Hey! Thanks for all your lovely messages and support this past week!
Madeleine Vionnet is kind of hot lately, have you noticed that? The Vionnet label is putting out new designs, Vionnet was in the Great British Sewing Bee, and some amazing articles on her work are popping up like this one from The Culture Concept. I think it’s about time!
As many writers have noted, Vionnet is one of the least appreciated designers of the 20th century. She began dressmaking as an 11-year-old apprentice in Paris at the beginning of the century and was a contemporary to Chanel. They shared a passion for designing clothes that allowed for freedom of movement and freed women from fussy, restrictive fashions. Each forged her own route to that goal. Much of Chanel’s work centered on uniformity (hello, inventor of the LBD), manly tailoring, and sportswear. Her influence transformed women’s fashion and ushered in the modern age of dressing.
By contrast, Vionnet took inspiration from the flowing, sensual garments found in Classical Art. Her gowns were soft, and her influence on modern dressing was subtler than Chanel’s but no less pervasive. Vionnet believed that the fabric and the cut should be a beautiful enhancement of the wearer’s expression and movements:
“When a woman smiles, her dress must smile with her.”-wiki
Her designs are often described as “cut on the straight, hung on the bias.” Vionnet achieved her vision through combining bias cut and simple geometric shapes, though she was quick to dismiss anyone who accused her of inventing the bias cut. She was more of a doting Aunt, who also popularized the cowl neck and halter tops. Vionnet’s dresses were also expertly finished and detailed, and she signed each dress with her own thumbprint as the label.
Months ago, I re-discovered this Threads article on Vionnet and Betty Kirke. Betty had the chance to meet Vionnet before her death, and to rummage through her wardrobe to take patterns. Imagine! Betty’s book is on my reference-book-wishlist. Reading Betty’s account of the magic of pulling on a Vionnet dress, I found myself wanting to make up a Vionnet design. I was particularly fixated on this one:
I started out just printing the pieces from the .jpg and gluing them together- I couldn’t understand how it worked and I needed to. The intriguing paper puzzle progressed to scale models. I had to wonder if the twisting squares would translate well to a tunic length. I really, really wanted to wear a design from Vionnet’s mind, if not from her fingertips. A full-length dress from this would use a lot of fabric and be hard to handle, so I decided to try a tunic.
Several muslins later, I’d balanced the hem points to my liking, made a multi-size pattern, and cut one from striped jersey.
I didn’t take it off (practically) for weeks, months. I don’t know why I liked it. I don’t generally wear sheathy-sacks-with-fluttery-bits. But I loved it. When the weather turned chilly, I wore it with leggings and a chunky sweater. Now it’s warmer, I can leave those off if I stay out of a stiff breeze…
I really like the pintucked, cowl neckline at front and back.
It’s much prettier than the diagram, the pintucks are my own little flourish. On the pattern, I also added in a hidden pocket. I want to make another one just a touch smaller through the body, I think it’s just a little too wide through the front shoulders.
The pattern has sat on my computer since then, gathering digital dust. It’s a large pattern, with two big pieces cut twice. The cutting and the instructions are very particular, but not difficult.
They are unconventional insructions, very strange. I told myself the pattern was too large, too weird to pursue as a pattern for release, and got to work on some other things.
Yet I found myself reaching for this tunic so often, I had to admit it had become cake to me.
I’d love to release this tunic as a pattern, but I wonder if you would like that? I wonder if the construction is too other-worldy. I wonder if I should make six sizes or three… I wonder if you’d feel what I do when I wear it? I want to make another one or two for summer, and I thought it’d be a good time to try some pattern testing on the Sea Star Tunic.
If you like her or she piques your fashion-historian curiosity, if you have the time to sew her, and you’re not afraid of something a bit weird (but delicious!), let me know! I created a secret group testing pool for the upcoming Cake Tidepool Collection, and I’d like to try this one out first. I can add you to the group via the Cake Facebook Page.
We’ll send you either a printed or .pdf printshop copy, the instructions, and I’ll be posting the construction of my next Sea Star Tunic next week for your reference. You’ll need 1.5-2.2 m of a soft, drapey woven or knit fabric. I made sizes 35, 45, and 55. In theory, the bias should expand and drape to suit sizes between, but I haven’t tested this. Would you like to help?
ETA: Thank you so much for the massive response for testers! We have a good solid group of varying body types and experience levels, and based on the response already I think this will definitely be a future release! I have several other patterns that are in need of wider testing, keep an eye out here for the next few…!
If you’d like to see some other blogger riffs on Vionnet, check out Leimomi’s Chiton Dress (I soooo want one!) and Cathy’s excellent exploration of the Handkerchief Dress. Have look at Lizzy’s charming Saiph Dress too if you haven’t already- reading her post encouraged me to go ahead and embrace my fluttery sack tunic.
eta: Fehrtrade quickly tweeted me that I’d left out her VNA top- a really wearable take on Vionnet’s cutting style!
Do you ever play with Vionnet? Leave me a link if you’ve blogged it or want to share a particular Vionnet dress you love!
What do you think? Want to play?