Four Haute Couture Dresses by Madeleine Vionnet

Afternoon tea dress by Madeleine Vionnet. Museum no. T.381-2009

Afternoon tea dress by Madeleine Vionnet. Museum no. T.381-2009

These four evening dresses were designed by Madeleine Vionnet (1876-1975; active 1912-1939) and purchased by Lady Foley (circa 1888-1968) between 1929 and 1938. Lady Foley was born Minoru Greenstone, the daughter of Harry Greenstone of Johannesburg, South Africa. In 1922 she married the seventh Baron Foley (1895-1927), a former flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force who became Baron in 1918.

Minoru Foley's marriage introduced her to British society. During the early to mid-1920s, the couple is listed in the Times Social Register as attending events of the London season and travelling to Paris on several occasions. Lady Foley was among the women of privilege who could afford the finest quality textiles, meticulously crafted designs and highly personal attention offered by couture houses such as Vionnet's.

After her husband's death in 1927, Lady Foley's grief was not so overwhelming that it prevented her from shopping. The first Vionnet purchase she is known to have made was in 1928.  Lady Foley is listed in the Times Social Register as travelling to Paris in April, May, July, and September 1930, May 1931, and April 1933. The Hotel Meurice, where she stayed in Paris, was not far from Vionnet's premises on the Avenue Montaigne.

Black lace ball gown by Madeleine Vionnet. Museum no. T.378:1-2009

Black lace ball gown by Madeleine Vionnet. Museum no. T.378:1-2009

Madeleine Vionnet was one of Europe's greatest couturiers. Born in Chilleurs-aux-Bois, France, she undertook a dressmaking apprenticeship, and then worked for a lingerie maker, then for several Parisian couture houses. Vionnet opened her own couture salon in 1912, which became associated with bias-cut textiles draped expertly over the body and a preoccupation with the minute details and finishing techniques of dressmaking.

Vionnet's couture skills were recorded at the time in those arbiters of upper class taste, French and British Vogue, by the most important photographers of the time - Edward Steichen (1879-1973), George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968), Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) and P Horst (1906-1999).

Her loyal clients included mainly European aristocrats and wealthy North Americans such as the Baroness Robert de Rothschild, Madame Citroën, Mrs Harrison Williams (Mona von Bismarck) and Lady Davis. In 1925 British Vogue, articulating Vionnet's appeal, declared her 'perhaps the greatest geometrician among all French couturiers'.  

Today, Vionnet's excellence is best known to specialists. While the couture house of her contemporary Gabrielle Chanel survives, Vionnet's closed upon her retirement in 1939. Thus, Vionnet's continued influence is all the more striking for being based on a mere twenty five years of independent production under her own name.

Cream tulle ball gown by Madeleine Vionnet. Museum no. T.380-2009

Cream tulle ball gown by Madeleine Vionnet. Museum no. T.380-2009

White organza and net ball gown by Madeleine Vionnet. Museum no. T.379-2009

White organza and net ball gown by Madeleine Vionnet. Museum no. T.379-2009

 


Credits

Blue, red and black motif afternoon tea dress, Musem no. T. 381-2009
Purchased with the support of the Friends of the V&A

Black lace ball gown, Museum no. T378:1-2009
Purchased with the support of the V&A Director's Circle

White organza and net ball gown, Museum no. T.379-2009
Purchased with support from a generous individual and The Art Fund

Cream tulle ball gown with swallow motif, Museum no.T.380-2009
Purchased with support from a generous individual and The Art Fund

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