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Madeline Vionnet

"The dress must not hang on the body but follow its lines. It must accompany its wearer and when a woman smiles the dress must smile with her."

Legendary designer Madeline Vionnet, “Queen of the bias cut”, ruled haute couture during the twenties and thirties. Born in 1877 France, Vionnet got her start in the fashion industry at eleven years old when she apprenticed for a local seamstress. In 1898, while in her late teens Vionnet moved to London and started working for dressmaker, Kate O’Reilly. Two years later, in 1900, she returned to France and over the next decade she was employed by both the Paris house of Callot Soeurs and designer Jacques Doucet. By 1912, Madeline Vionnet was ready to strike out on her own and successfully launched the haute couture fashion house, ‘Vionnet’. She quickly garnered a celebrity following with French actresses Eve Lavalliere and Gabrielle Rejane among the first. But in 1914 Vionnet closed up shop and relocated to Rome due to the strains of the First World War.

When the war ended Madeline Vionnet moved back to Paris to open up shop once more. Only this time, she had a few tricks up her sleeve. She began by collaborating with France’s most famous architects and interior decorators to build a new atelier, which would become known as “The Temple of Fashion”. In 1922, after rejecting corsets, padding, and other techniques used to distort the natural curves of the female body, Vionnet unveiled the newest invention in fashion: the infamous bias cut. Her form fitting yet elegantly and sensually draped eveningwear harkened back to Roman, Greek and Medieval styles. She continued to dress some of the period’s most famous females such as Marlene Dietrich, Katharine Hepburn, Gypsy Rose Lee and Greta Garbo. Two years after successfully opening her first boutique in 1923, Vionnet broke ground in the United States. She was the first designer to bring haute couture ready-to-wear designs to the US market, while also being the first known fashion house to open a free standing store in New York City.

Besides being a successful designer, Madeline Vionnet was a thriving businesswoman, one admires. As one of the first designers to advocate for copyright and anti-copying laws, she started putting her thumb print and signature on the labels of all her designs. One could say Vionnet was ahead of her time, especially when it came to the treatment of her 1500 or so employees; offering paid maternity leave and holidays, a day care center, a dining facility and onsite medical care. In 1936 after an impressive career as a fashion marvel and innovator, Madeline Vionnet closed her doors for the last time and retired from the fashion industry.

The Wateline de Lummen family, in an effort to bring back the ‘Vionnet’ style under the original name, purchased the brand in 1988. They started with the production of luxury handbags, scarves and other accessories that sold throughout Europe and Japan. Over the past two decades a few designers have helmed the updated house of ‘Vionnet’, but it was Greek designer Sophia Kokosalaki who was the first to design a ready-to-wear clothing line, which launched at New York’s fashion week in the fall of 2007. In early 2009 ‘Vionnet’ was purchased for the second time by Italian tycoon Mateo Marzotto, who has high hopes for the future. Marzotto announced the continuation of an accessories line as well as a June 2009 launch of ready-to-wear clothing with former Prada designer Rodolfo Paglialunga at the helm as creative director.

Life Facts:
Madeline Vionnet is one of the most influential fashion designers of the 20th century and her influences are evident in past and present designers like Halston, John Galliano, Comme de Garcon, Azzedine Alaia, and Issey Miyake. Unlike most designers, Vionnet did not draw her designs; instead she typically used a miniature model and cloth to create her looks. Madeline Vionnet’s trademarks include the handkerchief hem, the halter strap (sometimes using Cartier necklaces), the cowl neck, hooded tunics, and most notably designing a dress from a single length of cloth without the use of buttons or hooks.


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