Europeana Fashion
Clues of Authorship: Madeleine Vionnet's Fingerprint
17 April, 2017
  • europeana-fashion
  • europeana-fashion

It is a complicate matter to state the authorship of a dress, as in its creation concurs the hands of many. Conventionally, however, labels provide the information needed to retrace its creator; sometimes summarising the complete cast of interventions or highlighting the designer as the only inventor, the label eventually is the very last clue leading to the author.

Dress, designed by Maison Martin Margiela, s/s 1998. Courtesy Modemuseum Hasselt, all rights reserved.

That’s maybe why the label has functioned as a vehicle for many designers to esablish their idenity and the identity of their work, as did most famously Martin Margiela, that initially substituted with a white strip of cloth, attached to the garment with the iconic four with stitch at each extremity. Seventy years earlier, instead, Madeleine Vionnet used it as her bastion to preserve her authenticity. To do so, she phisically imprinted her fingerprint on each of her labels.

Dress, designed by Madeleine Vionnet, 1930-35. Courtesy Les Arts Décoratifs, all rights reserved.

By doing so, the couturier Madeleine Vionnet, who established her Maison in Paris in 1912, was trying to defend her work - and set a primate for fellow couturiers to follow - to prevent copyists from plagiarising her work. Plagiarism, was, in fact, a practice that had long affected high fashion. Copyists were appointed by manufacturers and department stores to visit couture fashion shows to sketch the garments in order to had the instruction to remake them, as the American copyist-turned-fashion designer and writer Elizabeth Hawes explained in her book 'Fashion is Spinach'.

Ensemble, designed by Madeleine Vionnet, 1935. Courtesy Les Arts Décoratifs, all rights reserved.

In her quest against plagiarism, Maideleine Vionnet had previosuly set in 1921 the Association for the Defence of Fine and Applied Arts. However, she eventually started to document her creations photographing them from the front, back and sides, and then decided to stamp on each label her irreproducible and unique fingerprint.

As well as protecting her creativity, by marking the clothes in this way she put her own identity as a guarantee of their authenticity. At last, her labels served as a clue in a crime scene, they reconducted her mindful creations to her hands.