Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fashion Plates

I recently wrote a 10 page paper on the history of fashion plates for my Art History Senior Seminar. Fashion plates - aka illustrations - began in the 17th century and hit their peak during the Art Deco period. Paul Poiret, the greatest haute couture dressmaker of the 20th century, pioneered design albums with expressive illustrations by famous painters. With albums by Paul Iribe (Les Robes de Paul Poiret, 1908) and George Lepape (Les Choses de Paul Poiret, 1911), Poiret's innovative designs (including the Empire dress and the turban) paved the way for fashion illustration of a new kind that is animated and charming, and particularly well suited for an age characterized by simplicity and speed, symmetry and geometry, the luxury of beautiful materials and importance of artistic excellence. 

Iribe’s hand colored figures pose coyly in vibrant colors with delighted grins gracing their faces. The backgrounds are sober, linear, or even empty. Often only a simple ink outline of a window or mirror is present as backdrop, yet this brings attention to the materials and accessories detailing the unshaded blocks of color.

In Les Choses de Paul Poiret, Lepape was asked to capture the feelings the clothing aroused in him rather than depicting it in minute detail. Lepape’s interpretation borrowed stylistic qualities of Oriental art, Japanese prints, and early cinema. There was a refreshing spontaneity of catlike figures that do not hesitate to turn their backs or even disappear from the frame with a moments notice. The subtle color contrasts are sweetly appealing with gold, mauve, and peacock blue making a pleasing statement. Lepape occasionally leaves the background white, or places the curvilinear figures against rectilinear backgrounds.