1931 Face-Dos-Profile

February 7, 2010By Leaf ArbuthnotArchive

A Forgotten Fashion Year
Resurrected from the Archives

Paris Update 1931-Paquin

Evening gown is by Paquin, 1931. © Archives de Paris/D12U10 297

Thirties’ fashion is frequently overlooked in favor of more revolutionary styles of the Roaring Twenties. While modern designers often exhume styles from other decades of the 20th century, it is comparatively rare tosee modern fashion houses drawing inspiration from Depression-era clothing, which is now only tentatively making inroads into mainstream daywear.

“Face–Dos–Profile,” the latest exhibition to open at the Galerie du Crédit Municipal in the Marais, casts deserved light upon trends from this largely ignored era: specifically upon those

Paris Update 6-Molyneux

A 1931 beach ensemble by Maison Molyneux. © Archives de Paris/DU1210 590of 1931, a particularly productive and innovative year for the French fashion industry. It is a compact exhibition, very different from, and sadly inferior, to the sprawling and grandiose “Paris Haute Couture” show currently being staged at the Hotel de Ville. Its concision, however, emerges as an asset: though there is relatively little to see, what is displayed is intriguing.

Like their counterparts today, couturiers in 1931 had to devise ways of preserving the uniqueness of their outfits from the imitations of rival brands. Many of the fashion houses would photograph women dressed in the latest designs from three different angles – front, back and side – for legal purposes, in case accusations of plagiarism went to court. None of these shots were intended for public consumption, and none of the models would have imagined that their poses would one day be so widely broadcast. As a result, the images are rawer and more authentic than many fashion photographs from the era, presenting bored or tired young women no longer attempting to project a front, but just to get the job done.

These compelling pictures are interspersed with less interesting sketches of clothes, as well as numerous copies of fashion magazines that were in circulation at the time. A handful of well-dressed mannequins also loom around the room, providing a welcome counterbalance to all the photography.

The show’s highlight comes as something of a surprise: a lighted box in the center of the room tiled with squares of different textiles, all in perfect condition, all intricate, all inimitable.

The exhibition is free and worth going to not only for itself but also for the historic building it is shown in, normally off-limits to the public. “Face-Dos-Profile” offers an unusual look at a fashion year that didn’t deserve to be snubbed.

Leaf Arbuthnot

Galerie du Crédit Municipal de Paris: 55, rue des Francs-Bourgeois, 75004 Paris. Tel.: 01 44 61 63 28. Métro: Rambuteau. Open Monday-Saturday, 9am-5pm. Admission: free. Through July 6. www.creditmunicipal.fr

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