Tag Archives: Sonia Delauney

Exhibition Journal: Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

While not technically not a fashion exhibition, this show at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC in 2013 is one of my all-time favorites.  I’ve said before that it you want to really understand the fashions of the Teens and Twenties, you have to look at the work that was done by the costumers and set designers of the Ballets Russes.  Scheherazade,first performed by the Ballets Russes in 1910 that set off a fad for Orientalism in fashion that lasted into the 1920s.  Even the great couturier Paul Poiret was influenced by the movement, even though he downplayed it in his autobiography.

So much of the beauty of the Ballet Russes costumes is in the attention to detail.  In my journal I made a border of the ones I found to be the most interesting, and in the center, on a piece of translucent paper, I drew Sonia Delaunay’s magnificent costume for the 1918 production of Cleopatra.



Filed under Journal, Museums

Currently Reading – Color Moves: Art and Fashion by Sonia Delaunay

This book, Color Moves: Art & Fashion by Sonia Delaunay, is actually the catalog for an exhibition of her work in textiles that was put on by Cooper-Hewitt in 2011.   Delaunay is remembered mainly for her colorful paintings, but for much of her career she designed clothing, and especially textiles. She and her husband Robert Delaunay worked with their theory of “simultaneity” – the sense of movement that is created when certain colors are positioned in certain ways.  This theory extended to her work in textiles.

After seeing Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes: When Art Danced with Music at the National Gallery, I wanted to learn more about Sonia Delaunay’s work in textiles.  In 1918 she designed the costumes for Cleopatra, some of which were displayed in the Ballets Russes exhibition.

As Sonia told the story, she became interested in working in textiles when, in 1911, she made a patchwork quilt for her baby.  From there she began to use the theory of simultaneity in their home in the form of cushions and such.

In 1913 Sonia made her first simultaneous dress which was also a patchwork creation.  She then went on to design dresses and costumes for a business called Casa Sonia, which was located in Madrid where the family spent the war years.

After the war the family returned to Paris, where Sonia began working on collaborations with poets.  Above are two of her “robes poemes” which were meant to be poems in motion.

The fashion work that we usually see from Delaunay came about in 1925, with the creation of Maison Delaunay.  It was not a shop in the strict sense of the word.  For a while she had a temporary show, along with Jacques Heim, but after the show closed, she operated out of her house and a small atelier.  The coat above was created for Gloria Swanson.

These swimsuits were created by Sonia between 1925 and 1929.

Much of what you read about Sonia Delaunay says that she gave up fashion and returned to painting after 1929.  But actually, she continued on designing textiles, mainly for a Dutch company, Metz & Co.  In 1929 Dalaunay formed Tissues Delaunay which was for the purpose of textile designs.   Many of these designed were produced by Metz, but other companies bought and made her designs as well including the American firm Foreman Foremort.

Throughout most of the 1930s, Sonia sold designs to Metz & Co.  The company was sold in 1973, but the family who had owned Metz & Co had kept their family archives (in the basement!), and art historian Petra Timmer (who wrote some of the text for this book) was able to track down the company records which included the sample books and records.  In the book above, you can see a sample of Delaunay’s work in paint next to the printed fabric samples.

Not only did the Metz & Co records survive, but Sonia’s record books, which she kept in black notebooks survive as well.  Historians have been able to match up the work in her livres noir  to the samples in the Metz & Co records.

To me, this is a real strength of this book, as the reader is shown the original art from Sonia along with the finished work from Metz & Co.

On the left above are the Delaunay original designs (1929), along with her color samples, and on the right are the finished silks from Metz & Co (1930).

This swirl design dates from 1934 and you can see the various design drawings along with the finished textile.

Sonia’s design work and notes are on the left, and the printed cotton is on the right.

Here we see Sonia’s designs along with a necktie made from the finished silk.

Often Metz & Co would buy and produce designs from years past.  In the case above, Sonia painted the design in 1927, but the fabric was produced in 1936.

After WWII, Sonia Delaunay again designed fabrics, but by the early 1950s her reputation as a painter had grown to the point that she was able to make a living doing what she loved best.  But she never completely gave up design work, and occasionally did designs for textiles and books and such.  Some of her designs were used by her old friend, Jacques Heim in his fashion work.   Probably your best best of finding a vintage Delaunay piece is in the form of scarves she designed for Liberty & Co. in the late 1960s.  That’s one on the left.  Some are signed, whereas others are not.

Photo copyright and courtesy of The Way We Wore®

And here is where I share my own sad Sonia Delaunay story.  The unlabeled hat and scarf above were sold by vintage dealer Doris Raymond several years ago.  When she found them, she suspected they were Delaunay pieces, and she was able to get them authenticated by a member of her family.  I actually posted about them at the time they were for sale.

Back in March, Doris starred in a reality show about her shop.  She was talking about how things can be found in the most unlikely places.  As an example she mentioned the Sonia Delaunay pieces she found in Asheville, NC.  I almost fell out of my seat, and then I tried really hard not to cry.  I’m positive I did not see them anywhere before she bought them, but still, to think they were so close. Heartbreak!

To see more of  Sonia Delauneay’s work, check out what you can find on Pinterest.


Filed under Currently Reading, Designers

Truly Rare, Truly Avant-Garde

If you do a lot on vintage shopping online, I’m sure you have noticed the common usage of the word “rare” and the latest ebay-darling key word, “avant-garde.”  Truth is, most of the vintage clothing one finds for sale is not rare, is not one-of-kind and is not avant-garde.

Most items are not, but this 1920s cloche and scarf by artist Sonia Delauney are. You’ll find these two items for sale at 1stdibs.com, in the shop of The Way We Wore.  The shop owner, Doris Raymond, is offering them as a set, and they have been authenticated by the artist’s grandson.

Sonia Delauney was most interested in color and how people see it.  She experimented in her painted art, but she also used textiles to make collaged pieces using the same theories.  Her art was a form of cubism, and she was also a major player in the Art Deco movement.  She made collaged and embroidered pieces for sale, and also designed fabrics that were mass produced.  In 1923 (some sources say 1924)  she and Jacques Heim opened a shop together in Paris.

Because of the nature of her work, examples are very rare.  Her output was small, and I imagine that it was very expensive.  In all the reading I’ve done about her, there is always a  mention or two of all the celebrity wearings; there were many mentions of a particular coat she made for Gloria Swanson.  Now there was a woman who knew how to wear a coat, even a rare, avant-garde one.

Photos copyright and courtesy of The Way We Wore®,


Filed under Designers, Vintage Clothing