Monday, February 10, 2014

History's Runway: The Vignon Magenta Gown, 1869-70

Gown by Madame Vignon, 1869-70
The Victoria & Albert Museum

A rich gown of vivid magenta-colored silk, this beautiful ensemble was dyed with one of the new synthetic colors which were produced from the late 1850s onwards. These dyes offered hues which were difficult to achieve with natural pigments and introduced unusual colors into daily wear.

During this period, magenta became an extremely popular color, and soon, a battle for a patent on the color arose. Combating companies often claimed better colorfastness while others suggested that their competitors dyes were unhealthy. The latter claim proved true when, in the 1870s, a German chemist found traces of arsenic in fabric dyed with magenta. The arsenic could leak out in washing, rain or perspiration and was known to cause serious skin conditions.

With the rise in brightly colored fabrics, there was also a rise in advice as to how to wear them. “The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine” of March 1868 suggested that there should be no more than “two positive colours in a lady's toilet” and that “very bright tints” should be toned down with white, black or grey to prevent a gaudy appearance.

Many ladies preferred to wear bright colors with a deeper shade of the same hue. This gown from c. 1869 is an excellent example of this trend. This example by the famed couturier Madame Vignon features satin bows and pleated bias-cut trimmings on ribbed silk . Madame Vignon was known for her ability to use a bright color such as this, all the while keeping it soft and feminine. For this reason, she enjoyed an elite clientele, and, in fact, was patronized by the fashionable Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon III.

The bodice of the dress is just over waist length and fitted with darts. It features a high round neck and long sleeves. The front and the sleeves are trimmed with ruchings trimmed with satin bows. Similar bows are stitched at the back. A peplum of two gauged trapezoidal panels falls from the waist.

The Skirt is straight-cut in the front with a pleat at each side. From the knee to the hem it is trimmed with graduated rows of scalloped flounces. The hem has a matching brush braid which is held in position with tape.


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