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Art Gowns: Mademoiselle Emily

By Resa McConaghy:

When I think of gowns and the art of glamour, the 1930’s bias-cut masterpieces of Madeleine Vionnet immediately spring to mind.

Like Chanel, Vionnet (1876–1975) eschewed the corset.

Inspired by the free-flowing body movements within the

simple shift dresses of Isadora Duncan and with deep

admiration for the liquidity of the raiment on Greek statues, Vionnet gave women more body comfort and freedom. She designed for many of the elite movie stars of the day,

including Marlene Deitrich, Katherine Hepburn,

Joan Crawford, and Greta Garbo.

Vionette loathed plagiarism and what we now call copyright infringement. Among other precautions, she photographed her creations from many angles and even had them signed and finger printed. She would doggedly pursue violators in courts of law and had the money to do so. It is in her honor that I do not directly include any photos of her work or personal images, but you can find some more information here and here.

I’d always wanted to drape a bias gown; however, that’s a lot

of expensive fabric! Art Gowns only uses leftovers, tossed asides, or recycled articles of interest. But one day I found a silvery-grey satin-like lining for $0.75 per yard at a liquidation sale, and I knew this was my time to create a masterpiece!

The fabric’s bias was draped on Judy and fell for about 10

days before it was cut and shaped. As you can see, it

contours elegantly to the body’s lines.

At the same sale, I found an 18-inch-wide border lace for

$0.50 per yard. I deconstructed the 18′′ lace with scissors, creating strips and decals 3/4′′ – 2′′ wide.

There’s plenty of bias in the coat’s skirt’s twirl, seen

right. I designed it for Elizabeth Gracen for

Highlander: the Raven. I had her normally black

Raven outfit redone in white for a scene pitting

immortal vs immortal, though she would not kill. I

saw Raven as an angel of sacrifice; it is because of

that she would win the day.

The joy of working on Raven was that the stories

were all over Earth’s times, places, and our

imagination. Although classically trained, I got to

stretch my abilities beyond my wildest dreams on this series.

My gift from Executive Producer Bill Panzer was the first released

edition (USA), of Madeliene Vionnet, by Betty Kirke. As I type, I have

the book beside me. It has brought me many hours, years of learning

and happiness.

I can’t help but wonder what Madeleine Vionnet would think about today’s “Fast Fashion.”

More on that later . . .


An established Costume Designer in film, television, & digital media, Resa McConaghy has worked on productions for Showtime, ABC, Disney, CBS, CBC, Hallmark, and more.

Her mission: to enable the articulation of character through wardrobe.

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