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Museums Join Forces to Save Nine Couture Gowns by Madeleine Vionnet from Export
Cream organdie & black Chantilly lace ballgown and matching muff, (Lesage), 1935. Attributed to Madeleine Vionnet. Purchased with the support of the Director’s Circle © V&A Images.

LONDON.- The V&A, London; The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle; and the Fashion Museum, Bath are delighted to announce that they have jointly acquired nine haute couture gowns designed by French couturier, Madeleine Vionnet for a wealthy British socialite after an export stop was placed on them. This is the first time an export stop has been placed on examples of 20th-century couture and the first time three British museums have worked together to acquire a collection of dresses.

The three museums, which all hold nationally important fashion collections, formed a consortium to raise the funds needed to purchase the gowns. The MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund gave a total of £85,000 and the independent charity, The Art Fund gave £80,000 to make the acquisition possible. Four dresses join the V&A’s collections; three dresses were purchased by The Bowes Museum and two by the Fashion Museum in Bath.

Madeleine Vionnet (1876-1975; active 1912-1939) was one of the most influential couturiers of the early 20th-century. She was known for the complicated cut of her glamorous gowns and a preoccupation with the minute details of dressmaking. Her greatest contribution to fashion was her championing of the bias cut, which allowed the fabric to cling to and move with the female form. Relatively few examples of her work exist in British collections.

The gowns were all owned by Lady Foley, wife of Lord Foley (the seventh Baron Foley), a former flight lieutenant in the Royal Air Force. Their marriage introduced Lady Foley to British society. The couple is listed in The Times’ Social Register as attending events of the London season and traveling to Paris on several occasions where they stayed at The Hotel Meurice, not far from Vionnet’s premises on the Avenue Montaigne. Lady Foley was among the women of privilege who could afford the finest quality textiles and highly personal attention offered by couture houses such as Vionnet’s.

The nine dresses date from 1929 to 1938, when Vionnet was at the height of her creative talents. They illustrate the range of the designer’s renowned technical ability and her skilled use of luxurious textiles. Including dresses of embroidered silk tulle, printed silk chiffon, embroidered organdie and tiered lace, they are all in excellent condition and unmatched by other Vionnet dresses already in British public collections.

Sonnet Stanfill, V&A Fashion Curator said: “These evening dresses represent some of the best work of a designer who made garments of technical brilliance with a lyrical presence and are an important addition to our collection. The V&A is delighted to have worked so closely with The Fashion Museum and The Bowes Museum to ensure these important examples of couture remain in Britain.”

Andrew Macdonald, Acting Director of The Art Fund, said: “These exquisite dresses reveal the astonishing cut and design of Madeleine Vionnet’s haute couture. Her innovative construction techniques and skilled manipulation of fabric have inspired many of today’s leading fashion designers. Sharing the collection between the three museums is a wonderful way of allowing more people to see Vionnet’s distinctive style as well as the sumptuous tastes of Lady Foley and The Art Fund is thrilled to have helped save them for the nation.”

Janet Davies, Head of the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund said:“We were delighted to assist both the Fashion Museum and Bowes Museum whose collections each provide a perfect context for the dresses selected. It is particularly pleasing that the three museums worked together to acquire examples across the range of Vionnet’s work and that the acquisition offers a wonderful opportunity for future partnership work.”

Dresses acquired by the V&A:

• Blue and red floral printed silk afternoon dress, Vionnet, 1931; purchased with the support of the Friends of the V&A

• Cream tulle ballgown with velvet swallow design, Vionnet, 1935; purchased with the support from a generous individual and The Art Fund

• White flowers on black net ballgown, attributed to Vionnet, c.1935

• Cream organdie & black Chantilly lace ballgown and matching muff, (Lesage), attributed to Vionnet, 1935; purchased with the support of the Director’s Circle

Dresses acquired by The Bowes Museum with assistance from The Art Fund, the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, The Friends of the Bowes Museum, and individual donors:

• Gold coloured tulle evening dress embroidered with pale coloured silk floss, Vionnet, 1929

• Blue & red poppies printed on chiffon floor length evening dress, Vionnet, 1934

• Black Chantilly lace evening dress with appliqué of black velvet bows, Vionnet, 1938.

Dresses acquired by the Fashion Museum, Bath with assistance from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, The Art Fund, Bath and North East Somerset Council, the West of England Costume Society and the support of private individuals:

• Cream tulle floor length ballgown with mock-smocked bodice, Vionnet, 1934

• White organdie ballgown, embroidered with motif of bouquets of flowers and sheaves of wheat, Vionnet, 1938.

Madeleine Vionnet | The V&A | The Bowes Museum | Barnard Castle | The Fashion Museum | Bath | Sonnet Stanfill |

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