1920s FASHION PLATES
The subject of fashion illustration is not only fascinating but also important historically - without it we should have little idea of what ordinary people wore.
Before the 17th century, illustrations of costume simply recorded the clothing as it was worn, reporting rather than recommending. In the 18th century, affluent Europeans became much more interested in what new styles and novelties were available, and the fashion periodical was born. In the 19th century, these were avidly bought by fashion-conscious women who studied the illustrations and had their clothes made up in the latest patterns.
With the introduction of new printing methods in the late 19th century, the fashion periodical became even more widely available. Hand-colouring had virtually died out by 1900 but photography did not take over until the 1940s. As a result, the magazines of the 1920s produced some of the finest artwork plates in the history of fashion.
The simple dress shapes of the 1920s meant that designs were more easily imitated by amateur dressmakers. Big stores had fashion departments where the better-off bought the new fashions ready-made, but the most exclusive place to buy was the couture fashion house, where the designs were always several months in advance of what was in the shops.
By the 1920s, the fashion world was dominated by French haute couture. Designers such as
Coco Chanel blossomed into fame in the mid-1920s, and other favourites of the fashion magazines included Lanvin, Jean Patou, Molyneux, Doucet, Cheruit, Doeillet, Redfern, the great Paul Poiret, and also fabric designers such as Bianchini-Ferrier.
England and America published Vogue and Harper's Bazaar, but it was the French fashion magazines which dominated the market. The most 'chic' of these was Gazette du Bon Ton, subtitled Art-Modes-Frivolite. It was a very sophisticated publication, issued quarterly, and was edited by the brilliant Lucien Vogel from 1912-1925. Its beautiful plates were produced by avant-garde artists such as Georges Lepape, Georges Barbier, Maurice Taquoy, Pierre Brissaud, R Tourgue, Andre' Marty, Raoul Dufy and Georges Benda.
Art-Gout-Beaute' was launched in the mid1920s. In its first year it was called Art-Gout-Bon Ton. Exclusively devoted to fashion, it was published monthly. Some of the plates were printed in colour, and some painted by hand and pasted to the leaves. It was published in 'feujilet' form: the printed sheets were folded into four, a cover placed on without binding, and string tied round the whole package. The endpapers were illustrated with a different design each month.
FASHION COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Fashion plates can be found in shops specializing in antique prints, or in antiquarian book sellers. The more sought-after examples are extremely valuable and are more likely to be sold via
specialist dealers or major auctioneers. However, because of the popularity of fashion magazines across all levels of society, and their ephemeral nature, they are just as likely to run up at car boot sales and in attics.
Because of the vast number of issues of different periodicals, many collectors find it more practical to collect plates from a particular magazine, a particular year, or by an individual designer or artist.
The plates require great care in handling and storage. Like antiquarian books, they are very susceptible to dust, damp and foxing. Soiled plates may be cleaned up using a soft rubber eraser, but more serious treatment, such as bleaching out stains, is best carried out by experts. Plates are most attractive if framed, but take care not to expose them to strong sun.
The identification of plates which have become detached from their periodical is not always easy since they were not always signed by the artist. Art-Gout-Beaute, for example, often prin ed a list of all the contributing artists in a issue but only marked each individual plate with the initials 'AGB'. The 1920s fashions and art deco style are easily identified, however, and with practice, the collector begins to recognize the individual styles of artists and
Other sources of assistance include the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and a publication which appeared in Paris in 1933 entitled La Biliographie Generale du Costume et de la Mode, which lists all the fashion magazines published in the 1920s.
Some of the artists commissioned by 1920s designers to illustrate their ideas in fashion journals included Paul Iribe, Charles Martin, Jean Besnard, Marioton, Vittrotto, Dory, Erte, Benito, and Bruneleschi. The illustrative style is very mu h deco with an almost oriental simplicity of design, bold line drawings with blocks of brilliant stencil colours, and a tendency to tie geometrical, notably in the plates by Ernesto Thayaht.
The elegant figures of the models are enhanced by simple backgrounds representing settings such as racecourses, casinos, country houses garden parties and other refined locations. The plates created a vision of an elegant, wealthy society devoted to good taste.
Although the bulk of the editorial content of Vogue originated in the United States of America and in Britain, a French language edition was published in France by Conde Mast. Presumably the contents reflected the importance of French haute couture in determining fashions throughout the world.