Spring fashions

As spring draws to a close and we head onwards into the heat of summer, I thought it might be an apt moment to revisit the realm of the printed page one final time in connection with our current “blossoming” season. This time I will concentrate on spring fashions depicted in some early 20th century highlights from the National Art Library’s collections.

Spring has long been associated with the idea of having a clear-out, a spring-clean and also rejuvenating one’s wardrobe ready for the brighter, hotter months ahead. Below we can see a beautiful example of an early 20th century pochoir print on fine quality paper, showcasing the latest couture garment from one of the Parisian fashion houses.

Pochoir print, ‘Les jeu des graces’, by Georges Barbier, from ‘Gazette du bon ton: arts, modes et frivolités’, published by Librairie centrale des beaux-arts [etc.], Paris, 1913, NAL pressmark: SZ.0314, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The ‘Gazette du bon ton: arts, modes et frivolités’ was available to subscribers only at a premium rate, heralding a new trend for top-end fashion magazines. Exclusive contracts were signed with seven of Paris’ couture houses: including Poiret, Redfern, and Worth. Many respected Art Deco artists and illustrators of the era, e.g Georges Barbier, Erté (Romain de Tirtoff) and Paul Iribe, worked for the magazine. It was ground-breaking in the way the illustrators were permitted to create fantastical settings in which to showcase the clothes, anticipating the themed photo shoots of fashion magazines of today.

The NAL houses an extensive collection of early Liberty catalogues. Making use of the new 4 colour process printing method of the 1930s, the catalogue shown below showcases a variety of produce often in aspirational interiors. Particularly eye-catching are Liberty’s famous fabrics, including luxurious shawls and throws. Some fashion items are great to see for their novelty value today: for instance a silk motor rug is perhaps not the “must have” accessory it once was!

‘Liberty’s spring catalogue [1930]’, published by Liberty & Co., London, [1930], NAL pressmark: LIB (333) 1930, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Hats have long been associated with spring. The tradition of wearing an Easter bonnet represents the tail-end of the idea of wearing new clothes at Easter to signify the concept of renewal and redemption in the Christian faith.

The Easter Parade in New York is of course immortalised by the Irwin Berlin song which features in the 1948 film Easter Parade, starring Fred Astaire and Judy Garland:

In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it,

you’ll be the grandest lady in the Easter Parade.

The parade is a festive walk that, to this day, makes its way down Fifth Avenue from St. Patrick’s Cathedral at Easter time. All manner of materials feature in the hats shown within the slim Liberty’s booklet below, also from spring 1930: velvet, crinolines and straw, to mention but a few. Attention is also drawn to the fact that the hats can be supplied in a variety of fashionable Liberty fabrics.

‘Liberty hats: Spring 1930’, published by Liberty & Co., [1930], NAL pressmark: LIB (334) 1930, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

However radically you choose to revitalise your wardrobe in spring(!), it is life-affirming to see the evidence in print of how generation after generation have explored this trend in their own way. All the items featured above can be requested to view at the National Art Library once you have registered as a reader with us. Please do come visit us today on the third floor of the V&A.