The Modern Woman

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Going Away, or Honeymoon outfit circa. 1914

Going Away, or Honeymoon outfit circa. 1914

Fashion Plates from 1912-1914

Fashion Plates from 1912-1914

Lily darling,
They are at present hunting for the rings. Young Neill says he had both left out yesterday: They have just got them and this seraph can go up with your parcel. Cheer up, little girl, the sun is coming out and remember that I love you with my whole being.
J.W.

These touching words were penned by J.W. a groom-to-be while waiting for his wedding ring at Sharmand Neill’s a renowned Belfast jeweller. It was found concealed in an inside pocket by organisers of the current exhibition Costumes Parisiens,  Fashion Plates from 1912-1914  at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin which was opened by leading Irish designer Louise Kennedy in October 2013. 

More than 150 illustrations are on show giving us 21st Century fashion and art illustration fans a glimpse into the world of fashion that existed in France during the last few years of the Belle Époque before the outbreak of World War I. These beautiful, intricate illustrations first appeared in the publication Journal des dames et modes which was published in 1912 by the Italian writer Tom Antongini and was acquired by Chester Beatty on moving to London that same year. It is believed that his decision to purchase this publication was influenced by Edith Dunn, his second wife, who was an important collector of European paintings herself at that time.  

The Journal des dames et des Modes was first published in June 1912 by Italian writer Tom Antonghini, the periodical was issued three times a month until it ceased production in August 1914 with the outbreak of World War 1.  The Journal gave it’s artists free reign to create illustrations inspired by contemporary styles – no less than 186 prints were created and for a brief time at the end of the Belle Epoque, the Journal was one of the arbiters of Parisian culture.

So how did this wonderful exhibition arrive at the impressive Chester Beatty Library? In 1912 Beatty moved to London with his children and wife to be, Edith Dunn. Both Chester and Edith shared a love of art and historical practices.  In fact Edith was a great connoisseur in her own right, and acquired one of the finest collections of French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in Europe.  It is likely that Edith prompted Chester to acquire this and other fashion periodicals.  Edith, herself appears at the exhibition in an image taken of her between 1910 and 1913.

Also on display at the exhibition are some contemporary costumes on loan from the Ulster Museum in Belfast (image above) giving visitors a very up close and personal view of these beautifully designed and exceptionally well made dresses.

The exhibition, which runs until 30 March 2014 is well worth visiting. It provides a glimpse into the fashion and culture of a by-gone era.  A time when being a Modern Woman meant shocking those with conventional tastes always pushing the boundaries; these independent and self-confident women played sports, drove cars, travelled and always ensured they were à la mode.

I hope the sun shone for Lily and her love J.W.

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