The Intriguing Charm of Rare Wedding Laces - 1921
The wedding laces, particularly the veil, may be said to perpetuate the romance interest and a refining element in esthetic taste to a point above that of any handiwork within world history, the veil perhaps best illustrating the imaginative appeal of the gossamer filaments of this art of fairy-fingers.
Curiously enough, lace making, embodying the very aristocracy of the arts, has ever found an echoing appeal to the romantic and beauty-loving side of the peasantry. Here may be found the key to its progress as a historical evolution and its industrial strength.
When, from the sixteenth century onward, the trade demands became sufficient to afford a suitable stimulus, lace making came into a recognition which established it for all time as a school or cottage industry.
This applied as well to the picturesque workers clustering about the lagoons of Venice, as to the women of Flanders, to the seaside villages of Devonshire or the cabins of the south of Ireland.
This perpetual allurement of the magic involved in the art of lace making is undoubtedly on the eve of special revelations to the woman of taste in America.
One says "in America" involuntarily, because interest in laces is an essential feature of the education of the jeune fille of all social gradations in Europe.
If of superior birth and wealth, the collection and enjoyment of great laces is a family tradition. If of wealth only, the collecting of laces becomes a social necessity in line with the building of family prestige.
Indeed, the collecting of laces of such importance that they suggest themselves as bequests to art museums is very much in line with the achieving of social distinction.
If of illustrious family and impoverishment, laces for which sacrifices must be made so precious are they, form, to the daughters of the house, the tie with the romance to the past fortunes of the family.
On the other hand, the European family of no position whatever early inculcates the recognition of the meaning of lace by introducing lace making to the daughters of the household as children.
Moreover, this involves grading down to the very peasantry, where, indeed, lace is often the industrial salvation of entire communities as well as their sole artistic striving.
Thus it may be seen how far we in America are today from trying to establish traditions by way of familiarity with laces, if only in the matter of grasping their romantic and historical position.
The Story of Lace
It is interesting to realize that at this time, when the story of silk is much in the public mind, taking one back to ancient China and India for the historic tracings of the splendors of design as applied to great textiles, indeed, to periods of remotest antiquity, lace making is a comparatively modern art.
Occupied with ceramics, the working in metals and the complexities of textile weaving as were Asia, North Africa and Asia Minor, the early history of the development of lace making first as art, later as an industry, finds itself a part of the great burst of light known as the Italian Renaissance.
However remotely, its first articulation seems to have been by way of Greece out of Asia Minor as far as the early "whipped stitches" are concerned. Flanders looms up with the Netherlands for early achievements in the industrial development of both needlepoint and pillow laces.
Venice was the stronghold of the sound development of its artistry, thence finding its place as a French development to its full flowering under the great Colbert, on to Spain and England.
Sure it is that remarkable specimens of work done in the thirteenth century are to be found in the museums of Europe today.
The general facts of European lace history trace it back to ingenious Asiatic drawn work and cutwork patterns of intricacy and show these increasingly cut away until, in the process of evolution, the introduced motifs woven in and out by the needle in the creation of ornament stood alone, thus evolving the making of lace, literally "out of the air."
Lace making thus signifies the creation of ornament and fabric at the same time. In other words, without a pattern, the "fabric of lace" cannot be produced.
It is easy to see that precisely as the balance and sprightly variation of peasant embroideries unfold themselves to the untutored mind so the patterns of laces, although the work of great artists in much of the history of this art, have at all times unfolded intelligibly to the peasant mentality.
It is a tradition that the delicate veining of leaves and their many graceful forms contributed much of the early inspiration in the making of patterns.
In this way, one finds that before the most significant patterns began to appear as the work of recognized artists, often of the highest rank, great freedom, and quaint adaptations of forms familiar in nature entered into lace making.
The fantastic animals of Persian and East Indian design in ceramics, rugs, and metalwork were also appropriated and gave extraordinary diversity and animating charm to lace creation.
Geometrical design, at its height during the great textile creation centuries, brought to lace designing as well as to the older cutwork and drawn work, a value extraordinary.
It was, however, when the designs took on a frost-like delicacy that the ultimate possibilities of lace designing became clear. The publication of these precious patterns, for what are known as needlepoint and pillow laces, dates to the middle of the sixteenth century.
The incredible intricacy of the directions proves that so fantastic an art could only flourish to the point of its sweeping through Europe as did the craze for tapestry creation—at a period when life was uncrowded, timeless, and awaiting the fulfillment of its crafts impulses.
These developments are regarded today, as are all other arts, from the standpoints of schools and their minute variations of characteristics which have never lost their high degree of individuality, even though lace making became one of the great industries of Europe.
The study of laces in art museums is planned to acquaint one with the gradual evolution of the patterning and the increasing complexity of the stitchery.
Personal Interpretation of Laces
It is, however, primarily due to the comprehensive breadth and human interest with which lace study has recently been invested through the activities of Miss Marian Powys that American women are being awakened to its real significance.
Miss Powys, a distinguished English authority on laces, came to America at the end of the Great War, bringing with her collections which not only had never before left Europe but with examples of museum importance offered for sale under the circumstances altogether extraordinary in modern times. Miss Powys' collection, one to marvel over, succeeds in arousing to the last degree the interest latent in every woman of taste.
Not only does she offer the traditional splendors of the examples of epoch-making patterns, but she produces a modern feeling for design in lace patterns, having made an exhaustive study of this art of complexities.
Acquainting herself first with the Devonshire and Irish industries down to the least hamlet, Miss Powys traveled from Flanders through France, Spain, and Germany to familiarize herself with every phase of lace creation.
As a declaration of her theories of design, she then composed in a modern key a series of originations which, as executed in lace, offer an interpretation so spirited and discerning as to have won for her both artistic recognition throughout the world and whatever medals modern expositions offer to the creative lace designer.
Her designs are protests against mere copyist tendencies and revert to the free spirit which possessed those who pioneered the art through its perilous wrestling with the problems of the medium.
Miss Powys, therefore, invests lace making with vigor and freshness of conception which must inevitably carry it forward to a vitalizing influence in the creation of esthetic perception among American women.
It is gratifying to realize that the fashionable girls' schools are the first to reach out for the presentation of the romantic and historic appeal of lace by demand for Miss Powys as a lecturer on this fascinating topic. She has also presented the subject in the lecture course at the Metropolitan Museum.
When approached for consideration of the dawning interest of lace to American women Miss Powys expressed herself as thoroughly convinced of the rise of such an interest beyond mere fashionable dictation.
"It is because those who are joining my lecture classes with serious determination to acquaint themselves with the real meaning of lace evolution that I recognize the movement is taking hold here in America.
"Of course, without its historic background, the appeal to your women as moderns must be made from the dramatic and historic side.
"The anecdotal interest brings out the rise of its influence upon court life, its place in the list of royal gifts, its significance to the court painter who has done posterity the greatest conceivable service in perpetuating the designs made for royalty and the nobility.
"The wedding laces are now in the flush of their first significant importance of position in American social life. I became acutely aware of this rising interest recently when a call came for ten-inch flouncings to be added to a wedding gown then being created by a leading house of design.
"My position as an expert brings to me many who desire confidential disposal of rare specimens. I was able to locate immediately a superb flouncing to be used upon the gown, as well as to border the veil.
"Shortly after this a mother and daughter consulted me as two similar requirements. With no proper valuations in mind, they were somewhat abashed by the price quoted on some rare examples shown, but the following day the father came with the daughter.
"He was a traveled man, and his first reaction was to the effect that the price was below his expectation for laces which should not only delight his own womenfolk but, obviously, deserved a place as a museum bequest.
In other words, this American father was prepared to yield this recognition through processes of reasoning which a European, similarly stationed, would have expressed through culture and his acquaintance with tradition.
"I found the incident highly significant.
"Another point is the quick response of your schoolgirls to the many-sided appeal of laces. It is not only the prides and tragedies allied with queens and court favorites as revealed in the portraiture embodying both the spirit and the substance of lace which appeals to them, but the fact that perhaps the whole of a humble life of a peasant girl, of a beauty and spirit of her own, went into the creation of lace.
"Thus the human interest flows out to the supposedly frivolous and superficial types of our own complex day. To your women of character and intellectual attainments the story of lace opens up vistas of which, here in America, I expect very great things.
"It may be interesting to you to know that the veil I loaned to Mr. Harry Collins for his Fashion Fete at the Ritz was the exact duplicate of the one worn by Queen Mary of England as her wedding veil.
"When the order for a royal creation is placed a duplicate is made for the State. How this veil came into my possession is an interesting story. The design is of Carrickmacross in its richest, most fluent patterning, in border formation. It was worn by the first of the manikins of the procession of the Fashion Fete brides.
"I find here in New York the present interest lies in the direction of twelve to twenty-four-inch flouncings, the scarfing and the veils."
Is it the lure of the Spanish silhouette of tradition which brings us back again to the recognition of the romantic appeal of flounces? Moreover, in turn, is it the feminine trick of translating flounces into coquetry which rejoices womankind when Paris and New York conspire together to restore not only flounces, but lace flounces, to their place of dominion?
These questionings arose after viewing a series of exquisite gowns created for the forthcoming season, the more sizeable number by far emphasizing the Spanish silhouette either by way of the distended hip, the greatest fulness to be gathered on the needle in the wide, full version, or the lace mode introduced in two or three tiers of flounces.
At Altman's, the verdict was made that as never before in the history of the house the demand for real laces goes on apace. Nine saleswomen are now required to handle the conditions of this branch of the lace department, the laces most in demand being point Venice, Valenciennes, fine filet flouncings and white Chantilly in high favor. At Lord & Taylor's and McCreery's, this order was also maintained.
The Collins Wedding Processional
The Collins contribution to the 1921 social calendar by way of the wedding gown was entered as a conspicuous feature of the Collins Fete at the Ritz.
The gowns were shown in a processional of their own, the veils and bouquets registering the most advanced florists' conceptions for the Spring and Summer bouquet.
The use of crystal with pearls, upon paneled sections of chiffon over satin, was beautifully heightened by a crossing of satin sash sections and a conspicuously squared panel train.
The veil was cut so that it cascaded in a tippling line from a short front drapery to a large back section. At the temples, crystal ascension lilies held the veil in place, a graceful spray of these stately blooms being carried over the left arm.
Another showing which introduced the new medieval sleeve, tight from shoulder to fingertips, with the elbow opened to show a delicate puff of tulle, was a version of the paneled mode in satin over tulle.
The marvelous veil worn was loaned by Miss Powys for this occasion. This creation was the duplicate of the Queen Mary veil made for the royal wedding.
With this costume, a new wedding bouquet was carried in the form of white sweet peas spreading out into irregular grace-lines and drooping in trailing lines.
The third study, a brocade, also showed full tulle veiling held by a superb bandeau of diamonds loaned by Carder. Calla lilies in a branching irregularity were carried.
The veil arrangements become a matter of individual development increasingly since the demand is for a pictorial suggestion and may range from Directoire-French to Chinese traditions with perfect propriety.
A New Presentation of Wedding Dress
An innovation was introduced during February by Orange & Co. in an exciting presentation of wedding attire. For the occasion engraved invitations were issued, and the frocking of the bride, maid of honor, bridesmaids and the mother of the bride were included in a comprehensive showing of dress, thoughtfully considered in its entirety.
Charmeuse, crepe satin, and Georgette were the fabrics developed in the wedding gowns. Although graceful hip draperies were shown the silhouettes adhered in the main to the slender line presenting paneled effects, the surplice bodice, the three and four-tiered overlapping flounced effects, the snug pointed bodice and the kimono sleeve model introducing lace in the full underarm-line in combination with the charmeuse and satin crepe. Georgette was similarly treated, inclining to a deep overlapping tuck which occasionally reached from the hem-line to within a few inches of the waist-line.
With this, a panel back of satin was introduced and was shown both as a panel train, removable or as a draped panel reaching merely to the hemline.
Decorative effects were introduced on the satin surfaces by way of graceful trailing vine motifs with the leafage worked out in seed pearls often in combination with crystals, or embroidery in floss or silver threads.
The wide variety of these embellishments gave this group a definite style significance not always to be found within the limitations of this type of frocking.
An exquisite French lace was employed for kimono sleeves, and panels turned under at the hem, in conjunction with georgette panels showing the overlapping tuck.
When the orange blossom was introduced as decorative garland, it tapered narrowly from girdle cluster to the hemline.
Narrow silver ribbons were effectively introduced upon side panels in deep loops in combination with white satin. A surplice bodice of silver tissue completed a charmingly simple frock.
Hip draperies were made the means of shaping a graduated rounded panel front and back in a picturesque little gown.
Quite distinctive and very beautifully executed was a creation of satin crepe brocaded with a superb Chinese disc copied from an old brocade and performed in crystals.
The disc was perhaps four inches in diameter and heightened by a garland, dropping from waist to hem, of white morning glories.
The youthful charm of these creations, however, did not wholly extinguish the grace of the lines of a bridal robe designed for the mature figure, introducing a drapery on the oblique from right shoulder to left hip and carried out in both bodice and skirt. There were accenting lines of crystal and pearl embroideries following the oblique lines.
“The Intriguing Charm of Rare Wedding Laces Now Arousing Interest in America: The Heirloom Point of View as Revived by Way of the Fashion Fete” in The American Cloak an Suit Review: Devoted to the Women's and Children's Ready-to-Wear Trades, New York: John M. O'Connor & Co., Vol. XXI, No. 3, March 1921, p. 119-122.
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