Madeleine Vionnet

Image of Madeleine Vionnet
Release Date: 
September 12, 2012
Chronicle Books
Reviewed by: 

“. . . raises the bar for today’s fashion designers.”

First of all, the physical aesthetic of Madeleine Vionnet by Betty Kirke is impressive and imposing in all aspects. Madame Vionnet has often been spoken about in fashion books, but rarely has an entire volume been devoted to her position in the pantheon of fashion.

Ms. Kirke has brought the huge talents of Madeleine Vionnet to the forefront, where they belong. Often, Ms. Vionnet is referred to as one of the first designers to free the women from the confines of corsetry during the early 20th century via her bias cuts. The facts are simply that this is a gross understatement of Ms. Vionnet’s formidable talents, and given the information that Ms. Kirke provides, we need to readjust our assessment of this formidable designer.

Madeleine Vionnet is a tribute to the skills and craftsmanship of a woman whose talents superseded the abilities of most of her competitors. She was far more knowledgeable about the cut, construction, drape, and fabrication of the garments she designed.

She was dubbed the “queen of the bias,” but she was so much more. This book offers the reader an in-depth, laser focused assessment of one of the greatest and most innovative of designers of the 20th century.

“Simplicity is what is most difficult in the world; it is the last stage of experience and the first effort of genius.”
—Madeleine Vionnet

Madeleine Vionnet should not be confused with any other coffee table books about fashion as this one is equal parts visual, technical, educational, and biographic. By technical I mean that Ms. Kirke literally offers dissections of actual Vionnet garments by reconstructing the patterns from original pieces. In all honesty, many contemporary designers would be very wise to take heed of her methodologies.

But do not think that the extraordinary aspects of this book detract from its interest—in fact it simply raises the bar for today’s fashion designers. The photography in the book is by some of the greatest and most revered photographers of the 20th century, and the clothes are beyond one’s expectations given the limited and superficial publicity afforded to this designer in the past.