During the 1910s through the ’20s, fashion abandoned the sculpted, exaggerated dresses of the Belle Epoque for something softer, lighter, more amorphous. Gone were the corsets and bustles and puff sleeves and heavy brocades that molded the female form into an exaggerated, womanly hourglass: Instead, designers like Callot Soeurs and Coco Chanel flattened, or even obscured, it with light fabrics — sometimes layered, sometimes adorned with surface beading or embroidery.
But, of course, fashion does not exist in a vacuum. It reflected the speed and volatility of modern life — of the Great War and industrialization and women’s greater freedom and the quickening pace of everything. And it also drew from art, especially Cubism. Like these new fashions, Cubism flattened and abstracted the figure, making it fragmented, geometric, dynamic. So you get the crazy collagist prints in a Nemser day dress that echo the disjointed cityscapes of Fernand Leger, or the linear liquid Vionnet dress that’s segmented into incoherent sections by a metallic cord.
The images in the collage/slideshow above are a smattering of dresses and paintings included in the book Cubism and Fashion, the accompanying catalog to a 1998 Costume Institute exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (I picked it up at the Strand recently for $10.) I hope to do some posts looking at particular dresses and paintings more deeply, but in the meantime, enjoy!
All the dress images are from the Met’s website. Delaunay’s Eiffel Tower is at the Guggenheim in New York, and MOMA has the Duchamp and Picasso.