A single panel of crepe chiffon, hung from a central point at the bust, wound around the body on the perfect bias in a continuous ribbon, culminating in a dramatic, spectacularly impractical train: this is the dressmaking gauntlet thrown down by the house of Callot Soeurs. At once romantic, orientalist, and utterly moderne, this gown is a near platonic précis of the firm's trademark design vocabulary, with an emphasis on sumptuous textiles showcased in deceptively simple drapery, loosely oriental inspiration, and the discreet use of lace. Almost certainly created in 1928, it was one of the first floor-length evening dresses seen in half a decade, and anticipates the sinuous silhouette of the 1930s—a silhouette spearheaded by the Callot sisters' ablest protégée, Madeleine Vionnet.
This dress was almost certainly part of the seminal Fall/Winter 1928 collection, which included several evening gowns with trailing, asymmetrical trains, and was one of the first supervised by Marie's son Pierre following her death in late 1927. "The train means something," stated Vogue in its October 13, 1928, issue, adding, "And it means that if you have a home, a pocketbook, and your wits about you in this modern life, you will know, with these great dressmakers, the time and the place for these dresses with trains." Callot, which had periodically advocated trained silhouettes since the 1910s, was the leader among a group of couturiers who dropped hems to the floor that fall—a full year before Jean Patou's more famous hemline adjustment—in a revolutionary move the magazine labeled the "modern princesse line." Gone were puffs, loops, and drapery—severe slimness and elimination were the latest signs of modernity. Trains were signifiers of "the return to elegance," as the feminine ideal shifted from the flapper to the more mature figure of the hostess. "The fact that these extravagant clothes can only be worn for formal private evenings in houses means that women are entertaining more and more at home," Vogue concluded.
The uneven surface of the flattened gold-and-silver lamé yarns brocaded throughout the chiffon, printed with a pattern of vaguely Chinese peonies, throws off light in multiple directions, no doubt creating a scintillating spectacle as the wearer moved. With no closures and a built-in slip (secured imperceptibly at the bust), she had only to step in, fasten her jewelry, and go—though not very far, as the long train precluded advancing beyond the confines of her own dining or ball room. The train can, however, also be draped over the shoulder à la sari, a further gestural allusion to the East.
For more information, see the Cora Ginsburg Modern 2019 catalogue.