateliers of Kate Reilly, Callot Soeurs, and Jacques Doucet; began own fashion house (1912); pioneered bias–cut clothing; awarded Chevalier of the Legion of Honor (1929).

Born in 1876 in Chileurs aux Boix, near Paris, to a plumber and a cafè proprietor, Madeleine Vionnet was apprenticed to a dressmaker at the age of 14. She moved to London in 1896 in order to work for the dressmaker Kate Reilly. On her return to Paris around 1900, she worked for Callot Soeurs and then, after 1907, for Jacques Doucet. Vionnet opened her own fashion house in 1912, although she was forced to close it during World War I. She reopened in 1918, but had to shut down business permanently in 1940 after the German invasion of Paris.

From 1919 on, Vionnet was a dominant influence in women's fashion. That year she designed the first of her tubular dresses which slipped over the head, developing the revolutionary bias–cut dresses that were to become her trademark. Vionnet, who claimed to be responsible responsible for models discarding their corsets, pioneered the use of flowing fabrics like crepe and silk and popularized "handkerchief point" skirts. One of her unusual practices was eschewing sketches in favor of draping designs on specially made quarter–sized wooden mannequins, after which full–sized patterns were made. Vionnet's customers, who included many rich and prominent personalities, admired her subtle color sense as well as her flair for cut; she preferred a pale palette and was fond of geometric designs that worked with the three–dimensional figure of the owner.

Vionnet's progressive attitudes were not confined to fashion. As an employer, she provided social services and facilities for her staff, such as clinics and gymnasiums. She was appointed Chevalier of the Legion of Honor in 1929.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York

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