La Gazette du bon ton: Hermès

Fig. 1. La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1925, No. 7. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archive. Photo: Jennifer Dares

During a recent research visit to the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archives to view the La Gazette du bon ton collection, I was intrigued by four pages, consisting of six fashion illustrations of Hermés bags, along with text in the 1925 issue of ‘Numéro spécial de la Gazette du bon ton’ (Fig. 1) simply titled ‘Hermés’ (Fig. 2-3).

This edition was created for the ‘International Exhibition of Decorative and Modern Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925 (Fig. 4-5). This world’s fair was similar to trade shows of today, such as Maison & Objet Paris ( or the Coterie in New York (, but on a much larger scale. The Pavilion of Elegance (Fig. 6) was one of nine pavilions and displayed luxury brands such as Lanvin, Worth and Cartier (

La Gazette du bon ton, an expensive luxury fashion magazine, whose target audience included the elite of France, was published monthly from 1912 through until 1925 (Davis 48). Inside this issue, it was noted that numerous luxury brands directed this edition (La Gazette du bon ton 1925). Barthes states ‘… the magazine is a machine that makes Fashion’ (50), and it was through this lens that I questioned whether this was an article or an advertorial? Once translated, would the text reveal what a Hermès leather bag signified in 1925?

Fig. 2. “Hermès.” Numero Spécial De La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1925, No. 7.
Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archive. Photos: Jennifer Dares.
Fig. 3. “Hermès.” Numero Spécial De La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1925, No. 7.
Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archive. Photos: Jennifer Dares.
Fig. 6. ‘Lanvin House Salon in the Pavilion of Elegance’ (
Fig. 3. ‘International Exhibition of Decorative and Modern Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925 poster and Fig. 4. Exhibition entrance (








Fig. 7. Grace Kelly with her Hermès bag, 1956 (











The Hermès brand has received much attention in fashion magazines, celebrity culture, film, television and the media since the 1950s. The power of celebrity has helped to promote the iconic bags beginning with Grace Kelly who was photographed in 1956 holding what was already an iconic Hermès bag (Fig. 7), initially designed in 1935, which was then named after her (Boyd 82). The story behind the inspiration of the Birkin bag depicted Jane Birkin on a flight in 1981 when the singer and the actress met the president of Hermès, Jean Louis Dumas. When he noticed her basket bag, he mentioned she would benefit from a larger bag which he would design for her ( Birkin had used the basket bag for every occasion, from day through to evening during all seasons, from summer through to winter, which had been well documented since the 1960’s (Fig. 8-10). The newly designed Hermès bag was launched in 1984 and named after Birkin (Boyd 82).

Fig. 8. Jane Birkin carrying her signature basket bag at the “Slogan” film premiere in 1969 (
Fig. 9. Birkin carrying her signature basket bag in Tokyo, 1971 (
Fig. 10. Birkin in fur with her signature basket bag (
Fig. 10. HBO’s Sex and the City in 2001 depicts Samantha and Carrie as they gaze at the Birkin in the Hermès boutique window (Boyd, 2014).










In 2001 HBO’s Sex and the City depicted Samantha and Carrie as they gaze at the Birkin in the Hermès boutique window (Fig. 11). As they discuss the Birkin, Samantha states “When I’m tooling around town with that bag, I’ll know I’ve made it!” (Boyd 82). Kim Kardashian’s obsession with the bags (Fig. 12) has been credited with helping to increase sales at Hermès in 2016 (Rhodri 54) and on August 11, 2016, Kris Jenner’s Birkin closet (Fig. 13) was featured in an article titled “Meet The LA Artist Behind Kris Jenner’s New Birkin Closet on the Harper’s Bazaar digital platform ( 2016). The closet is filled with Hermès bags, and a neon sign which reads ‘NEED MONEY FOR BIRKIN’ by Los Angeles artist Beau Dunn ( 2016) exemplifies conspicuous consumption (Veblen L22). Baudrillard’s theory of consumption and signs, quite literally are displayed within this one closet (Tseelon L4455). The aim in these examples of the Hermès bag as an object would be to signal their status economically, socially, symbolically and culturally through the collection of their Hermès bags.

Fig. 12. Kim Kardashian and her Hermès bag (
Fig. 13. “Meet The LA Artist Behind Kris Jenner’s New Birkin Closet.” Photo: Randy Tran

The theory that a Hermès bag would never be sent to a landfill and would be considered slow fashion is also of interest in learning more about this brand’s history (Jung and Jin 517). Hermès bags have traditionally been passed down from one family member to another or sold as a second hand or vintage item, often for more than their original worth. The narrative and the myth behind the brand may be what assists the bag in holding or exceeding its initial value.

So, what did a Hermès leather bag signify in 1925? The article begins by describing the history of the brand, noting Thierry Hermés was a skilled artisan making saddlery for nobleman and royals (La Gazette du bon ton 1925). His success in this industry provided him with the confidence to expand his business into leather goods (La Gazette du bon ton 1925). The double-bottom red Hermès bag illustrated at the top of the page is what first caught my eye (Fig. 2). The illustration includes two brushes in the lower bottom which look similar to those used for horses and a tin container which may indicate horse hoof polish. The text suggests this bag might function for toiletries, which alludes to the luxury of travel (La Gazette du bon ton 1925).

Fig. 14. “The Wardrobe to Meet the Travel Urge” (1925, Vogue, 58-59).

Through further research in the Vogue Archive, I located an article in the January 1925 issue of Vogue magazine titled ‘The Wardrobe to Meet the Travel Urge’ (Fig. 14). Similar to the Hermès text, it is difficult to tell if this is an article or an advertorial as all of the bags and gloves illustrated to accessorize are the Hermès brand only. Usually, the selection of accessories for a magazine editorial would be from various brands. Is this another example of Barthes reference to “the magazine is a machine that makes Fashion” (51)? This article discusses the “nouveau riches’” adoption of an aristocratic lifestyle, as they travel to their country homes wearing the latest fashions (Vogue 58). These fashions accessorized with Hermès bags and gloves signal economic capital as they can afford an additional home and the wardrobe to go with it (Vogue 58). The first fashion illustration has a similar double-bottom Hermès bag positioned beside the user (Vogue 58). This bag has two handles on top, whereas the red bag did not have handles, which indicates the origin of this bag was most likely for saddlery and the version in Vogue was for travel (Vogue 58). This bag is a signifier or a fashion code indicating economic and symbolic capital (Rocamora L4909). Economic capital is demonstrated in that the consumer can afford a Hermès bag in which the base price is approximately $4,000.00 and up in 2018 (Hermè

Fig. 15. Advertisement: Dobbs & co., inc. (1925, Dec 01). Vogue,163-164.

As I continued to research, I found two advertisements in the December issue of US Vogue 1925. They are both DOBBS and feature many Hermès leather goods, including the double-bottom bag and a golf case which were exclusively carried in America (Fig. 15). Travel and sport are referenced here signifying economic and social capital within the user’s habitus (Vogue 163-164). Most interesting is the statement “Travelled Americans, familiar with the beauty and quality of Hermès Leather Goods abroad, will not be misled by crude imitations …” (Vogue 163). This statement alludes to knockoffs and the desire for those of a lower class to aspire to join the elite (Boyd 83).

The second page of text in the Hermès article describes the leather golf case with two straps illustrated on a young man, worn like a backpack (Fig. 2). He wears a loose-fitting white golf shirt and pants with a tartan peaked cap to protect the eyes from the sun. In the same issue is a fashion plate titled ‘Le Jeu Interrompu,’ and below is ‘Etui de Golf, d’Hermès’ (Fig. 16)

Fig. 16. “Hermès.” Numero Spécial De La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1925, No. 7.
Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archive. Photo: Jennifer Dares

which translates to ‘The Interrupted Game. Hermès Golf Case.’ This fashion plate features a young man, perhaps a caddy for the older male golfer. The young man is wearing the exact golf case featured in the Hermès article, except the strap is worn across his body. This fashion plate in combination with the article seems to reinforce each other by creating a narrative which embodies an elite luxury status. The golf case is a signifier or a fashion code indicating economic capital, social capital, symbolic capital, and, cultural capital (Rocamora L4909) and I will use Bourdieu’s theoretical framework to illustrate each (Rocamora L4909). The golf case signifies economic wealth as it is a luxury item and the fact that it is worn by a caddy, who would be hired help, further illustrates the user’s wealth or position within a field. The act of being able to participate in the game of golf which indicates they are part of an elite leisure class furthering their network signifies social capital (Rocamora, L4909). Symbolic capital is signified through their status as they can purchase the golf case, hire a caddy, pay to play on a golf course and afford the leisure time to play which links into Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class (1899). Being able to participate in the elite game of golf signifies cultural capital.

The third page discusses Hermès as the first designer to use lizard skin for all types of bags, described as the most prestigious of the collection, and signalling symbolic capital and, the highest status within their habitus (La Gazette du bon ton 1925). The final page discusses Hermes as a belt maker in collaboration with apparel designers, and at times his belts serve as the inspiration for the garment (La Gazette du bon ton 1925). The article closes with a description of the luxury lizard skin cushions Hermès has just designed and states precisely where they should be placed “which naturally find their place on the low sofa of Coromandel lacquer” (La Gazette du bon ton 1925). The suggestion of Coromandel lacquer (Fig. 17) an imported product from the East assumes only an elite class would purchase these cushions.

Fig. 17. “Folding Screen in Coromandel Lacquer, 20th Century.”

In conclusion, Hermès in 1925 signalled economic, social, and cultural capital as the brand aligned its identity with elite leisure activities. Dell argues that the combination of interior design and fashion design at the ‘International Exhibition of Decorative and Modern Industrial Arts in Paris in 1925 provided a narrative around materialism for the upper classes (311). This exhibition in combination with the luxury magazine La Gazette du bon ton offered aspirational imagery to the consumer to further engage them in conspicuous consumption (Veblen L22). The origin of Hermès as a craftsman for nobleman and royals adds to the social capital of owning and being seen with a Hermès bag by signifying one is part of an elite class. The Hermès bag explicitly has its own identity which creates symbolic capital for the consumer. Perhaps some of the consumers are buying a borrowed identity? The article, in my opinion, is meant to create a narrative to elevate the brand’s identity from the consumer’s perspective.

Special thank you to Marie Madi, a French immersion teacher, who assisted with the translation of the text.

Discussion question: Are some consumers buying a borrowed identity?

Works Cited

Advertisement: Dobbs & co., Inc. (1925, Dec 01). Vogue, 66, 163. Retrieved from

Advertisement: Dobbs & co., Inc. (1925, Dec 01). Vogue, 66, 164. Retrieved from

Barthes, Roland. The Fashion System. University of California Press, 1990.

Boyd, Annita. “’Oh, Honey! it’s Not so Much the Style, it’s what Carrying it Mean’: Hermès Bags and the Transformative Process.” Fashion, Style & Popular Culture, vol. 1, 2013, pp. 81-96.

Coterie | UBM Fashion. Accessed 7 August 2018.

Davis, Mary E. “La Gazette Du Bon Ton.” Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism. (2008): pp. 48-92. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. (pp. 48-92).

De Berker, Elsa. “It’s Jane Birkin’s Birthday.” CR.

Dell, Simon. “The Consumer and the Making of the Exposition Internationale Des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, 1907-1925.” Journal of Design History, vol. 12, no. 4, 1999, pp. 311-325.

“Fashion History Lesson: The Iconic Hermès Birkin”. Fashionista, 17 June 2016.

“Folding Screen in Coromandel Lacquer, 20th Century.” Accessed 27 April 2018.

“Hermès.” Numero Spécial De La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1925, No. 7. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archive.

Hermès. Accessed 27 April 2018.

Jobling, Paul. “Roland Barthes: Semiology and the Rhetorical Codes of Fashion.” Thinking through Fashion: A Guide to Key Theorists, edited by Rocamora, Agnès, and Anneke Smelik.  I.B. Tauris, 2016.

Jung, Sojin, and Byoungho Jin. “A Theoretical Investigation of Slow Fashion: Sustainable Future of the Apparel Industry.” International Journal of Consumer Studies, vol. 38, no. 5, 2014, pp. 510-519.

“Le Jeu Interrompu.” Numero Spécial De La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1925, No. 7. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archive.

MAD. ‘The Museum of Decorative Arts’. Accessed 7 August 2018.

Maison & Objet Paris. Accessed 7 August 2018.

Manlow, Veronica. “Creating an American Mythology: A Comparison of Branding Strategies in Three Fashion Firms.” Fashion Practice, vol. 3, no. 1, 2011, pp. 85-110.

Fisher, Lauren Alexis. “Meet The LA Artist Behind Kris Jenner’s New Birkin Closet.” Accessed 27 April 2018.

Phang, Gracia. “The Original Birkin Bag: Where To Get It And How To Style It.” Harper’s Bazaar Singapore, 8 December 2017. Accessed 27 April 2018.

Phillips, R. (2017, Mar 23). HERMES HAS IT IN THE BAG. The Sun Retrieved from

Rocamora, Agnes. “Bourdieu, Pierre: The Field of Fashion” Thinking through Fashion: A Guide to Key Theorists, edited by Rocamora, Agnès, and Anneke Smelik.  I.B. Tauris, 2016. Digital

RDuJour. Accessed 10 April 2018.

The Jeans Blog. Accessed 27 April 2018.

“The Wardrobe to Meet the Travel Urge.” (1925, Vogue, 65, 58-58, 59, 90. Retrieved from

“Bags of Style.” The Wall Street Journal, 16, August 2013.

Tseelon, Efrat. “Baudrillard, Jean: Post-modern Fashion as the End of Meaning.” Thinking through Fashion: A Guide to Key Theorists, edited by Rocamora, Agnès, and Anneke Smelik.  I.B. Tauris, 2016.

Veblen, Thorstein. The Theory of the Leisure Class. Oxford University Press Inc, 2007.

Jean Patchett: Vogue (Eye)con

“If you were going to compress into a time-capsule the very essence of January 1, 1950, for a future world to find, what would you put into it?…. A recording of “Some Enchanted Evening”…. A short evening dress…. A string of baroque cultured pearls…. A bale of cut-off hair…. Long white gloves…. A copy of the January 1900 issue of Vogue, and this one.” (“Vogue’s Eye View of Now” 1950).

Jean Patchett photographed by Erwin Blumenfeld for Vogue, January 1950.

♦  It was the dawn of the 1950s—a time characterized by rock and roll, the Studebaker, widespread consumerism, and, in the realm of high fashion and beauty, new hyper-feminine, waist-whittling fashions for women and the doe-eyed model who wore them best, Jean Patchett (1927-2009). With a single sweeping brow, a boldly lined eye, cherry lips, and a penciled beauty mark, Patchett appeared on the 1950 January cover of Vogue (pictured left), subsequently becoming the face of a decade. Like the growing economy and population at that time, the cover hit newsstands with a ‘boom’ so powerful that a variation of the Patchett’s doe-eyed look reverberated into the sixties; kohl liner was applied to the lids, not with a carefully drawn flick, but liberally for a smouldering effect (think Edie Sedgwick’s bold eye makeup) to match the daring new sixties style, complete with A-line tailoring and architecturally inspired garments (Astley 349).

“Mid-Century Beauty” Article, Vogue January 1950. pp. 112-113.



Big and bold eyes were, in fact, de rigueur for the 1950s face as an article from the same Vogue issue titled “The Mid-Century Beauty” insists (article pictured right). A makeup look as “excitingly new” as the use of lipstick in the twenties, the doe-eye, adopted from Paris-based fashion designer Robert Piguet, could be achieved with the freehanded sweep of a soft eyebrow pencil or kohl from the inner-corner of the eye to the outer-corner, then extended up toward the brow and tapered to a point (Vogue 113). Paired with a sleek pixie cut, two-toned eyeshadow, a matted face, and a bow-shaped mouth (Vogue 113), this attention-grabbing appearance was a contrast to the more “natural” face of makeup worn by women during the previous war-torn decade which consisted of subdued eyes and a pink or red lip.

Jean Patchett interview with Edward R. Murrow on Person to Person for CBS Television, January 8th 1955. Jean demonstrates how to apply makeup for a doe-eyed effect and shows off pyjamas featuring her face from the January 1950 cover of Vogue (above).

In this way, the doe-eye signified a distinct transition from a past makeup practice and appearance to a new mode of makeup specific to the fifties. The January 1950 Vogue cover of Patchett, by extension, is a production, or a simulacrum in Baudrillard’s terms, of a new beauty ideal set in motion by the magazine publication and its then team. In this vein, Patchett’s singular doe-eye pictured on this cover is synonymous with the Vogue’s eye view—one that was focused on adapting the 1950s face to suit the break out of a Coca-Cola drinking, jukebox playing, Elvis Presley swaying youth culture that set itself apart from the “old hauteur” (Rule 2002). As a Parisian-inspired look, the doe-eye strongly signified this transition, and was a hat tip to the decade’s golden age of haute couture for which Patchett became the face. Even renowned fashion photographer Irving Penn, whom adored photographing Patchett, identified the model as “a young American goddess in Paris couture” following her death from emphysema at the age of seventy-five in February 2002 (qtd. in Horyn).

As a woman who, in photographs, exuded rebellion and a slight attitude that connected her to Europe’s ‘knowing girls,’ Patchett herself seemingly deviated from the traditional “white glove” society of 1950s America (Rule 2002). That said, Patchett’s day-to-day personality and reputation in the modeling world could not have been more opposite. Counterparts like fashion model Dolores Hawkins repeatedly praised Patchett for her well-mannered behaviour and politeness: “She treated everyone graciously; models, the girls who fitted our outfits, and photographers. Jean was always professional and wonderful with everybody” (qtd. in “An American Goddess of Paris Couture”). Despite her kind charm, best exemplified by her go-to introduction to editors (“I’m Jean Patchett. You don’t darn it. You patch it.”), Patchett admitted to having acted as an ‘ice queen’ during her photoshoots, developing the “Glacier Look”—the Blue Steel of its day—which American model Dovima (Dovima with the Elephants) also adopted in her work (Rule 2002; Lebland and Vaillat). In this way, while the Glacier Look connotes a sense of rebellion, it is merely an act, and thus none other than myth (Barthes).

Close-up of Jean Patchett photographed by Erwin Blumenfeld for Vogue, January 1950, p. 112.

The January 1950 Vogue cover is a retouched copy of American fashion photographer Erwin Blumenfeld’s black and white photograph of Patchett (pictured left) (Rule 2002), in which all of the model’s facial features are visible—her eyes appearing fixed on the camera with the same gaze as in the cover photo. Patchett’s doe-eyed makeup, which she applied herself as most mid-century models did, was Blumenfeld’s idea (Rule 2002). Under the advisement of art chief Alexandra Liberman, the up-close portrait of Patchett was stripped down and cropped to the cover that readers are familiar with today (Rule 2002). This process does not render the photo devoid of meaning; rather, by reducing the image to Patchett’s eye, brow, and lips, the cover becomes a sign of a change, and, by extension, a signification of the decade’s new beauty standards. Vogue was a beacon for new trends and attitudes in fashion, as it continues to be today.

On a deeper level, this method of cropping also speaks to the way in which women’s garments, although more widely available, were becoming increasingly restrictive—the prevailing silhouettes being the New Look hourglass and the glove-fitted slim line were reactionary in their remolding of the female body, and structured bras, corselets, hip pads, and stiffened crinolines suppressed women’s waists and emphasized women’s breasts and hips, thus subverting the liberation of women’s bodies from the 1910s through to the 1930s (Borrelli-Persson 2017; Koda and Yohannan 13). Also ‘cropped,’ a shorter hairstyle surely made it easier and less time consuming for women to coif in the morning, while also drawing attention to their doe-eyes—doe-eyes recalling a female deer, a symbol, not so much of intelligence, but of innocence and nurturing, and, above all, evocative of a gentle femininity. Could the doe-eye trend have been an inconspicuous message for women to retreat back to the domestic-sphere of the home and get busy making babies after a period fraught with war? Absolutely. To make an even stronger case, in Disney’s Bambi, released in 1942, Bambi’s mother represents the epitome of a nurturing mother figure, sacrificing her life, as Dr. Alison Matthews-David from Ryerson University points out, for the safety of her fawn. With the doe-eye, then, women could be stylish, mothers, and domestic-doyennes at once. As such, the doe-eye was more than a mere beauty trend; complimenting women’s hyper-feminine silhouettes of the day, it gave women a model to aspire to, both literally and figuratively.

Jean Patchett photographed by Irving Penn for Vogue, April 1950.

Along with Irving Penn’s black and white photograph of Patchett for the April 1950 Vogue cover (pictured right), the January cover has become iconic. The photographs that Penn took of Patchett were simulacra of sorts, as well; they were a series of collaborations between the artist and model of movie-like scenarios—a bedroom phone call from a departed lover, or a boyfriend late for a theatre date—captured in stills (Rule 2002). As Charles Gandee writes in an article for the January 2000 issue of Vogue, Penn allowed Patchett to “use [her] head,” providing her with a story for each shoot that she could enact (Vogue 2000 pp. 176). These photographs, the stories they are meant to tell, and the settings depicted within them, in this way, are simulacra of actual places and times. Unlike the departed lovers and no-show boyfriends, the men who courted Patchett in real life were often the wealthy elite members of the Stork Club, one of the most prestigious clubs in the world located in Manhattan, New York City; however, she rejected them all for Louis Auer, a banker she met in 1948 and later married and had a child with (Rule 2002).

Katy Perry photographed by Alexi Lubomirski for Harper’s Bazaar, December 2010.

It goes without saying that Patchett, whose career spanned three decades (from 1948-63) (“An American Goddess of Paris Couture”), has become a fashion icon herself. With over forty magazine covers to her name, and innumerable editorials and advertisements in high-fashion publications like Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Glamour and, of course, Vogue (Milwaukee Journal 2002), Patchett unequivocally holds a significant place in the fashion world. The January 1950 Vogue cover is only one of the many striking covers she appears in, yet this cover in particular recently inspired that of another: Harper’s Bazaar emulated the iconic cover for their December 2010 issue featuring pop-singer Katy Perry (pictured left). From a semiological perspective, the photograph of Perry is a sign that not only signifies the singer herself, but, in this case, the woman she is modeled after, which is a connection requiring a certain cultural and social capital to recognize (Barthes; Bourdieu). With her arched eyebrow, bold eyes, and rhinestone studded lips, Perry is a modern representation of Patchett, while the cover itself symbolizes a contemporary take on the 1950s face. The image is captured by a lens focused on the time of high glamour—hello, rhinestone studded lips!—we live in, simultaneously pointing to the ceaseless evolution of beauty and style from decade to decade, and the power of a single image even half a century later.

Special thanks to the Royal Ontario Museum Library for allowing access to their outstanding fashion archive.

Discussion Questions  ♦  When we, as viewers, read into an editorial or magazine cover—or any image, for that matter—do we take away from its artistry, or simply add to it? How can semiological readings deepen our understanding of fashion/art images?

Works Cited

“An American Goddess of Paris Couture: Jean Patchett.” Jean Patchett,

Astley, Amy. “Health & Beauty: Making Eyes.” Vogue, vol. 184, no. 11, Nov 01, 1994, pp. 347-347, 348, 349, ProQuest,  

Borrelli-Persson, Laird. “The History of ’50s Fashion in Vogue, Narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker.” Vogue, 19 June 2017,

Gandee, Charles. “Fashion: Faces to Remember: 1940/1950.” Vogue, vol. 190, no. 1, Jan 01, 2000, pp. 176, ProQuest,  

Horyn, Cathy. “Jean Patchett, 75, a Model Who Helped Define the 50’s.” The New York Times, 4 Feb. 2002,

“Jean Patchett.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb 08, 2002, pp. 4, ProQuest,     

Koda, Harold, and Kohle Yohannan. The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion. Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.

Lebland, Romuald, and Vaillat, Jessica. “Jean Patchett.” The Red List,

Rocamora, Agnes, and Anneke Smelik, editors. “Jean Baudrillard: Post-modern Fashion as the End of Meaning.” Thinking through Fashion: a Guide to Key Theorists, by Llewellyn Negrin, I.B. Tauris, 2016, pp. 215–232.

Rocamora, Agnes, and Anneke Smelik, editors. “Roland Barthes: Semiology and the Rhetorical Codes of Fashion.” Thinking through Fashion: a Guide to Key Theorists, by Llewellyn Negrin, I.B. Tauris, 2016, pp. 132–148.

Rocamora, Agnes, and Anneke Smelik, editors. “Pierre Bourdieu: The Field of Fashion.” Thinking through Fashion: a Guide to Key Theorists, by Llewellyn Negrin, I.B. Tauris, 2016, pp. 233–250.

Rule, Vera. “Obituary: Jean Patchett.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 8 Feb. 2002,

“Vogue’s Eye View: Vogue’s Eye View of Now…Right Now, of January 1, 1950.” Vogue, vol. 115, no. 1, 1950, pp. 85, ProQuest,  

Sports et divertissements: The Hunt

La Chasse.
Satie, Erik. Sports et divertissements. Dessins de Ch. Martin. Gravés sur cuivre et rehaussés de pochoir par Jules Saudé. Paris: Publications Lucien Vogel, [1923]. Print. Courtesy Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives. Rare Oversize M25 S27 S7 1923. ROM copy is numbered 159. Photograph: Romana Mirza

Archives and India

When invited to view the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) Archives online, I was drawn to the ROM’s Sports et divertissements because of the mix of fashion and music. Each spread in this publication was a pairing of an illustration, shown above, with a musical score, shown below. When I visited the ROM Archives in person, I was met by Brendan, the ROM’s Head Librarian and Archivist. He walked me to the table where the historical, nearly 100-year old publication, had been carefully placed for my review. As he lifted the box lid to reveal the treasure inside, he said, “This is the original multimedia platform.” He told me this publication, that includes prose, musical scores and illustrations, was pulled together in 1914 but put on hold, due to the war, and not published until 1923 (Edwards). As I approached these printed art and fashion plates from France, my mind diverted back to India because whenever I have thought or talked about the turn of the 20th century it has been within the context of my family history. In this moment, as I was about to embark on observing something from France, my thoughts turned to where my Muslim and Hindu ancestors were at the time this publication was being created in France.

Maharajah Sir Kishen Pershad. Source: Ronken, Harriet, and Mohini Rajan. “Maharajah Kishen Pershad.” The Days of the Beloved. London: University of California Press, Ltd., 1974. Print.

The year Erik Satie completed the musical score and Charles Martin completed his initial illustrations for Sports et divertissements was 1914 (Davis, “Modernity À La Mode”). This same year, my paternal great-grandfather, Sir Maharajah Kishen Pershad, was in between his two terms as Prime Minister of Hyderabad. One term ended in 1912 (Green) and the second term would begin in 1927 (Luther). In these years he maintained his deori (palatial residence) and continued to serve his community and grow his family with three Hindu and four Muslim wives. My paternal grandmother was born, of a Muslim wife, Ghousia Begum, in 1918.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, fashion plates were a popular way of disseminating the latest fashions to society. By the late 19th century they were becoming boring and all the same “into a dull brand of repetitive draftsmanship” (Davis, “Modernity À La Mode” 444). Enter Lucien Vogel, who was an established and respected publisher through his involvement with many popular publications of the time including Gazette du Bon Ton and French Vogue (Davis, “Modernity À La Mode 467). Conceiving of “nothing short of a musical adaptation of the fashion magazine” (Davis, Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism 65) Vogel commissioned Erik Satie, a contemporary and avant-garde composer (Myers) in his own right, to compose a series of twenty musical pieces that represent the “pastimes of contemporary Parisian society” (Davis, Classic Chic 65). These pastimes included but were not limited to, golfing, picnicking, dancing, tennis, and hunting. Charles Martin, who had done illustrations for the Gazette du Bon Ton was commissioned to illustrate these pastimes.

Parisienne blague and Urdu poetry

Satie’s scores were unique. Not only was the musical style new, they included witticisms, irony, a “mix of acute observation and playful teasing” (Davis, Classic Chic 109) known at the time as ton de blague. Considered “masterpieces of wit and ironic observation, [they] reveal[ed] his genius perhaps more convincingly than any other of his works” (Myers 87). Also notable was Satie’s own calligraphy on the musical score.  This was an art he studied while “pouring over old Gothic manuscripts” (Myers 90). After an unsuccessful attempt to commision the writing of these pieces to another composer, Vogel turned to Satie with an offer, much less than what he was willing to pay. Satie, was offended by the amount, complaining it was too much. He believed it was wrong to make money out of his music. After some negotiation, a humble amount was agreed upon and Satie began composing the twenty pieces, getting paid in intervals once a few were completed and delivered to Vogel, for fear to spending his money unwisely if he received it all at once (Myers).

Score for La Chasse. Satie, Erik. Sports et divertissements. Dessins de Ch. Martin. Gravés sur cuivre et rehaussés de pochoir par Jules Saudé. Paris: Publications Lucien Vogel, [1923]. Print. Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives. Rare Oversize M25 S27 S7 1923. ROM copy is numbered 159. Photograph Credit: Romana Mirza
La Chasse. The Hunt. Lyrics (translated)

Do you hear the rabbit singing?

What a voice!

The nightingale is in its burrow.

The owl is suckling her young.

The wild boar is going to get married.

As for me, I am shooting down nuts with my gun. (Myers 89)

Consider these lyrics. Is Satie making a mockery of the Paris elite, as they venture out on a hunt, suggesting that owl’s suckle and boars marry and that the only thing guns are useful for are gathering nuts? Is Satie suggesting that the Paris elite are squirrels, perhaps “squirrelling away” their wealth for their own pleasure? The irony and wit can be interpreted many ways. YouTube has an array of performances of Sports et divertissements each one very different from the other. My favourite is this piece by two young performers who, in my opinion, exude a playfulness that the adults, in all the other performances, could not muster. Enjoy!

Above: ERIK SATIE; les Sports et divertissements. Alexei Aceto, piano. Erin Hilgartner, recitations from YouTube Channel: Alexei Aceto, piano

While Satie was perhaps making fun of the Parisienne elite, the Maharajah in India spent his days in his own artful pursuit as “a poet of distinction” (Ronken and Rajan 126). Writing under the pen name Shad he wrote volumes of poetry in the early 20th century. He had other artistic pursuits including music, painting, photography and like Satie, calligraphy. The Maharajah also did not have a problem parting with money. He was known to literally “throw money on the poor”  (Ronken and Rajan 124) while travelling in his local community, Hyderabad, or across the nation to Delhi. This is one of Shad’s poems, translated from Urdu, penned upon the death of a late sovereign:

But when without you came the time to live,

Ah, what a plight my weeping eye were in!

Before you went, life had so much to give.

Yet still continues this sad world to spin.

(Ronken and Rajan 106)

Feminism and Foreseeing Fashion

Just as Sports et divertissements was completed, World War I began and publication of this multi-media presentation of music, prose, visual art and fashion was postponed. Vogel turned his attention back to the publication after the war and although Satie’s scores remained the same, Martin redrew the illustrations to keep up with the fashions and the changing status of women. Both had changed quite dramatically between 1914 and 1923, the year of publication. In the book titled Paris Fashions: The Art Deco Style of the 1920s, the author, Ginsburg says “the war … provided yet further confirmation too, of a woman’s right to equality of status as well as the opportunity either to work or to enjoy herself” (12) and that “the ideal new woman [had become] a friend and an equal rather than a passive dependant” (12). In this post-war multi-media publication, Martin’s updated art “illuminates the changing position of women” (Davis, “Modernity À La Mode 448). The revised illustrations show shorter hemlines, fuller skirts and are drawn in the cubist style (Davis, Classic Chic). Shown at the top of this post is the La Chasse (The Hunt) illustration. The woman is placed in the centre, in a victorious stance holding her hunting prize in hand with the rifle confidently rested on her shoulder. This particular dress silhouette reflects Lanvin’s 1920s Robe de Style “inspired by mid-nineteenth century fashion” (Ginsburg 34) rather than the Poiret designs Martin often illustrated in Gazette du Bon Ton (Davis, Classic Chic). The hunting outfit, illustrated here also looks very much like Dior’s New Look that will be introduced 25 years into the future.

1922 Charles Martin Illustration. Satie, Erik. Sports et divertissement. Dessins de Ch. Martin. Gravés sur cuivres et rehaussés de pochoir par Jules Saudé. Paris: Publications Lucien Vogel, [1923]. Print. Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives. Rare Oversize M25 S27 S7 1923. ROM copy is numbered 159. Photograph Credit: Romana Mirza
c. 1926 Lanvin’s Robe de Style. Image: Public Domain from search/80337

















1947 Dior’s New Look. Source:

At this time, in the Maharajah’s court, as family history is told, there was no such revolution in women’s attire. Female family members continued to observe pardah (covering their entire body with a loose fitting robe-like garment) while in public. In fact, there is a popular story shared in my family from 1934 when recounting the marriage of the Maharajah’s daughter, Sayeedunisa Begum, to my grandfather, Barbar Mirza. My grandmother arrived, a new bride, to her husband’s home in pardah with 11 servants accompanying her. My grandfather immediately sent eight servants back to the Maharajah’s deori and promptly dumped my grandmother’s pardah in a bucket of water so she would be unable to wear it. Grandfather was very secular, and a pioneer of civil aviation in India, but that’s an entirely different blog post. Changes in women’s fashion occurred as women fought for their rights in the West, in particular in the United States (Hillman). It seems the evolving role of women in Indian society is markedly different than the evolving role of women in Western societies. Although women in India did not experience liberation in the same way, India did elect a female head of state in 1966, something the United Kingdom did not do until 1979, Canada did not do until 1993, and the United States has not done into the 21st century. Indira Ghandi led the country in two separate terms, totalling 17 years of service, until her assassination in 1984 (Malik and Vajpeyi).

The Hunt as Cultural Capital

Cultural capital can be embodied and become an integral part of how a person behaves and presents oneself to the world (Bourdieu). This is especially true for the elite and ruling classes. The cultural currency at the turn of the 20th century in France was innovative and avant-garde with exciting explorations by artists engaging in all forms of art. Sports et divertissements is a perfect reflection of this vibrancy, with its colourful illustrations, witty lyrics, and innovative scores of music (Davis, Classic Chic). We don’t know if Satie was mocking the privileged class with his lyrics but what is clear is this publication summarized what was considered the currency of cultural capital at the turn of the century in France by literally illustrating how the French elite can “present oneself to the world.”

Hunting, long a pastime of the upper class, carried with it a lot of cultural capital, in France, in Britain and by extension, in India where the hunt had been influenced by the British. For instance, hounds would be imported from Britain at the start of hunting season (Hunt). The final prize in India, however, was much more exotic and ferocious animals. Any participation in a hunt, whether for birds or tigers meant that one’s standing in society was established as part of the upper class. Going on a hunt meant that one’s behaviours and sartorial choices were aligned with high society and in this, an individual found capital or the means to keep in the company of the elite and benefit from these relationships. These benefits could be monetary or having access to the right people who can move one’s agenda forward or help maintain a lifestyle (Bourdieu). At the turn of the 20th century, this pursuit of cultural capital was as present in India, as it was in France.

Hyderabad was one of the independent Princely States that had not been colonized by the British. It had its own king (Nizam) and government. The British Queen appointed a Viceroy to Hyderabad and my family mingled with the British until India’s independence in 1947. This mingling included elaborate dinners at the Maharajah’s deori banquet hall and hunting excursions. Below left, a photo showing Indians and Brits gathered for an elaborate breakfast before the hunt (Ronken and Rajan). Women, in my family, who had a passion for the hunt and, by extension, were sharpshooters, would join the men. The picture to the right is taken in my ancestor’s home in Hyderabad, India showcasing the skin of a tiger hunted down by a family member on one of these hunts.

The Hunt Source: Ronken, Harriet, and Mohini Rajan. “Maharajah Kishen Pershad.” The Days of the Beloved. London: University of California Press, Ltd., 1974. Print.
Source: Author’s personal collection. Tigerskin hunted at the turn of the 20th century.













This exploration of Satie’s work introduced me to a witty and charming, beautiful and exquisite representation of the elite lifestyle in France and provided a gateway to recall my family’s history. What I discovered on this journey is, although the cultures in France and India were quite different, cultural capital, in all its forms: music, prose, poetry, fashion, and hunting was valued in the same way, proving that cultural capital transcends cultures and borders.

Discussion Question:

In this post-colonial era, do our varied countries and cultures value the same cultural capital? If so, what is causing that? Is it a new type of “colonialism” that has us value cultural capital the same way? If we do not value cultural capital the same way, then why?



Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Forms of Capital.” Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education. New York: Greenwood, 1986. 241–258. Print.

Davis, Mary E. Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism. Berkeley Los Angeles London: University of California Press, 2006. Print.

—. “Modernity À La Mode: Popular Culture and Avant-Gardism in Erik Satie’s ‘Sports et Divertissements.’” The Musical Quarterly 83.3 (1999): 430–473. Web.

Edwards, Brendan. “Sports et Divertissements: A Unique Resource for Researchers in Design History.” Royal Ontario Museum Blog. N.p., 2017. Web. 22 Mar. 2018.

Ginsburg, Medeleine. Paris Fashions: The Art Deco Style of the 1920s. New York: Bracken Books, 1989. Print.

Green, Nile. “Jack Sepoy and the Dervishes: Islam and the Indian Soldier in Princely India.” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 18 (2008): 31–46. Web.

Hillman, Betty Luther. “‘The Clothes I Wear Help Me to Know My Own Power’: The Politics of Gender Presentation in the Era of Women’s Liberation.” Frontiers 34.2 (2013): 155–185. Web.

Hunt, Frederick Knight. “Hunting in India.” Hunt’s London Journal 1.16 (1844): 199. Print.

Luther, Narendra. “Kishen Pershad — a Multifaceted Noble.” Narendra Luther Archives. N.p., 2000. Web.

Malik, Yogendra K., and Dhirendra K. Vajpeyi. “India: The Years of Indira Ghandi.” Journal of Asian and African Studies 22.3 (1987): 135–140. Web.

Myers, Rollo H. Erik Satie. 2nd ed. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1968. Print.

Ronken, Harriet, and Mohini Rajan. “Maharajah Kishen Pershad.” The Days of the Beloved. London: University of California Press, Ltd., 1974. Print.

Satie, Erik. Sports et divertissement. Dessins de Ch. Martin. Gravés sur cuivres et rehaussés de pochoir par Jules Saudé. Paris: Publications Lucien Vogel, [1923]. Print. Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives. Rare Oversize M25 S27 S7 1923. ROM copy is numbered 159.

The Secret Language of Patterns

Upon a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum’s Library and Archives, I was completely taken with the fashion plates dating from 1885 to 1886 that were printed in the Revue de la mode. These plates are reminiscent of grand portraits, given their masterfully depicted lines and vibrant colours. Adding to that, although on the surface they may come across as mere fashionable models to be coveted and copied, upon closer inspection, they are signifiers of socio-cultural, economic, and historical issues. In fact, as will be discussed in relation to Figure 1, these images were produced to be consumed by the French social elite—who could afford such elaborate fashions—but more importantly, they were also embedded with global implications relating to trade, textile production and consumption, as well as colonization.

Fig 1. REVUE DE LA MODE Photo Courtesy of ROM Library and Archives RBGT860J68 1885-1886


According to the Oxford Dictionary, a fashion plate is a picture, typically in a magazine, illustrating a new or current fashion in clothes. Although that may be true, we certainly know that is not all that they illustrate. In fact, as mentioned above and will be discussed further, these images tell the viewer other important narratives. And of course, given that we are talking about the relationship between fashion, language, and images, there is certainly one name that comes to mind: Roland Barthes. In his highly influential book The Fashion System, ­­Barthes outlines ways in which images found in popular fashion magazines could be read through the use of semiotics (Jobling, 132). As such, for this reading to take place, there needs to be a sign which consists of two components: a signifier and a signified. Subsequently, in order to further engage with this fashion plate and read it using Barthes’ semiotic methods, we are going to engage with another French theorist, Pierre Bourdieu. Considering their sartorial choices as well as their ability to be holidaying on a beach-side, these women must have surely belonged to the upper classes of society which provided them with access to such means as identified by Pierre Bourdieu in “The Forms of Capital”. In fact, depicted in this single image are underlying notions of economic, cultural, as well as social capital.

I must mention that, initially, I thought the text accompanying this image would provide me with more context as to the narrative being alluded to. I mean, there is always a narrative or theme embedded within fashion images, even the highly stylized editorial spreads in glossy fashion magazines of today. That said, given the fact I can’t read or understand French, I asked a colleague if she would kindly translate the passage for me. Well, to my surprise, all it really says is:

Mrs. Dubuc’s Dresses . 19 Grammont Street. Petticoat and corset from the Maison Plument . 33 Vivienne Street. Fabric from the Maison Le Houssel . 1 Aubert Street. ***

Fig. 1.1 Detail

Needless to say, I knew there had to be more to this image than the mere address of where the models of dresses could be obtained! That said, it has been brought to my attention by Dr. Alison Matthews David that, given its ideal location in a very fashionable area right across from Paris Opéra, it is easy to deduce the type of luxurious textiles offered to the Parisian elite by this particular firm. In fact, as shown in figures 2 and 3, this was the only firm in Paris where one could obtain authentic Indian cashmere. The emphasis on the authenticity of the origin of the textiles is telling of popularity of these textiles as well as, the non-authentic and copied version circulating around Europe.

Fig 2. An advertising highlighting that Maison Le Houssel specialized in importing authentic Indian cashmeres for “spring and summer”
Fig 3. Advertising for Maison Le Houssel








Fig 1.2 Detail

In this image, we see two women taking a walk on a beach. There is sand under their feet; children playing and building sand-castles, while their parents and other adults are relaxing nearby. The blue water is visible in the distance as is also a series of domes reminiscent of the Taj Mahal in India (Fig 4). This remarkable Seventeenth-Century mausoleum of white marble was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

In fact, although I was initially drawn to this particular fashion plate for the bright floral pattern on a garment worn by one of the figures, it is this architectural detail in the background that propelled me to try and decipher it further. With that in mind, the question that one might ask is: where is this beach? Is it in the east? If yes, then why is everyone dressed in European attire? Given the fascination with Orientalism and the exotic east, it would not have been uncommon for wealthy nineteenth century Europeans to travel and holiday in such locales. With that in mind, at this time there was also a renewed interest in an oriental Indo-Islamic architectural style influenced by those dating from the Mughal empire.

Fig 4. Taj Mahal
E. de Gracia Camara, 2008
Copyright: © E. de Gracia Camara

In light of this, I would say these women are depicted holidaying in an imaginary destination, however, one that resembles a place much closer to home—and the amazing architecture in the background is reminiscent  of the Royal Pavilion—in Brighton, England (Fig 5). The Royal Pavilion was built by English architect John Nash, between 1815–1823 as a private residence for King George IV. Just as a side note, ironically, the construction of this palace also coincided with the Napoleonic Wars between England and France (


Fig 5. Royal Pavilion From John Nash’s Views of the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, 1826 Photo Courtesy of



Fig 6. Royal Pavilion East Front. Copyright: © The Royal Pavilion, Libraries Museums, Brighton Hove

Continuing on this line, I find the imagery of the oriental influence even more relevant considering the actual materiality of the garments depicted. Here these French women are shown wearing beautifully tailored garments using the finest Indian cashmere in all of Paris. Furthermore, as it was highlighted by the advertisement for the firm, Indian cashmeres were popular textiles during the spring and summer months for those with substantial economic capital. With that in mind, one can’t disregard the importance of Indian textiles on the global fashion system in general and European fashion in particular. In fact, due to the bright floral pattern on the dress depicted, I initially assumed that they were made using Indian cotton. Of course, in this case both of these outfits are made of cashmere. However, not only were Indian cotton textiles quite popular in Europe, they were also considered as one of the most important global consumer commodities and a major player in shaping what is known today as consumerism (Lemire 222).

Fig 7. ‘Toiles de Cotton…Marseille 1736 Indiennes ou Chinées’. A variety of imitation Indian and Ottoman cotton textiles printed in Marseille.
Cotton: The Fabric that Made the Modern World, Giorgio Riello, Fig. 8.8.

Historically, the origin of cotton dates back to 3200 BC, on the banks of the Indus River in India (Riello and Parthasarathi 2). Fast forward to end of the fifteenth century, when finally, Europeans reached Asia through a direct sea route made possible by the opening of the Cape of Good Hope (Riello 89). However, it was in the seventeenth century that numerous European East India companies were formed including, the French East India Company in 1664. The forming of these East India companies meant direct trading relations with the East which resulted in the downpour of Indian cotton textiles into Europe. An important factor contributing to the popularity of cotton textiles in Europe was the ability of Indian producers to customize their prints and patterns according to European tastes. For example: European consumers preferred textiles with light-colored backgrounds (Fig 7) which had “characterized notions of cleanliness and decorum” whereas other markets may have preferred lighter patterns set on dark backgrounds (Riello 100).

Fig 8. Manufacture de tissue d’indienne des frères Wetter : atelier des ouvrières by Joseph Gabriel Maria Rosetti (1764). This is one of four views of the calico-printing factory in Orange showing the large size of the premises and the considerable number of workers employed. Cotton: The Fabric that Made the Modern World, Giorgio Riello, Fig. 8.9.




Of course, even after achieving the basic production of plain white cotton textiles, the process of adding patterns (Fig 8) required an immense amount of trial and error, given the fact Europeans did not possess the same painting and printing skills as their Indian counterparts (Riello 121–123).

Perhaps it is time to try and see if we could read this image (Fig 1) using the theories of Barthes and Bourdieu. This image is a sign of economic, social, and cultural capital. Their impeccable garments from Paris, ability to enjoy and financially afford a summer holiday with others from a similar social standing are all signifiers of their various “forms of capital” as posited by Bourdieu. In addition, woven within the fibers of their luxurious dresses; constructed in the faint outline of an architectural style are historical, political, social, religious, cultural, and economic factors.



Fig 9. Ginning and bowing of cotton in India, 1851. Cotton: The Fabric that Made the Modern World, Giorgio Riello, Fig. 3.2

Ultimately, these underlying notions of colonial power and societal norms are embodied in the figures of the European travelers’ present, in contrast to the racialized and colonized bodies of the distant and forgotten other (Fig 9). With that in mind, hopefully, by discussing the importance of imported Indian textiles as a global commodity, we have also acknowledged and honoured the Indian producers who through sharing their skills, made a significant impact on cross-cultural exchange of patterns and costumes.

***With special thanks to Dr. Alison Matthews David for her expertise in 19th century fashion and Lauriane Bélair for translating some of the French text into English for me.


Works Cited

Jobling, Paul. “Roland Barthes: Semiology and the Rhetorical Codes of Fashion.” Rocamora and

    Smelik, pp. 132148.

Lemire, Beverly. “India, Europe, and the Cotton Trade.” Riello and

    Parthasarathi, pp. 17–41.

Parthasarathi, Prasannan. “Cotton Textiles in the Indian Subcontinent, 1200–1800.” Riello and

    Parthasarathi, pp. 17–41.

Peck, Amelia, edited. Interwoven Globe: The Worldwide Textile Trade, 1500–1800. Yale

University Press, 2013.

Riello, Giorgio. Cotton: The Fabric that Made the Modern World. Cambridge University Press,

Riello, Giorgio, and Prasannan Parthasarathi, editors. The Spinning World: A Global History of

    Cotton Textiles, 1200–1850. Oxford University Press, 2009.

Rocamora, Agnès, and Anneke Smelik, editors. Thinking Through Fashion: A Guide to Key

    Theorists, I.B.Tauris, 2016.

Rocamora, Agnès. “Pierre Bourdieu: The Field of Fashion.” Rocamora and Smelik, pp. 233–250.

“Discover the Royal Pavilion.” Victoriana Magazine.   Accessed March 31, 2018.

Cultural Appropriation and Orientalism in “‘Une Chinoise’ Costume de Divertissement par Douillet”

La Gazette du Bon Ton was first published in November 1912 and was edited by Lucien Vogel (see figure 1).

Figure 1: La Gazette du Bon Ton cover, Vol. 1, No. 4, February 1913. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archives. Photo by Dori Kwong.

Produced for 13 years until its last issue in 1925, La Gazette du Bon Ton was a fashion magazine and was used as a guidebook by affluent Parisians who adored fashion and exclusivity. La Gazette du Bon Ton was an influential “deluxe book, more than a fashion periodical” (Davis 48) and it was deemed “required reading” and “set the standard for elegance and luxury in the fashion press” (Davis 48) in order for the reader to learn more about fashion and lifestyles by feasting their eyes on the advertisements and articles, as well as the hand drawn fashion illustrations that represented art, fashion and desired lifestyles during this era. La Gazette du Bon Ton was exquisitely produced on delicate paper and its beautifully vibrant, hand illustrated, fashion plates presented up to date fashion while honouring French traditions and encouraging modernity.

Illustrated by French painter and engraver Pierre Brissaud (1885 – 1964), “Une Chinoise: Costume de Divertissement par Douillet” was featured in La Gazette du Bon Ton’s, No.4, Pl. IX in February of 1913 (see figure 2).

Figure 2: La Gazette du Bon Ton – Vol. 1, No. 4, Pl. IX, February 1913, “Une Chinoise Costume de Divertissement par Douillet”.  Illustrated by Pierre Brissaud. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archives. Photo by Dori Kwong.
Pierre Brissaud trained in Paris at the prestigious fine arts school, École des Beaux-Arts and contributed to La Gazette du Bon Ton from 1912 to 1924, in addition to other publications such as Vogue (Weill 184). Brissaud also illustrated for books, novels and catalogues (Weill 184). Couturier Georges Douillet (1865 – 1930), was best known for constructing overstated and sumptuously ornate gowns for a rich, upper class clientele (Percoco) (see figure 3).
Figure 3: A silk evening dress with rhinestones designed by Georges Douillet dated 1910 – 1913. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Frederick H. Prince, Jr., 1967. Photo by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Douillet received critical acclaim in various publications for his fashion designs and he increased his international popularity by licensing department stores in New York to use his designs (Percoco). Georges Douillet achieved further success in the 1910s and 1920s when his work appeared in La Gazette du Bon Ton (Percoco).

This vibrantly saturated illustration features artwork that depicts a flamboyantly dressed woman entitled “une Chinoise”. This fashion plate features a woman of an ambiguous ethnicity and according to the “explication des planches”, the model is dressed as a “Chinese” woman wearing an outfit designed by couturier Georges Douillet that features a red and black overcoat that covers a satin pannier on a silk skirt embroidered with garland trim at the hemline. In addition, the dress below the skirt is made from lightweight silk.

This illustration is problematic because it is an example of both Orientalism and cultural appropriation. Firstly, “Une Chinoise, Costume de Divertissement par Douillet” translates to “a Chinese woman in a costume for fun/entertainment by the couturier Douillet”. Orientalism is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the representation of Asia in a stereotyped way that is regarded as embodying a colonialist attitude” and “style, artifacts, or traits considered characteristic of the peoples and cultures of Asia”. “Une Chinoise” was drawn wearing stereotypical chopsticks in her hair and a brown, pointed, rice paddy hat tilted to one side on her head. This is an example of Orientalism and cultural appropriation because the pointed rice paddy hat is stereotypically associated with poor, hard working farmers or labourers who work outdoors in East Asian and South Asian countries. The hat is not worn for entertainment or aesthetic purposes but it is rather utilitarian. Its purpose is to protect the wearer from the rain or from the blistering sun as it radiates down onto the worker withstanding the arduous task of difficult, long hours working outdoors, or specifically in rice paddy fields (see figure 4).

Figure 4: Farmers transplant rice seedlings in the field in Dahu village of Guzhai Mulam township in Liucheng county, China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. Photo by Xinhua, May 3, 2013.


In Japan, another form of this conical hat is known as jingasa (see figure 5).

Figure 5: An 18th-19th century lacquered jingasa on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo by Lord Ameth, September 3, 2013.
Figure 6: Chinese soldiers in the Woosung camp, near Shanghai, China, illustration from LIllustration, No 3000, August 25, 1900. Photo by De Agostini/Biblioteca Ambrosiana/Getty Images.

During the second half of the Edo Period from 1700-1860, a jingasa was worn by Japanese warriors while they travelled, or once they had established a military camp (Popovic). In Japanese, “jin” means military and “gasa” means hat, therefore, this hat was used in the military as a means of protection and was not worn for fun nor entertainment. In China, this hat was worn by soldiers in the 1900s (see figure 6) and continues to be worn by labourers to the present day. The hat is called “dǒu lì” in Mandarin and translates to a “conical bamboo hat” in English. In Korea, a similar hat is called “satgat” and in Vietnam, this pointed hat is called “nón lá” or a leaf hat (Popovic). In Japan, another form of the jingasa is called sugegasa which is worn by labourers in Japan for protection from the sun and rain (Popovic). The sole purpose of this hat in Asia was to protect the wearer from the elements.


In the fashion illustration from 1913, Brissaud drew “une Chinoise” wearing the Asian conical hat not in a way that the hat was intended to be worn (by Asian military or by labourers who work outdoors) but rather by a wealthy, bourgeoise woman as an accessory for fun/entertainment. This is an example of both Orientalism and cultural appropriation because a person of Asian descent would not wear the rice paddy hat “for entertainment” or out of the context of working outside under the sun or in the fields, but rather as a practical way of protecting themselves from the rain or the sun while working outdoors. The illustration, “une Chinoise”, demonstrates a lack of understanding and respect to the cultures from which the hat originates.

Pierre Brissaud illustrates “une Chinoise” wearing the rice paddy hat paired with an ostentatious gown, during the evening, after the sun has set. This odd pairing illustrates that the artist is making an ignorant joke and neither respects nor understands the culture in which he is appropriating. Secondly, according to James O. Young, cultural appropriation occurs when “members of one culture (I will call them outsiders) take for their own use, items produced by a member or members of another culture (call them insiders)” (5). In addition, the Cambridge Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture”. Evidence of cultural appropriation is found in the chopsticks in her hair, the pointed hat, the overcoat and her hand gestures. The Oxford Dictionary also states that, “Orientalism produces non-Western cultures as unintelligible” which is evident in the way that the character is portrayed as wearing a hodgepodge of mismatched fashion and accessories. Edward W. Said posits, “…Orientalism is nothing more than a structure of lies or myths which, were the truth about them to be told, would simply blow them away” (6). This illustration is “structured by myths” because “une Chinoise” is wearing a ridiculous outfit that would not be worn in any real context. According to Edward W. Said, “Orientalism is more particularly valuable as a sign of European power over the Orient” (6) which is evident in the way that “une Chinoise” is dressed as over-the top, clownish entertainment, in comparison to other European fashion plates that show order and glamour.

According to the V&A, Chinoiserie emerged in the 17th century, became a popular style in the 18th century and its popularity continued to resonate through the 20th century. Derived from Orientalism, Chinoiserie was a European interpretation of design and art from China, Japan and other countries in Asia. Due to the rise in trade between China and East Asia, a mysteriously exotic image of Asia emerged in Europe and inspired many designers to “imitate Asian designs and to create their own fanciful versions of the East” (V&A). Moreover, the Rococo style is related to Chinoiserie in regards to fantasy, asymmetry and ornate decorations that are evident in both styles (V&A). Georges Douillet was familiar with Chinoiserie and people in Chinese clothes were the star of the Chinoiserie style, furthermore, Chinoiserie became a symbol of wealth and class. According to the V&A, “sometimes these figures were copied directly from Chinese objects, but more frequently they originated in the designer’s imagination.”

The way in which Brissaud and Douillet presented “une Chinoise” is problematic because they employed cultural appropriation in their depiction. “Une Chinoise” has an ambiguous ethnicity, is wearing a white wig, two strands of pearls around her neck, red earrings, a form fitting green bodice with a sweetheart neckline and white trim by her décolletage. The bodice cascades onto a green, silk skirt with jewelled embellishments. The 18th century gown features a green skirt that drapes over a large, satin, goldenrod yellow pannier. There is a black silk, tubular slip dress underneath the goldenrod pannier that features a white border at the hemline and two white lines down the centre paired with matching black and white flats and white socks. Worn on top of her dress is an elaborately decorated black and red overcoat that features a motif of pagodas, foliage and wildlife silhouettes. However, the red overcoat more closely resembles a banyan/kimono hybrid, which is another example of cultural appropriation.

“Une Chinoise” stands square to the viewer, in the centre of the frame while making two gestures with both her hands. This hand gesture is made by creating a fist and allowing the pinky and index finger to stick straight out, palms facing outwards, thumbs tucked in. Her hand signal resembles the “rock on” or the “devil’s horns” hand gestures that you see at rock concerts in North America. I do not think that “une Chinoise” was telling the viewer to “rock on” therefore further research illuminated the symbology of this hand gesture. Found within the freemasons’ secret society, this hand gesture represented an allegiance and exclusive membership to the occult organization (“Masonic Hand Signs Exposed”). However only freemasons knew the true symbology behind this hand signal. In Hinduism, this hand gesture is called “Apana Yogic Mudra” and it represents health and the rejuvenation of the body. It is believed that this hand gesture eliminates toxins and impurities from the body thus promoting good health (Chakraborty). In classical Indian dance, this specific hand gesture represents a lion (Charkaborty). Perhaps “une Chinoise” is making the “Apana Yogic Mudra” or a “lion” hand signal, which is another example of Orientalism and cultural appropriation. What was Brissaud’s motivation to add these hand gestures to “une Chinoise”?

Furthermore, “une Chinoise” is depicted posing at the exterior of a party, on a clear evening with stars and a crescent moon in the distance, while standing on an affluent terrace with potted, red, flowers on each side of her. She is also standing on an oriental rug that features a red dragon at the centre of it with a border of gold tassels at the edge of the rug. According to Veblen who stated, “it has in the course of economic development become the office of the woman to consume vicariously for the head of the household; and her apparel is contrived with this object in view (344)” therefore, fashion is a means of communication to represent one’s class or wealth. Evidence of this is found in the fashion, as well as the oriental rug “une Chinoise” is standing on. The oriental rug is a symbol of both Orientalism and knowledge of the outside world. Both the oriental rug and fashion were items of luxury and a symbol of wealth, power, class and conspicuous consumption. Conspicuous consumption was also evident in the white wig worn by “une Chinoise”. In the early twentieth century, wigs were also a symbol of class and wealth (“Hair Today, A History of Wigs”). During this time, a woman’s hair was regarded as her “crowning glory” and large, voluminous, white wigs styled in feminine upswept ways were on trend and in fashion during the early 1900s (“Hair Today, A History of Wigs”).

According to Bourdieu’s theory, “une Chinoise” is a person depicted to have “possession to economic capital…a taste which condemns them to like only what they can afford to like. In contrast, the bourgeoisie’s tastes are tastes of luxury or freedom enabled not only by one’s possession of economic capital but also by that of cultural capital” (Rocamora 242). Bourdieu’s notion applies to both “une Chinoise” as well as the reader, who both need money (economic capital) and awareness (cultural capital) in order to participate in luxury and extravagance depicted for consumption in La Gazette du Bon Ton. According to Bourdieu, one’s taste is a marker of class, “taste classifies and it classifies the classifier” (Rocamora 242). The “taste” of “une Chinoise” exemplifies that she has cultural capital because she knows about France, as well as Asia, and she also has economic capital because she can afford to wear a couture gown designed by Georges Douillet who was known to design gowns exclusively for ultra rich women. Similarly, the reader of La Gazette du Bon Ton also has economic and cultural capital because the reader is aware of the luxuries in life and this “journal of good taste” both steers and influences them.




Works Cited

Chakraborty, Shruti. “Is Rajinikanth’s Party Symbol the same as Apana Mudra for ‘Detoxification and Purification’?” The Indian Express, Accessed 30 March 2018.

“Cultural Appropriation”. 4th ed., Cambridge Dictionary, 2018.

Davis, Mary E. Classic Chic: Music, Fashion and Modernism. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2008

“Hair Today…A History of Wigs”. The Post Magazine, 1 March 2017,

“Masonic Hand Signs Exposed.” Veritas Vincit: The Truth Shall Prevail, 18 Jan 2015,

“Orientalism”. Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed., 2018.

Percoco, Cassidy. “Georges Douillet”. A Most Beguiling Accomplishment, 22 Oct. 2014, Accessed 30 March 2018.

Popovic, Mislav. “Kasa – Traditional Japanese Hats”. Traditions Customs, Accessed 6 April 2018.

Rocamora, Agnes. “Pierre Bourdieu The Field of Fashion”. Thinking Through Fashion, edited by Agnes Rocamora and Anneke Smelik, I.B Tauris & Co. Ltd., 2016, pp. 233-250.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. London, Penguin, 2003.

Weill, Alain. La Mode Parisienne La Gazette du Bon Ton 1912-1925. Paris, Bibliothèque de L’image, 2000.

V&A. “Style Guide: Chinoiserie”. Victoria & Albert Museum, Accessed 6 April 2018.

Young, James O. Cultural Appropriation and the Arts, John Wiley & Sons Incorporated, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central,





Le Pouf: Advertising Art

Le Pouf Gazette du Bon Ton, March 1924; Royal Ontario Museum Archives

     Upon first glance, the most striking aspect of this fashion plate is the bold and colourful print of the dress enwrapping the tall, slim figure. However, with further reflection, what becomes more alluring is the expression on the face belonging to that figure as she stands off-centre on the left third of the page. Her dress is undeniably beautiful, but I begin to ponder more about what she was thinking while wearing the gown.

     This response would likely have pleased Paul Poiret, the designer behind the gown. To him, the physicality of his models was important, as she should be tall with a slim figure, but she should be more than that. He stated that, “above all things, a mannequin must herself be an artist. She must have a feeling for the gown she wears” (“Whom do the Ladies Dress to Please?”).  If Poiret felt that this model truly and artistically embodied his creation, then what was it she was thinking while in the gown? He sought to distinguish himself as an artist, not just a maker of clothes, and therefore it seems to me that he would appreciate a viewer taking the time to contemplate the artistic experience of wearing his creations.

     However, this ambiguity of her expression was likely intended more as Arsène Alexandre has suggested, so that the buyer could see themselves embodying the garment and want to purchase it for themselves (“The Theatre of Fashion” 5). This dichotomy, between creating art and commodifying it is a convoluted relationship with which modern couturiers were well acquainted. This fashion plate of Poiret’s 1924 eveningwear creation is an interesting example of this entanglement.

                           Advertising Practices

Advertising in Gaszette du Bon Ton (another Paul Poiret design) 1924-25 Photo courtesy of
Mainstream Fashion Advertising Women’s Wear Daily, Oct 27 1



      The emerging concept of the fashion designer was accompanied by the desire to have their work valued and perceived as a facet of art rather than items for commercialized production (The Theatre of Fashion; Paul Poiret’s Minaret Style). However, this idea was embedded with contradiction, for in order for a couturier might be successful, they had to sell their creations for profit just as much as for prestige. This resulted in very particular advertising initiatives which were employed by Paul Poiret and his Haute Couture contemporaries. They sought to distance themselves from the methods used to advertise mass fashion department stores and the “crassness associated with obvious merchandise promotions” (The Theatre of Fashion 8). Poiret “maintained the distinctive allure of his products by not advertising (at least not to large audiences) and by appropriating the fine arts to promote the originality, uniqueness, and aesthetic quality of his designs” (Couture Culture, 46). This is evident in the Le Pouf Fashion Plate through such things as the leisurely stance of the model, her placement within the image as well as the detailed, labour intensive nature of the production. As Nancy Troy states, “[h]is ads were meant to not look like ads (Couture Culture 47).

     This idea of employing more refined means of fashion dissemination is further evidenced by the magazine itself where Poiret chose to showcase this creation. The Gazette du Bon was created by couturiers “to perpetuate their art” and described as a “common ground where couturiers may meet to discuss and collaborate with painters” (Gazette du Bon Ton Makes After-War Debut). The creation of this periodical allowed for couturiers like Poiret to maintain elitist ideals surrounding their garments as regulated works of art rather than commodities. According to Pierre Bourdieu, “The higher a specific magazine is in the hierarchy of magazines, the more sober its descriptive style, corresponding to the high social position of its readers” which is evidenced by the minimal text which speaks only to the artist and its “exhibit” location within the magazine (Rocamora, 239). This dress, Le Pouf is a beautiful example of Poiret’s artistry. He had stated that he wanted for bring back the Ga into fashion as he felt that it had “made women charming because it was a defiance of sense and assertion of their independence and their disdain for logic, an affectation” (Parkins 10). This dress definitely speaks to that desire, but in a new (to his time) reinvented way. The simple, draped nature of the gown makes the “pouf” of the back bow particularly striking.

Power of Consecration

     For art to be accepted within its field it is also important not to overlook those individuals who, as Bourdieu puts it, are those who have the power to recognize the work as art, the “producers of the meaning and value of the work” (Rocamora 235). These parties have the ability to“consecrate a certain type of work and a certain type of cultivated person” (Rocamora, 235). In the period of Paul Poiret’s couture, that power lay (complicatedly) in the hands of women. There was a generally held belief- from male couturiers to dress reform feminists- that women were integral to the fashion system (Perkins Gilman; Whom do the Ladies Dress to Please?). When it comes to Poiret, women in this position of power was a complex issue.

     He designed for the female body and was said to be inspired by women and their “secrets” (Paul Poiret: Classic and New in the Struggle for Designer Mastery; Whom do the Ladies Dress to Please?). Therefore he was, to a certain extent, bound to serve those these “women that are artists of a kind: that they innately posses the secrets of feminine beauty and aesthetic self-fashioning” (Parkins 3). However, in an interesting twist to this idea that the art of fashion lies in the hands of women, Poiret attempts to position himself as an almost omniscient fashion power, knowing what is was that women secretly desired from fashion and providing it. Well, his wife Denise was said to be his muse, but they later divorced…

     Poiret was given multiple divine monikers by the press (and himself in his autobiographies) which equated him with everything from the “King of Fashion” to Roman Triumvirates to the gods of Olympus (Parkins 1; Whom do the Ladies Dress to Please). He described Fashion as a “spirit” which, without his intervention, would overwhelm women and cause them to make poor judgements; essentially stripping them of the autonomy to influence the fashion system (Parkins 6). A Vogue article from 1920 states that “the Parisienne cannot not love Poiret; she sees in him one of the most inspired priests of the cult of the body”; how do you reject the art of the holy leader (Parkins 1)?

     Despite- and perhaps because of-  this convoluted power balance, women, as the primary consumer of the art of fashion must be considered to be an active player in the field of fashion (Parkins 3). In Le Pouf it is possible to see the model as representing the power of female beauty which could be harnessed and used, even as it was wrapped up in a bow,  but also the male adulation which was perpetuated within the fashion system (Wrisley 101; Whom do the Ladies Dress to Please?)


     Bourdieu envisioned the field of fashion as art as having two sub-fields. Those derivatives divided fashion into the category of Haute Couture, which was a “field of restricted production” and art for art’s sake in comparison with mass fashion, “the field of large scale production” whose purpose was commerce and profit (Rocamora 237).  While this is a very neat demarcation of fashion into art and commodity, it does not always divide so cleanly, especially when examining Le Pouf and comparing it to various contemporary fashion descriptions made by Women’s Wear Daily.

     Poiret regularly lamented the mass production of fashion and the fact that few couturiers and upper class women were willing to be bold and experiment with Haute Couture (Parkins 11; Poiret in London Criticises Sameness of Paris Fashions). Participation in the Gazette du Bon Ton marked Poiret out as being selective about the audience he wanted to reach with his art, but based on Women’s Wear and attempts to prevent reproductions, Poiret’s fashions were not always as distant from the average fashion consumer as he and Bourdieu may have liked (Paul Poiret’s Minaret Style). The necessity of trademarking his name for copyright laws in America is a clear example of this commodity versus signature art blending (Paul Poiret’s Minaret Style).

     Even the Le Pouf design, striking as it is in terms of perhaps what comes to mind for the fashion of the period, can be associated with descriptions found in mainstream fashion publications. There are regular references made to Poiret’s use of the bustle this season and the draped, slim silhouette is even referenced in the fall of 1923 (“Poiret Shows Fitted Drape and Circular Silhouette”; Women’s Wear). The striking floral fabric is also visible in publications which reference large florals not only in the millinery showcased by Poiret, but in the fabric bought by the stores for selling to customers of mass fashion.


Dress fabric detail, close up Image courtesy of


    Fashion would be a much simpler area of study if throughout history the margins of its sub fields could be so cleanly defined. While this advertisement for Poiret’s 1924 evening gown was clearly intended for appreciation as art, both as a garment and indeed as the fashion plate itself, the intricacies of fashion dissemination and diffusion make it so while it can be admired on its own, it cannot be truly consecrated as “art” without examining its context in the fashion system.







Works Cited

     “Cotton Goods: Floral Designs Predominate in New Line of Printed Voiles and Crepes: Floral Designs Varied.” Women’s Wear, 1923, pp. 7.

“Le Pouf. Robe Du Soir, De Paul Poiret (Pl.38, La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1924 n°7).”,

     London Bureau, Women’s W. “Poiret in London Criticises Sameness of Paris Fashions: Collection in London Branch Less Bizarre—Bustle Bows, Novelty Trains and Pointed Tunics Featured.” Women’s Wear, 1924, pp. 3.

     “Millinery: Paul Poiret Hats being shown in Latest Import: Huge Peonies and Feather Chrysanthemums Bring New Interest in Flowers.” Women’s Wear, vol. 28, no. 35, 1924, pp. 24.

     Parkins, Ilya. “Paul Poiret: Classic and New in the Struggle for Designer Mastery.” The Berg Fashion Library. N.p., 2012. The Berg Fashion Library. Web.

     Perkins Gilman, Charlotte. Our Androcentric Culture. Project Gutenburg. released 2013.

     Rocamora, Agnès. “Pierre Bourdieu: The Field of Fashion”. Thinking Through Fashion, edited by Agnès Rocamora and Anneke Smelik. I.B. Tauris, 2016. pp. 233-250.

“Sale of $18 dresses”. (1923, Oct 27). Women’s Wear, 27, 11. Web.

     Service, Fairchild N. “Greek Line and Ornament Feature of Opening Groups: Varied Influences Apparent in Poiret Group Including Directoire, Oriental and Grecian — Finely Pleated Foundations and Bustles Frequent—Scarf Strongly Sponsored.” Women’s Wear, vol. 28, no. 26, 1924, pp. 1.

     Service, Fairchild N. “Poiret shows Fitted Drape and Circular Silhouette: Tailleurs with Circular and Pleated Jackets—Evening Gowns of Bouffant Type in Antique Colorings —• French Colonial Influence in Collar and Belt Treatments.” Women’s Wear, vol.26, no.26, 1923, pp. 1.

“Sur La Pelouse. Robe, De Paul Poiret (Pl.59, La Gazette Du Bon Ton, 1924-1925 n°7).”,

    “The ‘Gazette Du Bon Ton’ Makes After-War Pebut: Every Epoch a Boudoir.” Women’s Wear, 1920, pp. 3.

    Troy, Nancy J. Couture Culture: A Study in Modern Art and Fashion. MIT Press, 2003

     Troy, Nancy J. “The Theatre of Fashion: Staging Haute Couture in Early 20th-Century France.” Theatre Journal 53.1 (2001): 1–32. Theatre Journal. Web.

     Troy, Nancy J. “Paul Poiret’s Minaret Style: Originality, Reproduction, and Art in Fashion.” Fashion Theory – Journal of Dress Body and Culture 6.2 (2002): 117–144. Fashion Theory – Journal of Dress Body and Culture. Web.

     “Whom do the Ladies Dress to PLease?: “the Men, of Course,” Replies Paul Poiret, the Famous French Couturier, as He Talks to our Correspondent about Modern Fashions for Women and how He Evolves the Wonderful Creations that make the Easter Parades a Glorious Pageant of Pretty and Well-Dressed Women.” The Washington Post (1923-1954), 1925, pp. SM1.

     Wrisley, Melyssa. “Stella Blum Grant Report: ‘Fashion I Despised’: Charlotte Perkins Gilman and American Dress Reform, 1880–1920.” Dress 33.1 (2006): 97–110. Dress. Web.




Could this be love?

In the beginning of the 20th century, upper-class Parisians would rely on the magazine Gazette du Bon Ton as their source of fashion trends, corroborating Barthes’ understanding of how a magazine is a generator of what is, or isn’t, in fashion (Jobling 132). As described by Oreskovich, this was an exclusive French publication, founded by Lucien Vogel, with the objective of presenting the “connections between art, fashion beauty and lifestyle” (par. 1). By focusing on these three areas, it can be inferred that Vogel believed that there was a connection between the three. It is interesting to notice that many decades after the magazine, Blumer also highlighted how fashion influences any field in which operates (276).

Seventy issues of the magazine were published from 1912 to 1925, with seven of the ten unbound prints of in each issue presenting only “the most current haute couture designs from the top Parisian fashion houses” (Oreskovich par. 2). The other three pictures, on the other hand, were creations of the illustrators, usually inspired by the trends that were being presented. In addition, all the prints in the magazine were engravings, according to museum print collections, that were coloured by hand using stencils, a process called pochoir. The annual subscription to the Gazette was 100 francs, that today would be the equivalent to $400USD (Oreskovich par.3).

With the magazine being a source of what was in fashion during a certain time, it is possible to understand this as an example of Blumer’s concept of how fashion adopts an imperative position, sanctioning what should be done and demanding adherence (276). Furthermore, since the magazine had a specific target market (upper-class Parisians), it becomes clear that it was expected that people would react to fashion’s “character of propriety and social distinction” (Blumer 277).  People used the Gazette as a source that would lead them to be respected since these were styles approved by the sophisticated elite. Thus, the advertising of the clothes was converting their use value into symbolic value (Jobling 140), meaning that people should buy them because they were fashionable and were accepted by the elite.

When visiting the ROM library, I came across one of the editions of the magazine: the eight yearly Gazette du Bon Ton, from June 1913. On the cover appears the Gazette’s name, the month and year, the Issue number and the director’s name, Lucien Vogel, with the name of the editor, Emile Levy, from the Librairie Centrale des Beaux-Arts, located at 13 Rue Lafayette, in Paris. It also has a subtitle: art-modes and frivolities, that are the types of content being featured in it.

Figure 1 Vogel, Lucien. Cover of the Gazette du Bon Ton. 1913. Gazette du Bon Ton. Ed. Emile Levy. Paris, 1913. n. 8. Print. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archives

On the first page of the issue, there is a list of the seven designers that are being presented in it: Cheruit, Douillet, Doucet, Paquin, Poiret, Redfern and Worth. Underneath their names, we are made aware that these designers are collaborating with the Gazette, giving advice and reserving their first creations of every month, that will be drawn in collaboration with the newspapers’ illustrators. These seven designers had signed exclusive contracts with the magazine, so that their styles would only be shown by the Gazette (Oreskovich par.2).

Figure 2 Vogel, Lucien. List of Houses. 1913. Gazette du Bon Ton. Ed. Emile Levy. Paris, 1913. n. 8. Print. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archives.

One of the beautiful prints in this specific volume is an image stenciled on a sheet measuring 19 x 24,5cm, signed by Dresa (illustrator Jacques Dresa) in the lower right. In the centre of the image, there is a woman standing in a long pink draped dress, that has three-quarter sleeves, a white collar and a flower, in the same colour as the dress, in the front. She is posing wearing a brown hat with one feather on it; she has her left hand up to her chest, a blissful expression on her face, and is holding a bouquet of red roses in her right hand. In the image, she is surrounded by trees, walking on a white pavement and is standing beside a tall statue. Underneath the image, the name of the print is written in French: l’Après-Midi d’un Faune, with the description of the garment and the name of the designer Robe de Promenade, by Doucet. On the bottom left of the print, we can read again the name of the magazine (Gazette du Bon Ton) with the number of the issue (N°8). On the right, the date (June 1913) with the number of this specific plate (VI).

Figure 3 Vogel, Lucien. L’Après-Midi d’un Faune. 1913. Gazette du Bon Ton. Ed. Emile Levy. Paris, 1913. n. 8, Plate VI. Print. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum Library and Archives.

This image can be read by thinking about Barthes’ definition of fashion. In the image, we can see the rhetorical code, or in other words, how fashion is being shown through the combination of the words and the image of the woman (Jobling 134). This garment in the picture, as proposed by Barthes, is only imaginary, since it leads to the recognition of the images and not practices (134). Furthermore, by analyzing the image through a semiological approach, we can perceive that there is a signifier, the dress itself, in contact with the signified, leading to our understanding of the image as a sign (Jobling 135). It is my own understanding that at the time of the print, 1913, the more fabric one wore, the more expensive, and therefore, the richer, the person was. Thus, by knowing that this magazine was meant to be purchased by the elite, and the woman in the image is wearing a draped dress with a big amount of fabric, I read this as a sign of wealth, classiness and elite.

When I first saw this image in the Gazette du Bon Ton, I was immediately struck by memories from my childhood. I was, just like any other child, fascinated by Disney features, knowing lines and scenes by heart. By looking at this woman, I was reminded of the Grecian character named Megara, from the Hercules animation. I connected the image that I was seeing to a scene where Meg sings “I won’t say I’m in love”. As the title describes it, she denies being in love with Hercules, who has just given her a flower, making her feel vulnerable and looking at him with a loving expression. At the same time, she doesn’t want to be feeling this, leading her to the song.

Gifs created from the movie Hercules.

After researching more about the image displayed in the Gazette du Bon Ton, I used an online tool to translate the name of the dress, to learn that this was meant to be an everyday garment since Robe de Promenade translates as “walking dress”. I also translated the name of the print, l’Après-Midi d’un Faune, which would be mean “afternoon for a faun”. I found this to be very interesting since, in the Hercules movie, there is also a faun, named Philoctetes, a Greek hero that was part of the Trojan War. This similarity made me think about how the two pieces had more things in common than I would have expected at first. Only after learning the meaning of the name I saw that the statue beside her is one of a faun, whom she is looking at. It was only possible for me to perceive that the statue was a faun by thinking about Phil’s beard and then perceiving that the figure in the print had the same one.

Gif created from the movie Hercules.

I believe that the primary reason that made me think of Meg while seeing this image in the Gazette was the characters’ dress. The dress in the image was centrally positioned, in a different colour than the rest, making it stand out. I think that when seeing draped dresses, some people, including myself, would make connections with the Greeks since they are usually depicted wearing this style of garment. This use of similar styles of dress through the decades, and by different means, can be understood as the recurrence of fashion since an immediate and total recycling of fashion is to be expected (Braudrillard 88). Furthermore, Simmel’s definition of how fashion can be understood as the imitation of an example, satisfying social adaptation (543), comes to mind.

When researching to know more about this image from the Gazette, I discovered the poem with the same name, l’Après-Midi d’un Faune, written by the symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé, in 1867. According to Lloyd (154), this poem inspired the creation of musical compositions (Prélude à L’après-Midi d’un Faune by Claude Debussy) and ballets (Afternoon of a Faun by Vaslav Nijinsky, 1912, Jerome Robbins, 1953, and Tim Rushton, 2006). It is very interesting to highlight that Mallarmé used symbols to express the truth through suggestion, more than he used the narrative itself (Lloyd 187). In this sense, his notion it is closely related to the semiological understanding of things, since symbols, and therefore signs, are central to Barthes’ concepts (Jobling 132). Furthermore, it becomes clear that without the caption of the image in the Gazette du Bon Ton, I would not have discovered the purpose that the designer had imagined for the dress and the connections between this print and the work of other artists. Thus, corroborating with Barthes’ understanding of the importance of words, since captions can transmit information that may not be evident in the picture (Jobling 138). In addition, the way that Mallarmé’s  poem inspired several other pieces alludes to Bourdieu’s definition of cultural capital, since the poet’s cultural goods were symbolically appropriated by others (247).

The use of the Gazette to display what was in fashion and should be worn by the elite shows us that Simmel was correct when pointing out that fashion revolves around the adoption by a social set, demanding imitation by its members (558). Furthermore, the connection between the image shown here, from 1913 and the movie Hercules from 1997, are examples of how recurrence is an integral part of fashion. In addition, it becomes clear that only by looking at one picture in a magazine, I was able to make connections with my childhood and find other links with orchestras and ballets, something that may happen whenever we see a sign.

It is known that at the time, the Gazette was closely linked to the Ballets Russes, since as proposed by Davis, there were similarities between the magazine’s “editorial agenda and the Ballets’ glamorous meshing of fashion and art” leading to the Gazette faithfully reporting on their performances (52). In this sense, it is possible to infer that maybe even when the illustrator, Jacques Dresa, was creating the narrative surrounding the Robe de Promenade, was influenced by  memories of the the Ballet performance, that happened only one year before, in 1912. As proposed by Davis, the upper-class audience was intrigued by the ballets for two reasons: they rejected bourgeois values and had “femmes fatales” and “androgynous boys” as main characters (52).

After learning more about the image in the Gazette and thinking about it through the lenses of these authors here exposed, I came to think about the meaning of the narrative that was being told. I believe that my understanding of the image is biased since I connected this woman to Megara. Now, I can’t help but wonder if she had a blissful expression because she too, was in love, singing about how she had found someone. Could the flowers in her hands be given to her by a lover, just like Hercules and Meg? Was her dress, the environment and the whole narrative of the print supposed to make the reader think about love? I also wonder if the fake flower in her garment is a symbol, a reference to the real flowers in her hands, as a way of showing that they are important to the narrative. Furthermore, is the print suggesting that by wearing a couture gown by Doucet, one will find love?

There are no answers to my questions, but since I had already made a connection between the two images, this is the way that I am reading this picture. In a way, this is closely related to Barthes’ definition of post-modern hyperreality: an image based on another image, with correspondences between form and content of two different things (Jobling 140).  I end my analysis of this print by thinking about how my understanding of the narrative in the print was compromised by my memories of a movie. It is important to realize that someone else could have a far different perception of the image. I inferred things and read the Gazette’s image by taking into consideration the subjectivity of perceiving a narrative in an advertising. It is to be expected that someone that first read the poem written by Mallarmé, in 1867, would have this as an influence when looking at this print from 1913.

Gifs created from the movie Hercules.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “Fashion, or the Enchanting Spectacle of the Code.” Fashion theory: A reader, edited by Malcolm Barnard, Routledge, 2007, 462-474.

Blumer, Herbert. “Fashion: From class differentiation to collective selection.” The Sociological Quarterly vol. 10. no. 3, 1969, 275-291.

Bourdieu, Pierre . “The Forms of Capital.” Handbook of Theory and Research for the Sociology of Education, edited by J. Richardson, Greenwood, 1986, 241-258.

Davis, Mary E. “La Gazette du Bon Ton,” Classic Chic: Music, Fashion and Modernism, Oakland: University of California Press, 2008, 48-92.

Hercules. Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, 1997.

Jobling, Paul. “Roland Barthes: Semiology and the Rhetorical Codes of Fashion.” Thinking Through Fashion, edited by Agnès Rocamora, I.B.Tauris, 2015, 132-148.

Lloyd, Rosemary. Mallarmé: the poet and his circle. Cornell University Press, 1999.

Oreskovihch, Julie. Gazette du Bon Ton: A Journal of Good Taste. Abe Books. 29 March 2018.

Simmel, Georg. “Fashion.” The American Journal of Sociology, vol. 62, no. 6, 1957, 541-558.

Atalanta, and Why It Took So Long for Her to Get a Sports Bra

Fig. 1

A petite figure in a short red chiton is gracefully bounding through a lush forest meadow. Her limbs are long and lanky, her hair cropped short and loose, her skirt flowing up to the crease of her leg and her breast is exposed (Fig.1). It is Atalanta, the classical Greek beauty known for being the fastest runner in the Ancient world. Her story goes that her father wanted her to get married, but she wanted to stay an independent adventurer.

Fig. 2

She was the fastest runner in the world and the one to draw first blood in the great Calydonian Boar hunt (Fig. 2), she didn’t need some man holding her back! Atalanta and her father made a deal that if a man could beat her in a race, she would marry him. Knowing she was an incredible athlete, her father devised a plan with Hippomenes to drop golden apples to distract her during the race (Fig. 3)(Gori, 2012, 206), playing into the concept that woman are the mental equivalent of magpies (but that’s a whole other story).

When observing illustrations of Atlanta, I really have to question how the fastest runner in the world felt about having her one boob out flopping in the wind. Over and over she is depicted in the official Heraia chiton worn by female athletes (Serwint, 1993, 404).

Fig. 3: Race for Atalante’s hand in marriage.ël_Hallé_-_The_Race_between_Hippomenes_and_Atalanta_-_WGA11034.jpg
Fig. 4: Achilles slaying Penthesilea, the queen of the Amazons, Attic black-figure amphora signed by Exekias, c. 530–525 BCE; in the British Museum, London.

Like Atalanta, the Amazons were also icons of female athleticism in the ancient world. Amazons were a matriarchal society of warriors and their solution for the pesky lack of sports bras? The legends say that they seared off their right breast. Better for using a bow and arrow or throwing a spear. These terrifying warrior women represented the fears and anxieties surrounding empowered female athletes (Johnson, 2017) going back thousands of years.

Their solution was pretty extreme, but the real kicker: woman have wanted to be comfortable while active since the ancient world, but the sports bra wasn’t invented until 1977!

La Gazette du Bon Ton provides an insight into the attitudes that kept woman from wearing comfortable and functional undergarments when it came to any athletic endeavours.

The 1924 article used classical narratives to discuss the hottest trend of the 1920s. Lanky limbs, short hair, and a short flowing dress; sound familiar? Author George Barbier was drawing a parallel between Atalanta and the Flapper. Both young, independent women, and just a little too wild for his taste. The beautiful illustrations by André Édouard Marty show Atalante’s athleticism and talent for archery. She is alone (save for a trusty-pup companion) out in nature running, climbing, shooting, and bathing (Fig. 5 & 6). Atalante is shown in idealized form while the article seems to be advising against the whole idea. Barbier acts as the voice of Atalante’s father, advising the readers on the perils of being an athletic young woman.


“Pour ma part, je les considère avec étonnement quand je les vois se livrer impétueusement a des jeux forcenés. Le corps féminin est trop fragile pour pouvoir, sans disgrace et sans peril, rivaliser sur le stade avec celui des athletes. Le football et la course a pied ne conviennent point aux dames, elles s-y épuisent vite et leurs nerfs sensibles les jettent parfois en des crises de nerfs ou en des pavoisons. — En: Personally, I consider them with astonishment when I see them impetuously engage in frenzied games. The female body is too fragile to be able, without disgrace and without danger, to compete on stage with those of the athletes. Football and running do not suit ladies, they are exhausted quickly and their sensitive nerves sometimes throw them in fits of nerves or vanity.” (Barbier, 1924) 

Oh my! Although he is impressed by the ‘frenzied’ energy of active girls, he thinks this is not suited to a proper woman. He believes the “sweet but heavy chains of husband and child”  far outweigh the appeal of competition. He also advises that men aren’t attracted to woman who participate too much in sport. Barbier wrote this article at the age of 42, and while “journalists and popular writers in the 1920s used readily recognizable stereotypes to portray the characteristics of both generations within popular literature. The younger generation was portrayed through representative middle-class, energetic figures who were born in the twentieth century, participated in the European War, and eagerly consumed the latest technology.” (Hirshbein, 2001, 114) The article referenced classical narrative as a way to critique the values of the Flapper without needing to critique the fashion itself.

He used another classical narrative of Phryne in front of the Aeropage to reinforce his moral stance on modesty. Phryne only showed the judges one beautiful breast, and they acquitted her of all charges, his article claims. Women require that air of mystery to be attractive, therefore participating in competitive sport and without proper ‘aesthetic girdles to constrain and reshape uncertain breast’ a woman is falling victim to excessive vanity. The Gazette du Bon Temps advises proper ladies to do some non-competitive activities, but participating in aggressive sport is absolutely immoral. It also is implied that adolescent females can participate in some sport, but once a husband comes along they must prioritize being a modest and dutiful wife. (Barbier, 1924)

Fig. 7: The article ends advising modesty and pairs it with Atalanta bathing nude.

Interestingly, the Olympics were held in France twice the same year this article was published. Chamonix hosted the winter games of 1924, and Paris hosted the summer games. Women could only participate in limited low-impact sports such as golf and tennis. In 1928, female participation increased to 10% when woman were allowed to participate in athletics, gymnastics, tennis, sailing, croquet, equestrian sports and golf ( These pioneering woman made do with the undergarments available and many of them seemed to reflect the waif-like flapper body type. The realities of the Olympics seem to echo the notion that sport is alright for adolescent female bodies only (Fig 8). I also assume not having access to appropriate undergarments makes it extremely uncomfortable for bustier woman, discouraging their participation in the first place.

Fig. 8: 1928 Olympics – Canadian Relay Team, 4×100 gold medalist. Woo!

The times were changing, and the influence of the independent, decadent, energetic and cynical American flapper had spread across the world (Cheadle, 2018). The Gazette du Bon Ton was using this article to reinforce the ideal French womanly woman, even when the silhouettes favoured a sporty body. The ideal body of the 1920s reflected a fashion problem: woman’s bodies had to look sporty, but they couldn’t be sporty.

Colette critiqued this trend in her satirical writing by advising woman to treat ‘your breast as a fashion accessory’ (Freadman, 2018, 337). Obviously, this is quite the challenge as boobs are attached to your body, but it didn’t stop woman from trying. Ladies in the 1920s aimed for the slim, undeveloped form and the bandeau bras and girdles of the time were designed to flatten out the breast to fit the tubular form (Feilds, 2007, 72).  These solutions were not overly supportive, and certainly not encouraging for woman who wanted to engage in sport.

Although the 1920s brought about the end of corsets, the suffrage of American woman, and the fashionable athletic body ideal, the strong opposition to woman’s participation in sport did not encourage any innovation in the development of comfortable undergarments specific to sport. France was especially hesitant about accepting the modern woman: “The model of the flapper scared society. Female sport brought on suspicions of inverted sexuality and androgyny.” (Terret, 2010, 1160). For years woman had to make due with the undergarments available that were still somewhat restrictive or only developed specifically for acceptable feminine activities.

What needed to happen for woman to get the proper sporty support? Second-wave feminism! The 1960s and 70s were a transitional period. While the myth of bra burning got its roots, some woman just wanted to go jogging without nipple chafing. The early sixties and seventies had woman pushing for Equal Rights and a ’68 protest where demonstrators threw restrictive clothing items in a garbage can turned into the ‘media myth’ of bra burnings.

Though the concept of bra-burning was symbolic, the act of being comfortable above meeting social expectation became a revolutionary act. Even in the time of ‘going braless’ the general agreement was that bras are unequivocally necessary for comfort, not just to create a feminine form (Spencer, B. 2007, 238).  Through the hard work of the equal rights movement, a law passed that had an impact on the tale of sports bras: Title IX in the United States legally guaranteed equal participation and benefits from education program receiving Federal financial assistance. Meaning female participation in school sports grew exponentially. (Ladd, 2014, 1681)

Fig. 9: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy rht/

In the 70s ‘yogging’ was the hot new trend. Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith were all about it but were tired of experiencing the discomfort that comes with bounding bosoms. Like many other women at the time, these ladies were problem-solving because the market wasn’t meeting female athletes’ concerns. (Bastone, 2017) If you would like to learn more about their story you can watch this great video:

Fig 10: The original Jockbra

In 1977, they had a revelation: the Jockbra. They had taken two jockstraps and transformed them into a jockstrap for breasts (Fig. 10). “The sports bra revolutionized support for the defining anatomic feature of the class Mammalia, and, paradoxically gave freedom for women athletes of all shapes and sizes to participate in sports unforeseen just a few years earlier.” (Ladd, A.  2014, 1681) The perfect combination of material technology and increased female participation in sport finally allowed the development of sports bras. Sports bras have continued to develop to meet the needs of more and more woman who are participating in as many competitive and non-competitive sports as they please.

Thanks to the sports bra female athletes can exist beyond adolescence and in a multitude of sizes. As new technology is developed, sports bras and athletic gear, in general, will get more and more accommodating to ALL athletes. I’m sure when Barbier advised ladies play tennis as a non-competitive option for exercise, he could never have imagined bad-ass babes like Serena Williams (Fig. 11) pushing sport and fashion to work for women and not the other way around.

Fig. 11 : Serena Williams warms up on a practice court at the Australian Open on January 18, 2012.

On a final note, I like to think Atalanta finally got her sports bra. In this 1974 animation, her story is reimagined with a feminist twist and more comfortable looking sportswear indicative the forth-coming sports bra.

You go girl!









Works Cited:

Angelone, D. J. & Swirsky, J. M. (2014). Femi-Nazis and Bra Burning Crazies: A Qualitative Evaluation of Contemporary Beliefs about Feminism. Current Psychology, 33(3), 229-245.

Bastone, K. (2017). A Brief History of the Sports Bra. Runner’s World. Retrieved from

Barbier, G. (1924). Atalante. Gazette du BonTon: Art, Modes & Chronique, 6(6), 225-228. Retried from the ROM Library Archives.

Cheadle, T. (2018). The Invention of the Flapper: More than a symbol of decadence, the flapper should be seen as a quest by women for agency, independence and escape from domesticity. History Today, 68(2). Retrieved from

Fields, J.(2007). Corsets and Girdles. In An Intimate Affair: Women, Lingerie, and Sexuality.  University of California Press.

Freadman, A. (2018). Breasts are Back! Colette ‘ s Critique of Flapper Fashion. French Studies: A Quarterly Review, 60(3), 335-346.

Terret, T. (2010). From Alice Milliat to Marie-Therese Eyquem: Revisiting women’s sport in France (1920s-1960s). International Journal of the History of Sport, 27(7), 1154-1172.

Gori, G. (2012). Prologue : Atalanta as Symbol of European Sportswomen. The International Journal of the History of Sport, 29(2), 206-211.

Hirshbein, L. D. (2001). The Flapper and the Fogy: Representations of Gender and Age in the 1920s.  Journal of Family History, 26(1), 112-137.

Johnson M. (2017). The truth about the Amazons – the real Wonder Women. The Conversation. Retrieved from

Ladd, A. L. (2014). Gendered Innovations in Orthopaedic Science Game in Play Gendered Innovations in Orthopaedic Science. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, 472(6), 1681-1684.

Serwint, N. (1993). The Female Athletic Costume at the Heraia and Prenuptial Initiation Rites. American Journal of Archaeology, 97(3), 403-422.

Spencer, B. (2007). Bras, Breasts and Living in the Seventies: Historiography in the Age of Fibs. Australian Feminist Studies, 22(53), 231-245.

Key Dates in the History of Woman in the Oylmpic Movement. (2018). Retrieved from


Le flirt?

This article examines a scene of the book Sports & Divertissements by Lucien Vogel (see fig.1), combining the work of the composer Erik Satie and the illustrator Charles Martin called “Le Flirt”.

Lucien Vogel and the creation of Sports & Divertissements

Lucien Vogel was a very well known illustrator whose body of work ranged from positions of editor in chief to art director, as well as illustrator for a significant variety of famous fashion and art publications such as Femina, Art and Decoration, The French Librairie Centrale des Beaux-Arts, and French Vogue (Beaton 49). He also created three fashion magazines which were highly important in the French cultural sphere called Style Parisien, L’Illustration des Modes and La Gazette du Bon Ton (Beaton 49). His work for La Gazette du Bon Ton is significantly important to begin the following analysis since it is through the creation of this publication that Vogel’s intention to elevate fashion as a respectable form of art in french society was first manifested (Beaton 62). It is in fact within this spirit of trying to portray visual representations of fashion in magazines on the same level as visual arts that Vogel got inspired for the creation of Sports & Divertissements, unless this time, it integrated a whole new aspect than the well known combination of images and texts (Beaton 62). For this unique publication, Vogel decided to bring together in dialogue two different types of art forms to create a new association of fashion with music for which he hired Erik Satie, at the time recently graduated from La Schola Cantorum de Paris, a well reputed private music and drama school (Beaton 63). The final book resulted in a series of twenty playful assemblages of brief musical compositions on high Parisian society pastimes beautifully illustrated by Charles Martin (see fig. 1).

Figure 1. Charles Martin, Cover page of the Sports & Divertissements, Publications Lucien Vogel, 1923, Print. Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives.

A little bit more on Erik Satie

Before being known as a famous composer, Satie at his debut, was highly critiqued by the French art community, especially for his unusual humorous style of writing, which was not always well perceived (Poueigh quoted in E. Davis 431). His career really took a significant shift when he received a positive critique on his work Parade from Guillaume Apollinaire, a very influential French poet and writer describing him as an “innovative musician”, a composer of “astonishingly expressive music, so clear and simple that it seems to reflect the marvelously lucid spirit of France.” (quoted in E. Davis 431). Indeed, Satie’s work was very particular and innovative at that particular time in French culture and his compositions integrating music and text were unlike any other composer, allowing him to establish his own style and to be recognized for it (E. Davis 431). His work was mostly perceived as a symbol of modernity while still being strongly representative of French heritage (E.Davis 431). Overall, Sports & divertissements is one of the most important pieces that Satie created in his career and one of the first associations of music writing and fashion illustration at that time (E. Davis 432).

One-of-a-kind piece

There are certainly many ways in which this publication was innovative at the time it was created, such as the fact that it showed a new type of representation of the connection between art, writing and music while being inspired by the culture of its time and expressing an ironic yet graceful representation of fashion through the different spheres of French society (E. Davis 432). Sports & divertissements is a combination of twenty piano short compositions juxtaposed with lyric-like texts written by Satie illustrated by colourful illustrations of Parisian scenes by Charles Martin (see fig. 2). The presentation of the book itself is quite unusual and appears very precious and elevated, sort of like a collector’s item. What first caught my attention, despite the beautiful visual composition of the music sheets and the drawings, was the style of the illustrations. Coloured by hand, multiplying layers of paint applied using a “pochoir” technique, these illustrations, on their own, really succeed at giving the tone of each scene explored in the book (see figure 2). Even the music and typographic content follow the very particular and stylized approach inspired by cubism (E. Davis 57) taken by Charles Martin while designing these images (see figure 2). The cohesive composition created by the combination of all of these elements of music, words and images really succeeds at bringing the reader into the different moods of each of the scenes of Parisian’s elite society and what it might have felt like to be there at the time.

A closer look at “Le flirt”

For this analysis, I have chosen to focus on one particular scene of the book which is called “Le flirt” (see figure 2). Before I start discussing and analyzing this scene, I think it is important to situate it in relation to the content of this publication. Sports & Divertissements, by its title bring readers to think that it contains a variety of commonly practiced and publicized disciplines like tennis and golf when it instead, present a mixture of both sportive and social activities such as the flirt (Beaton 65). This integration of rather more private scenes of Parisian life supports the humorous approach taken by Vogel, enhanced of course with Satie’s tone and Martin’s taste expressed through his illustrations.

Figure 2. Charles Martin, Illustration of “Le flirt”, Publications Lucien Vogel, 1923, Print. Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives.

The scene revolves around a woman and two men fighting for her attention. In a way, it illustrates the action of flirting as a sort of game which in this case involves the seduction of a woman, but also expressing an element of challenge represented by the presence of the second man, trying to disturb and get in the way of the first without succeeding in grabbing the woman’s attention (see figure 2). What is very interesting about this book is that it allows for a more complex analysis of its content since both the illustrations and the musical pieces inform one another. One obvious way to apply a theoretical lens to this analysis would be to see it from Barthe’s semiological approach. In fact, this scene, as well as the rest of the book are great examples of the concept that he calls “written-clothing” which in this case represents the supplementary knowledge given by Satie’s composition associated with the illustrated scene (Barthes quoted in Jobling 138).

Figure 3. Erik Satie, Composition for “Le flirt”, Publications Lucien Vogel, 1923, Print. Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives.

The scene (see fig. 3) translates as follow:

Agitated, they are telling each other lovely things, modern things.

-How are you doing?

-Aren’t I pleasant

-Let me?

-You have big eyes 

-I would want to have my head in the clouds

-He sighs

-He nods his head.

Satie’s writing, especially in this book, is filled with references to popular culture that is very true to Parisian society at the time (E. Davis 432). These elements that he likes to integrate in his composition helped to emphasize the humorous tone that he employs and also probably made his work accessible to a wide audience. For example, in this particular piece, he integrates the quote “J’aimerais être dans la lune” which is taken from a well known french song called  “Au Clair de la lune” which here, is used to express that the woman would rather be elsewhere and is not very interested by the man’s compliments (E. Davis 454). To emphasize the reference, Satie used the original melody associated with this expression, written by Jean-Baptiste Lully which he inserts to his own composition click here to listen. Supporting Barthes’ theory, it is only by looking closely at the text written by Satie and by listening to the song, in association with the illustration that it is possible to come to this conclusion, since the representation of the woman in Martin’s illustration could most likely be interpreted as her being charmed by the man she is facing (quoted in Jobling 139).  The integration of other cultural material by Satie to support the visual content of this scene can also be analyzed under Bourdieu’s theory of the field (Rocamora 234). In fact, the insertion of well known folk lyrics in his composition reenforces the relation between his work and the culture in which it is produced, in this case, the Parisian’s society (Bourdieu quoted in Rocamora 235). These elements add a symbolic dimension to the piece and increase the level to which people can relate to the content as well as adding value for the readers who can understand the meaning of these references while also helping them to situate the narrative of the illustration (Bourdieu quoted in Rocamora 235).

The relevance of this piece

I think that what this short analysis helped to reveal not only the uniqueness of Sports & Divertissements, but also its relevance at the time it was published, positioning fashion among other respectable art disciplines and displaying it as a central element in a publication that succeeded to distinguish itself from traditional representations in magazines. I also believe that further research on the context of Parisian upper class society could help to make a more accurate and deeper reading of this piece. As mentioned by Bourdieu, a piece of art cannot be understood by looking at it outside of the social and cultural reality in which it was produced (30). What is the most interesting about this book is certainly its many references to elements of French pop culture, making it a significant representation of the fashion of this period, which contrary to other type of publications, portray it through various scenes of these people’s everyday lives.

Works cited 

Bourdieu, Pierre, and Randal Johnson. The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature. Columbia University Press, 1993.

Davis, Mary E.. (2008). Classic Chic: Music, Fashion and Modernism. Oakland, CA: University of California Press. (pp. 48-92).

Davis, Mary E. “Modernity à La Mode: Popular Culture and Avant-Gardism in Erik Satie’s “Sports Et Divertissements”.” The Musical Quarterly, vol. 83, no. 3, 1999, pp. 430-473.

Paul Jobling, “Roland Barthes: Semiology and the Rhetorical Codes of Fashion,” in Thinking Through Fashion, pp. 132-148

Rocamora, Agnès, and Anneke Smelik. Thinking through Fashion: A Guide to Key Theorists. I.B. Tauris, 2016.

Satie, Erik. Sports et divertissement. Dessins de Ch. Martin. Gravés sur cuivres et rehaussés de pochoir par Jules Saudé. Paris: Publications Lucien Vogel, [1923]. Print. Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives. Rare Oversize M25 S27 S7 1923. ROM copy is numbered 159

The Sporting Twenties

“Le Golf.” Sports et divertissements. 1923.Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum and Archives.(Photo by author.)

The Roaring Twenties are known as the Jazz Age, the time of jazz, gin, and flappers. But, less obviously, sports also played a big part in the shaping of the decade. The twenties’ love of sports is beautifully conveyed in Sports et divertissements, a rare avant-garde publication that pairs twenty musical compositions by Erik Satie with pochoir illustrations by Charles Martin, hand-coloured by Jules Saude. The Royal Ontario Museum’s Library & Archives recently acquired number 107, out of only 225 produced copies (Sherman). Published by Lucien Vogel in 1923, the magazine takes the reader on various chic excursions, from sailboats to lush picnics in the park, to my two favourites: the tennis court and the golf course. Both of these sports made a significant impact on fashion in the 1920s. “In the years following the First World War, participation in sport and leisure activities – most often tennis, golf, swimming, or sunbathing – became popular and fashionable among women of the upper classes” (Pyper). The women depicted in Sports et divertissements are no exception.

“Le Golf” depicts a woman holding a golf club, with a man with his back turned. The fetching blonde is clearly the star in Martin’s eyes. The pair dressed in their best golf whites, and matching white hats, although her much wider brim sports a pink ribbon, while his features a purple-brown one. She has white wrist length gloves with matching pink bows. The short sleeves of her dress have treble clef musical signs as the embellishment. Most surprising is the shallow v-cut neckline that reveals the shapes of her breasts, and fabric so thin that we can see the outline of a nipple. Golf is sexy; Martin must have thought. This sassy blonde is there to get some birdies, and some male attention while at it. As for Satie, his composition does not exactly correspond to the image. It reads: “The colonel is dressed in “Scotch Tweed” of a violent green. He will be victorious. His ‘caddy’ follows him carrying the ‘bags’. The clouds are astonished. The ‘holes’ are all shaking. The colonel is here! Here it is that ensures the blow: his ‘club’ shatters!” We do not see a man in tweed, and if he were here, he would have probably sweated under the heat of this blissfully sunny sky. However, Satie’s lyrics pay close attention to the clothing, with the emphasis on the tweed suiting and the bags. Fashion was most likely of importance to the composer.

“Le Tennis.” Sports et divertissements. 1923. Courtesy of the Royal Ontario Museum and Archives. (Photo by author.)

In “Le Tennis,” Satie’s lyrics read, “Play? Yes! The good server. As he has beautiful legs! He has a beautiful nose. Service cut. Game!” The corresponding illustration by Martin depicts a man and a woman whose tea service was violently interrupted by a flying tennis ball from a match happening below. The pesky ball made its way to them perhaps right after one uttered Satie’s praise of the male tennis player. He is dressed in white trousers, white short-sleeved v-neck shirt, accessorised with a black belt and what looks like a baseball hat. The stylish player is engaged in a tennis game with two women, a blonde in a pink dress and a brunette in a yellow and white ensemble. They project an image of health and sass. Our two spectators are also a stylish pair: he in a light brown fluffy, (perhaps mohair) sweater, tan trousers and two-tone black and white Oxford spectator shoes; and she in a long-sleeved sailor-inspired frock, accessorised by a thin black choker necklace. These two are members of what Veblen would have categorised as Leisure Class.

Engagement in sporting activities first came into prominence during the Victorian era, when upper-class men and women started to integrate physical activity into their daily lives. “Physical education, like related facets of material culture, became a means by which an increasingly stratified social structure (marked along the lines of class, gender, ethnicity and age) was codified and understood” (Breward, 18-19). Sporting engagement represented a certain social status, or what Veblen referred to as Leisure Class. While Veblen mostly saw sports as a frivolous activity, the focus on one’s body personified religious values of the time. Breward (19) states that “these included the concepts of ‘self-help’ and ‘self-control’, and were summoned up in the popular motto mens sana in corpore sano (‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’).” The phenomenon, whether religion or frivolity drove it, lead to growing commercialisation of sport and sporting attire. By the turn of the century, golf graced the cover of popular women’s publications such as The Ladies’ World (renamed later as The Woman’s World).

“Cover: Vogue.” (Vogue, vol. 58, no. 8, Oct 15, 1921, ProQuest,
“Cover: Vogue.” (Vogue, vol. 60, no. 1, Jul 01, 1922, ProQuest,

In the 1920s, sportswear had found itself into daytime wardrobes. “Between 1925 and 1928, the difference between sport and day wear seems to be in name only, as styles and fabrics for both spheres converged” (Pyper). Tennis had appeared on the cover of American Vogue in October 1921 and again in July 1922. The 1921 cover has a dreamlike quality, with a woman in a luxuriously ruffled dress floating under a starry sky. She is getting ready to hit a shooting star with her tennis racquet. On the other hand, the 1922 cover depicts two women in the midst of conversation while resting with their racquets in hand. They are dressed in long, narrow-cut frocks, perhaps not ideal for the game of tennis. The woman in white sports a red and white striped overcoat, while the woman in orange has a plush purple scarf. It is difficult to decipher if these clothes are meant for tennis or tea.

“Fashion: The Golf Clubs at “La Bouille” and “Saint Cloud” are Smart Places for Sports and for Sports Costume.” (Vogue, vol. 58, no. 6, Sep 15, 1921, pp. 78, ProQuest,

Golf also made its way into Vogue. “Fashion: The Golf Clubs at “La Bouille” and “Saint Cloud” are Smart Places for Sports and for Sports Costume” reads a September 1921 headline. The accompanying editorial illustrations depict willowy men and women congregating around the idyllic golfing grounds, engaged in all kind of profound conversation. No one is actually playing the game, but a golf club was a place to be seen. There is perhaps no better confirmation of that statement than the character of professional golfer Jordan Baker in the iconic 1925 Fitzgerald novel, The Great Gatsby. Jordan is described as a 1920s ideal of beauty and an object of affection for the story’s narrator, Nick Carraway. “I enjoyed looking at her. She was a slender, small-breasted girl, with an erect carriage which she accentuated by throwing her body at the shoulders like a young cadet” (11). Nick enjoys the status associated with the sport. “At first I was flattered to go places with her, because she was a golf champion, and everyone knew her name.” (57) Aside from golfing, Jordan enjoys ample leisure time.

Dancers costumed by Coco Chanel in Le Train Bleu, 1924. (Fashion V Sport, edited by Ligaya Salazar. V&A Publishing. 2008. p. 27.)

Fitzgerald worked on the novel while residing in the chic French Riviera, at the time a playground of the rich and famous, according to Pyper. “Even women who appeared to have no interest in sporting pursuits began to dress in this manner while on holiday, conforming to the new craze for physical culture and the simplified silhouettes that accompanied it” (Pyper). The French used to term sportive to describe the clothing and the women who wore it. One of the designers who embraced this look was Coco Chanel. The designer had famously integrated jersey into her collections, fabric that allowed for simpler construction techniques and the ease of movement. In 1924, Chanel designed costumes for Ballets Russes’s production of Le Train Bleu, an avant-garde ballet featuring a cast in golf and tennis gear, as well as swimwear (Breward, 27).

While it may be a common interest nowadays, active lifestyle was part of the avant-garde echelon. It certainly inspired someone like Satie to pen Sports et divertissements. Completed in 1914, the composer’s twenty piano pieces were shelved for almost a decade due to World War I. When they were published together with Martin’s marvellous illustrations, they were largely ignored by critics and the general public but were revered by fellow musicians and connoisseurs (Davis, 432). Today, however, they are considered some of the composer’s best works. Satie scholar Alan M. Gillmor considered them “purest examples of the composer’s peculiar genius, revealing in abundance the endearing qualities that have become virtually synonymous with his name: wit, parody, irony, fantasy” (2). The publication was in many ways ahead of its time. Sports et divertissements pair fashion, visual art, language, and music before it was common to do so. The publication perfectly captures the decade of excess and optimism, and a time when sport was a stylish affair, perhaps more than any fashion publication possibly could have.

Works Cited

Breward, Christopher. “Pure Gesture: Reflections on the Histories of Sport and Fashion.” Fashion V Sport, edited by Ligaya Salazar. V&A Publishing. 2008. pp. 17-29.

Davis, Mary E. “Modernity à La Mode: Popular Culture and Avant-Gardism in Erik Satie’s Sports Et Divertissements.” Musical Quarterly, vol. 83, no. 3, 1999, pp. 430.

“Fashion: The Golf Clubs at “La Bouille” and “Saint Cloud” are Smart Places for Sports and for Sports Costume.” Vogue, vol. 58, no. 6, Sep 15, 1921, pp. 78, ProQuest,

Fitzgerald, F. S. The Great Gatsby. Scribner, 1953.

Gillmor, Alan M. “Musico-Poetic Form in Satie’s “Humoristic” Piano Suites (1913-14).”Canadian University Music Review, vol. 8, no. 8, 1987, pp. 1-44.

Pyper, Jaclyn. Style Sportive: Fashion, Sport and Modernity in France, 1923-1930, Apparence(s) [Online], 7 | 2017, Online since 01 June 2017, Connection on 19 March 2018. URL :

Satie, Erik. Sports et divertissement. Dessins de Ch. Martin. Gravés sur cuivres et rehaussés de pochoir par Jules Saudé. Paris: Publications Lucien Vogel, [1923]. Print. Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives. Rare Oversize M25 S27 S7 1923. ROM copy is numbered 159.

Sherman, Ketzia. Sports et divertissements: a unique resource for researchers in design history [Web log post]. 2017, January 27. Retrieved from

Veblen, Thorstein, 1857-1929. The Theory of the Leisure Class; an Economic Study of Institutions., United States, 1924.