OVERSKIRT PANEL OF VELOURS AU SABRE TRIMMED
WITH CHENILLE BALL FRINGE AND PASSEMENTERIE
French, ca. 1880–85
Striking combinations of color and texture, lush patterns and a surfeit of trimming distinguished the asymmetric, layered and bustled female silhouette of the early- to mid-1880s. Greatly esteemed in the world of high fashion, Lyonnais designers and weavers of the late nineteenth century produced luxury dress textiles and passementerie aimed at an elite international clientele.
The technique, pattern and palette of this overskirt panel convey the opulence of the early Belle Epoque aesthetic. Velours au sabre is a complex weave structure that was a specialty of the Lyon silk industry. Not a true velvet, it is, rather, a satin in which the pattern is warp printed prior to weaving, and the pile effect is achieved by hand-cutting the warp floats in the areas required by the design. Fashion journals of the period illustrate and describe in vivid detail the vogue for large-scale floral patterns, for a variety of velvet weaves and for rich, glowing colors like those in this example—carnation, cardinal, and ruby reds, yellows, and bronze.
La Mode Illustrée of 1883 and 1884 cites the then current popularity of velvet ensembles trimmed with deep chenille ball fringe for the fall and winter seasons. The New York Fashion Bazar, which kept its readers abreast of the most up-to-date Parisian styles, declared in July 1883 that, "Chenille fringes of two kinds, the rat-tail and the fluffy, are both very fashionable." In motion, the quivering rows of ball fringe would have added a jaunty touch. Extensive yardage of both fabric and trimming would have been required for the full toilette, a visual index of conspicuous consumption.
An identical panel of this velvet is in the collection of the Museum at F.I.T. (P91.22.1).