The Early Twenties

1920s Flapper Dress Pattern

1920s Flapper Style Dress

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Patou's early 1920s garments, like those of his archrival Chanel, were embellished with colorful folkloric Russian embroidery. His bell-skirted, high-waisted evening dresses, often made in georgette crêpe, were beaded—he particularly liked diamanté—delicately embroidered, or embellished with fine lace, which he felt was more youthful than heavy lace. Beige was Patou's primary color for spring-summer 1922, and his collection was received with acclaim. A gown of beige kasha cloth featured a deep V-neckline that was emphasized by a lingerie-style collar, while beige chiffon was combined with kasha to form pleated side panels and full undersleeves that were finished with a tight cuff. Patou was an exceptional colorist, and this season he offered a high-collared evening cape in an unusual shade of beige verging on green; its sole trimming was twisted silk openwork. A beige jersey costume was self-trimmed with bias-cut bands around the collar, cuffs, and hem of the hip-length coat.

Patou and Chanel were the leading exponents of the garçonne look that dominated the fashions of the 1920s. Patou was particularly well-known for his geometric designs. Most famous are the sweaters he designed from 1924 with cubist-style blocks of color inspired by the paintings of Braque and Picasso. This ultramodern motif was then applied to matching skirts, bags, and bathing costumes. Although Patou was influenced by the fine arts, he was emphatic that he himself was not an artist, and that a successful couturier did not have to be one. "What is needed is taste, a sense of harmony, and to avoid eccentricity" (Etherington-Smith, p. 38). His eminently wearable sweaters, with horizontal stripes in contrasting colors teamed with box-pleated skirts, were regularly featured in Vogue magazine.

Although Patou was renowned for his smart daywear, his robes d'intérieur (negligées) were unashamedly romantic. In 1923 he offered a design in rose-pink satin draped with silk lace dyed to match, and trimmed with clipped brown marabou. British Vogue described the gown as shown with "sabot" slippers with upturned toes in white glacé kid, decorated with red leather cutwork and red heels. Another robe was of crystal-embroidered satin worn with Turkish trousers, a "Capuchin hood" and fringed mules of orange and gold brocade. Patou's shoes were made by Greco (January 1923, p. 45).

Patou's sportswear. Patou's brother-in-law Raymond Barbas introduced the designer to the world of sport and many of its champions. On meeting the androgynous, smartly elegant tennis star Suzanne Lenglen, Patou recognized instantly that she personified the fashionable "new woman." In 1921 Lenglen appeared on court at Wimbledon wearing a white pleated silk skirt that skimmed her knees (and flew above them when she ran, revealing her knotted stockings), a sleeveless white sweater based on a man's cardigan, and a vivid orange headband—she was dressed head to toe by Patou. The audience gasped at Lenglen's audacity, but the women attending were soon to appropriate similar styles of dress for themselves. Lenglen may have been the first sports champion to endorse the look of a specific fashion designer.

By 1922 Patou had introduced sportswear styles for his fashionable clientele, who wanted to look sporty even if they did not undertake any form of exercise. The same year he introduced his "JP" monogram on his garments; he was the first fashion designer to exploit the cachet of a well-known name. He has also been credited as the originator of the triangular sports scarf worn knotted at one shoulder. In 1924 Patou opened additional branches of his house at the fashionable French seaside resorts of Deauville and Biarritz to sell his ready-made sportswear and accessories. The following year he opened a specialized sportswear boutique called "le coin des sports" within his couture house. This boutique consisted of a suite of rooms, each devoted to a different sport, including aviation, yachting, tennis, golf, riding, and fishing. Patou worked closely with the French textile manufacturers Bianchini-Ferrier and Rodier to develop functional sportswear fabrics.

Patou's fashions always appealed to the American market, and he brought himself plentiful publicity through his regular contributions to News Enterprise Association (N.E.A.), the nationwide syndication service. To highlight the fact that his designs were as well suited to the "American Diana" as the "Parisian Venus," the couturier brought six American models to Paris in 1924 (Chase, p. 163). Patou had placed an advertisement in which he advised aspiring applicants that they "must be

Early Twentieth Century Women Fashion
House of Patou, 1955. This two-piece ensemble worn by a French model is made from chalk white shantung, or orlon-acrylic fiber and silk. Its elegant yet simple lines are typical of early twentieth-century French couturier Jean Patou. © Bettmann/Corbis. Reproduced by permission.

smart, slender, with well-shaped feet and ankles and refined of manner" (Chase, p. 164). Five hundred women responded, of which six were chosen by a committee consisting of society interior decorator Elsie de Wolfe; fashion photographer Edward Steichen; Edna Woolman Chase, the editor of American Vogue; Condé Nast; and Patou himself. The successful applicants were Josephine Armstrong, Dorothy Raynor, Carolyn Putnam, Edwina Prue, Rosalind Stair, and Lillian Farley. The French couture industry was fiercely nationalist, however, and Pa-tou's action caused a furor.

Patou'sperfumes. Patou developed his first perfumes in collaboration with Raymond Barbas. In 1925 he introduced three fruit-floral fragrances—Amour Amour, Que sais-je?, and Adieu Sagesse—each designed for a different feminine profile. Downstairs in his couture house he installed a cubist-style cocktail bar complete with a "bartender" who mixed special perfumes for his clients. Other fragrances that Patou introduced include Moment Suprême (1929), Le Sien and Cocktail (both 1930), Invitation (1932), Divine Folie (1933), Normandie (1935), and Vacances (1936). The most famous of all, however, was Joy (1930), which required 10,600 jasmine flowers and 336 roses to make just one ounce of perfume, and which was promoted even during the Great Depression as the costliest fragrance in the world.

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