Book Review/Rave: Madeleine Vionnet

This gorgeous, expensive book by Betty Kirke is an eye-filling, brain-expanding delight. Madeleine Vionnet was one of the most innovative, influential designers of the 20th C. Known mainly for her flowing bias cuts, she ran her own haute couture house in Paris, invented ready-to wear, had progressive and fair compensation and benefits for her employees, and dressed everyone from royalty to avant garde artists. She was anti-fashion, always striving for complete, timeless unity between the body and the fabric. Many of her designs from the 20's and 30's could be worn today without a hint of vintage fustiness.

The really amazing thing about this book, and what makes it worth every penny, is that patterns for over 30 designs are included. They are astonishing in their complexity and mathematical sophistication. Vionnet worked by draping a 80 cm "doll" sized mannequin, and had assistants scale up the toiles to a client's measurements.

I completely adore this beaded, embroidered chiffon dress, and would love to try making something similar.

The book reveals the many, many details that go into the making of a couture gown, for example this hand embroidered silk chiffon fabric. I was struck by descriptions of techniques that are so time-consuming, and require such skill, that it would be surprising if anyone living today would still be capable of matching them. Vionnet herself worked within the industry from the time she was 11 1/2 and it took her 20 years to open her own atelier.

Here is Vionnet at age 78. If I look half as bright and chic when I'm that age, I'll be happy!


  1. Anonymous3:55 AM

    I have lusted after that book ever since I first saw it reviewed in Threads, years back - now I am even more determined to get a copy!

  2. I agree; those are beautiful dresses. What a wonderful book. The quilt made from rescued fabric is fascinating too. What's the fabric on the book cover? It looks Japanese.

  3. Anonymous5:53 PM

    Did you know that Issey Miyake is a big fan of Madeleine Vionnet? When you're in Tokyo you should take a look at the Ometesando Issey Miyake shop.

  4. My favorite dress in the whole world was hers.I have to get that book. Great blog I so enjoy it


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