Fashion in World War I: November 1915

Couture textiles by Bianchini Ferier of Lyon (Le Style Parisien)

The big fashion story of November 1915 was the ‘Fete Parisienne’ organised in New York by the ‘Syndicat de Defense de la Couture Parisienne’. Its centrepiece was a short play by Roger Boutet de Monvel with a scenario that explicitly addressed French couturiers’ dependence on American clients to pay their workers, the ‘midinettes’. The hundred couture ensembles presented in the play and in related other events were carefully chosen to follow the fashionable lines established the previous season – this was to avoid both clients and wholesalers rejecting them. Immediately after the opening of the ’Fete’ on 23 November Women’s Wear Daily, the newspaper of the American garment industry, announced ‘Ritz-Carlton Fashion Fete A Success As An Exhibition And Advertising Coup: Showing Regarded As The First Move By New Syndicate —Draws Good Crowd—Display Shows Nothing Radically New In Line, But Much In Detail — Many Beautiful Models And Materials In Exhibit’.

However WWD also reported on actions of the Syndicat which were designed to make life difficult for American retailers and manufacturers: buyers would have to be vetted before attending couture shows, and would be prosecuted for unauthorised sketching, or even for taking notes that could be turned into sketches later! Le Style Parisien explained that the Syndicat had three aims :  ‘a fight to the death’ against the infiltration of the French fashion industry by foreign firms; a fight against the incursion of foreign workers; and a fight against copying or counterfeiting of their members’ designs, and ‘disloyal competition.’ The aggressive language of the Syndicat helps to explain the ambivalent reaction to the ‘Fete Parisienne’ from the American fashion industry.

A shooting outfit by Abercrombie and Fitch (Vogue, November 1915)

New York Vogue seems to have hedged its bets, giving detailed accounts of the French styles but also reporting on a theatre show promoting American fashion – including sportswear by Abercrombie and Fitch!  They also advised their readers on how to cut corners by getting local dressmakers to run up  simple garments like evening wraps in striking fabrics that gave the effect of Paris fashions for a much lower cost.

A home-made evening wrap imitating Poiret (Vogue, November 1911)

Evening dress and coat by Poiret shown in 'La Fete Parisienne' (Le Style Parisien)

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