Last night saw the opening of an exhibition at the Poldo Pezzoli Museum in Milan, showcasing the sketches of the futurist artist Thayaht (born Ernest Michahelles), created for Madeleine Vionnet in the early 1920s. It's a compact exhibition put on by maison Vionnet in collaboration with W Magazine, of sixty drawings alongisde a video projection of a Vionnet dress, which you can control with hand movement (great to play around with in person, difficult to photograph alas) and it's only open until the 25th February. It did however send a clear message as to what the current maison Vionnet's intentions are. Since its revival in 2006 it has undergone different ownership and has ploughed through a mix of named creative directors and annonymous design teams. Its revival hasn't quite hit a high point as yet with all these comings and goings.
Late last year, it was announced that Goga Ashkenazi, a British-based businesswoman had taken full control of the French brand and is now 100% stakeholder. She is now both CEO and creative director. Of the exhibition, Ashkenazi says "The exhibit is unique and demonstrates a little-known aspect of the aesthetic of the house. I was extremely fortunate to come across these drawings: they reveal a focal oint not only of her work, but also of her cultural vision. This exhibition also underlines the importance of dialogue between Italy and France, the two poles within which Vionnet currently operates, whilst maintaining its roots deeply in the past." In other words, Ashkenazi is keen to emphasise the connections between Vionnet's past and its present in order to move forward, a tricky balance to achieve that has been set at different levels for different houses depending on the current creative director.
There's no denying Vionnet's illustrious past is rich enough to draw inspiration from. This is the woman that invented the bias cut and was dubbed "the architect among dressmakers", promotiong expression, freedom of movement and natural grace in her Grecian-style dresses. She was also not a fan of the fashion system once stating that "In so far as one can talk of a Vionnet school, it comes mostly from my having been an enemy of fashion. There is something superficial and volatile about the seasonal and elusive whims of fashion which offends my sense of beauty." What has pervaded Vionnet in its current maison form with its constant revolving door of designers, is a stream of collections that whilst beautiful, haven't captured people's imaginations at large in the way that Vionnet did.
Perhaps this exhibition will ignite Ashkenazi's fuel to re-explore Vionnet's design DNA and to find a way of communicating the influence of Vionnet's innovations. Vionnet and Thayaht exchanged ideas quite intensely between 1919 and 1925. He designed the logo of the house and produced the visuals that interpreted the way Vionnet would drape fabric on mannequins. The geometric lines and the freeing proportions are the main take-away points from these sixty sketches (the first time such a collection has been exhibited). It's interesting that this multi-discplinarian futurist, who was a pioneer of industrial design, as well as designing futurist garments like the TuTa (or coveralls), collaborated with a fashion designer in such a way. It's a partnership that reflects the tide of revolution that was going on in all facets of society at the time. They both shared an interest in the way geometry and movement would bring about emancipation both in the clothing on the body or as political, cultural and sociological ideas in the mind. How Ashkenazi and her team interprets this freeing collaboration today remains to be seen.
Speaking of drawing from the past, I quite liked Vionnet's latest video dedicated to one of Vionnet's contemporaries and muses; the dancer Isadora Duncan. Just wish it was showcased in a less clunky website.