Paquin is a readily recognisable name yet it is her husband, Isidore Paquin, a wealthy banker, that is most often credited with her success. Jeanne Paquin was an exceptional woman, far ahead on her contemporaries. She pioneered many aspects of couture fashion including being the first women to have a recognised haute couture house, opened in 1891, along the famous Rue du La Paix. It was Paquin that first sent models to the races and the opera to showcase her beautiful gowns to the social elite. She became the first woman designer to be awarded the Légion d’Honneur and was the President of the Haute Couture section of the 1900 Paris Exposition, a great honour and a huge accomplishment for a woman of that time. She was the first couture house to open branches abroad including; London, New York, Buenos Aires and Madrid.
Paquin and Paul Poiret were neighbours on the Rue du la Paix and fierce competitors. Poiret was seen as the flamboyant and outrageous designer who pushed the boundaries of acceptability, always challenging but not always changing the ways of Parisian women. Paquin in contrast, was seen as the house with style and taste, Jeanne appeared to judge the tolerable limits of change better than Poiret, with one exception. The House of Paquin executed Paul Iribe’s designs for the previously mentioned play Rue du la Paix, with almost disastrous results. As previously mentioned the play was received with mixed reactions with much of the commentary critical of the 50 costumes paraded through out the scenes. They were described as bizarre and likened to the “poor taste of Teutons” and that “Madame Paquin will face a lot of problems getting them accepted by French women who care about an aesthetic line” . Her biographer states she was “simply amused” by the controversy but was quick to point out that her house had produced the costumes for Iribe and did not designed them.
Jeanne is also noted for making black the new black, until then fashion houses never designed in black. She did this by lining black jackets and coats with dazzlingly bright silks of red, turquoise and purple or embroidering basic black gowns in sparkling jewel like colours. Her favourite colours were white, gold and pale green and I have created the Empress in those colours.
At her peak Jeanne Paquin dressed royalty, the rich and the famous of Europe including the Queens of Belgium, Portugal, and Spain and the dress for Jane Avril’s opening solo show in Paris.
Her husband and confidant died shortly after World War 1 which had a devastating effect on Jeanne, she handed the financial reigns over to her brother and by 1920 the design control to Mademoiselle Madeleine. The House of Paquin prospered for a few more decades then ceased to exist by 1956.
Haute couture and the decorative arts, magazines, the theatre, vaudeville shows and eventually film, have strutted and vogued down the business catwalk, manicured hand in designer glove since the 1860s. Product placement is thought to be a modern invention, commonplace in contemporary television and film, but was invented by the fashion industry and they had perfected it by the turn of the twentieth century. By the early 1900s most haute couture houses had a company of models that were dressed in the latest collection and sent to: the races, the opera, art exhibitions, the theatre, the best restaurants in Paris and any other events where the privileged and wealthy attended. Fashions were even displayed in the foyers of theatres. The Folies Bergére became the indicator as to which direction the couture houses would follow. A classic example was the play “Rue du la Paix”, with a flimsy plot as an excuse to parade models through a sequence of scenes displaying Paul Iribe’s designs created by Paquin. It was universally slammed by critics and lampooned by theatre goers but was highly successful with wealthy socialite women of the time.
Poiret was the first to film one of his shows for screening throughout the world, thus enabling him to travel further abroad and reducing his costs considerably. All of the haute couture houses also had intimate links with magazine illustrators of the time, in fact many designers were trained illustrators and attended the Écoles du Beaux-Arts. In conjunction with magazines of the day like Gazette du Bon Ton and Les Modes the fashion houses steered popular taste in clothing and home décor.
With this new found knowledge I changed the premise of the collection to be: to create 10 gowns of felt and silk, with each gown representing some interesting aspect that has in some way reflected the metableticnature of history. This epiphany in itself was metabletic as it brought together several of my passions, that of textiles (of course), couture fashion, film in its various forms, history and making beautiful garments.
Felt has a reputation as a textile for winter woollies, beanies, boots, scarves and blankets but very rarely referred to as glamorous or sexy. Yet this is just not true! In Australia we have become very adept at making light, fine felt and nuno that is wearable even during our summers. Many of our talented feltmakers produce elegant and stylish clothing all of types, but rarely do people associate felt with evening gowns. My project has been to produce a collection of elegant, glamorous and sexy evening gowns made from felt and silk. I had originally planned to create one for each decade of the twentieth Century, but as I began to research the gowns, two things stood out as warranting further investigation. After the mid sixties, formal evening gowns went out of fashion due. During the late sixties and throughout the seventies evening fashion became faddish and trendy, rebelling against the conservative establishment and trying in earnest to be modern. Functions that previously required formal evening attire diminished and the opportunity to wear glamorous clothes faded away. The eighties saw a return to the glam look but it was with recycled ideas and styles from previous eras, for example the exaggerated shoulder pads were straight-out of the forties. The nineties were filled with an anything goes attitude and outrageous attempts to have that new look. By the turn of the new century we see more and more Hollywood stars returning to vintage couture, as their choice for gala events, or at least gowns designed on styles that echo the first half of the twentieth century.