On 15th May 1855 the Universal Exposition, or the Exposition Universelle des produits de l’Agriculture, de l’Industrie et des Beaux-Arts de Paris, opened in the Jardins des Champs Elysees in Paris. It was the first exposition to have a pavilion given over entirely to the arts, and was one of the most important events to take place during the reign of Napoleon III. Charles Worth participated with the Gagelin maison in both this exposition and the previous one in London. The Paris edition gave great importance to fashion. At the entrance to the exhibition a huge bronze sculpture ‘La Parisienne’, by Moreau-Vauthier, setting the tone for modern elegance.
‘La donna è mobile’ as the Duke of Mantua sings in the third act of Rigoletto, providing more than a clue as to his personal vision of women as vain, inscrutable creatures. Like fickle feathers in the wind, women float easily from one thing to another. The opening performance of Verdi’s Rigoletto goes back to 1851, at the La Fenice opera house in Venice. Not everyone knows that Tito Gobbi – the greatest baritone of all time – was very taken with the dramatic ending of the first act of Rigoletto, and wished to demonstrate this by falling over spectacularly. During the dress rehearsals he really did fall down the stairway, ending up head over heels among his colleagues.
Paul Poiret, the first real fashion designer, in the modern sense of the world. He designs ‘brazen, modern’ lines, offering women flamboyant and asymmetric clothes in place of cumbersome corsets. He falls in love with drapes and changes the history of fashion forever.
1920 hails the arrival of the little boy-ish flappers – young girls who cast aside feminine conventions and stereotypes. They were in the vanguard, imbued with the spirit of jazz, and flew in the face of the majority. Larger than life characters who refused to fit in. Short bobbed hair, short dresses, cigarettes in hand, driving their cars and listening to jazz. Laid back and very open-minded.
‘A great deal of audacity and rouge’ as Zelda Fitzgerald wrote in Eulogy on the Flapper in 1921.