Hi everybody, this is a review of my recent trip to France. My name is Deanna Tanner, my line is Oh Ropa! and I live in Saskatchewan Canada. I have wanted to see Paris since I was a child, it just represented to me a life of opportunities, design expression, as well as response to history. This fall I had the opportunity to go, stay with friends and experience Paris. I had grandiose plans of visiting all the designers on the Champs Elysees , eating lots of escargot, and speaking fluently in French. Well the reality was that my French language education has been unused for 25 years, I felt ridiculous going to a nice restaurant alone, and I can’t be bothered looking at stores and displays that I can see online in the comfort of my home. So was I disappointed? Au Contraire! After the first couple of days, I gave myself permission to enjoy whatever I found. After all, I am here for inspiration, adventure, and to fulfill a lifelong dream. I don’t have to follow a set itinerary.
Many of the things I wanted to see were closed due to off season/ renovation/ or just to annoy me. I did make it to the Musee de la Mode with a show of their collection of fashions from 1920 – 1929. My mind is still whirling from what I saw. I don’t get a chance to see much really truly couture clothing, and this really blew my mind.
I don’t have any photos, because of course they don’t allow them, and they keep the lighting really low to preserve the garments. And to my dismay, they were sold out of the guide. I am still beating myself up for not buying one as I entered.
A rough translation of the poster info says:
After the First World War, the style of the roaring twenties reflects the appetite of a life-loving movement, speed and frenzy. Between 1919 and 1929, the spirit of the time is to empower women and their bodies. The elegant years of the 1920’s knows driving a car, the freedom to cut their hair, make-up, smoking in public, to appear in “tomboy” and to have a modern lifestyle.
I went in with designer’s eyes looking for line, colour, technique, and silhouette. But as I progressed through the crowded museum, it became more and more a discovery of women of the past. Don’t get me wrong, the design was breath taking, and the detail hand work was amazing.
One dress had pintucks that intersected at 90 degrees creating a stepping chevron pattern across the front of the bodice just above the waist line. All hand stitched, some wild level of skill was evident to create something geometrically impossible.
I think I stood and looked at one Vionnet gown for 30 min or more. It was a Grecian style pleated silk from shoulder to just above the floor, with a deep v-neck disappearing into a 4 inch wide beaded heavy waistband. The beading reminded me of mosaic tiling, where slight differences in colour or tone creates a subtle design overall. That waistband alone must have taken a week or more to create! The hem of the gown exploded into ripples with a tiny row of tight beading on the very bottom edge, expanding all that pleating into swirls of silver.
Amazing detail, craftsmanship, and even in silk georgette It has lasted for 90 years! (In theatre I have come across some things 40 or 50 years old that just kind of fall apart despite excellent construction.)
The curators had added monitors here and there throughout the exhibition showing actual footage and music of popular dances of the period, product commercials for hats and gloves, as well as a silent video of an actual fashion show from around 1926. The music and movement really added to the ghostly quality of these displays. Who wore these gowns? What was it like for this bride to have such an avant garde gown compared to what her mother and grandmother wore?
The silent commercials were humorous, coming from our attitude of aggressive commercialism. Ladies in lovely decorated hats, sporting short hair and lots of lipstick would slowly look from right to left, and back again tilting their heads this way and that so that we could fully appreciate the beauty of the chapeau.
The sportswear displays showed an exciting time when women began to enjoy swimming, tennis, skiing and other active sports.
The silent fashion show was shown on a large screen above the exit door as kind of a last look. Well we ended up collecting there, watching the 5 min clip over and over. Ankle length day dresses, with sashes around the hips and daringly low necklines, we shown on thin straight bodies, short by today’s comparison. Their walk was choppy and unsophisticated, perhaps just from the low frames per second of the film, but still it had an innocent quality. The models would pause and smile at the crowd of smartly dressed women. We watched it over and over, this crowd of French, Italian, German, and the lone Canadian (based on the languages I heard spoken) young and old, men and women. It was almost spiritual how this crowd was watching in utter silence. Finally the security guard came and told us “ok, now you have seen it, time to leave” (this is my rough translation based on my lazy ear). The 40 or so people who were crowded into the alcove all sighed together and left.
This I think was the most significant and memorable sight of the trip because I was exhilarated by the elaborate design, and by the fact that these women were celebrating their emancipation, and because I felt a renewed sense of celebration in the freedoms of my own life.
Ah, what would life be like without fashion?
[Kathleen here: Deanna had written me an email previous to this one. I liked it, it was more of a raw brain dump and has details the above piece lacked. I hope she doesn’t kill me but I’m including it below.]
I just got back last night, and I am really tired, and need to collect my thoughts. Many of the things I wanted to see were closed due to off season/renovation/ or just to annoy me. I did make it to the Musee des Mode with a show of their collection of fashions from 1920 – 1929. My mind is still whirling from what I saw. I don’t get a chance to see much really truly couture clothing, and this really blew my mind. I don’t have any photos, because of course they don’t allow them, and they keep the lighting really low to preserve the garments. And to my dismay, they were sold out of the guide. So sad.
I think I stood and looked at one Vionnet gown for 30 min or more. Amazing detail, craftsmanship, and even in silk georgette It has lasted for 90 years! (In theatre I have come across some th ngs 40 or 50 years old that just kind of fall apart despite excellent construction.)
The curators had added monitors here and there showing actual footage of popular dances of the period, product commercials for hats and gloves, as well as a silent video (I was going to say movie, and then I felt like I was saying golly gee whiz or some other antiquated expression) of an actual Chanel fashion show from 1926 ish. It was on a large screen above the exit door as kind of a last look. Well we ended up collecting there, watching the 5 min clip over and over. It was almost spiritual how this crowd was watching in utter silence. Finally the security guard came and told us…(this is my rough translation based on my lazy ear) ok, now you have seen it, time to leave. The 40 or so people crowded into the alcove all sighed and left.
I found nearly a hundred small boutiques in Paris, Milan, Marseille, Nimes, and Lyon where I took pictures of display techniques, tried to spot regional trends, and also tried to look for new trends that maybe haven’t hit N.A. yet. The best enjoyment was just watching people as they went to and fro on the metro, or on the streets in Paris. I was staying on the left bank with friends where it isn’t so touristy. Everywhere in Paris is touristy, but by the Louvre, Eiffel tower, and Montmartre is really bad.
2 major things I noticed about the women’s dress were:
1) Parisians don’t really wear sporting goods such as “running shoes” that you actually run or walk in, ski jackets, ball caps, sport jersey knock off-shirts. In Canada this is what we define as casual wear. Not so in Paris. Even the sneaker type shoes are black or brown leather, and jackets are woolen, gloves are leather. Denim is universal, but worn with patent leather shoes, or something equally dressy.
And 2) they seem to have embraced some slight changes in the classics. What I mean is that it is common to wear a jersey print dress under a short jacket, over wool trousers. Not in a trashy hip hop way but in a classy, managing the bank sort of way. Lot’s of the shorts trousers with tights and boots to the knee or even above the knee. Around here, people are pretty rigid in what they use their clothing pieces for.
I just went over the page marker! I am going to wind it down so that you will still be my friend!
I came away with the overall impression that I am very empowered to build up my business in Canada. Fashion is really interesting and exciting but in the end it is a commercial machine. And if dozens and dozens of small independent designers can still work in Paris the land of the big fashion kings and queens – then we can do it too. I just have to figure out how to build my own machine of getting my designs to the people who want them.