Whilst on a surprise trip to Dublin earlier this month I stumbled across a temporary costume exhibition at the Chester Beatty Library. This exhibit celebrates the 100th year anniversary of the Journal des et Dames des Modes and features a collection of original fashion plates from the magazine, portraying the Parisian fashions during the pre World War One period. These plates are thought to have been from Edith Dunn's own collection as she was a great follower of fashion and an avid collector like her husband, who gave the library its name.
These fashion plates are simply presented in frames on the walls and are grouped together by illustrator or designer. This is a highly effective presentation as the groupings help to highlight the unique styles of each illustrator or designer; such as Bernard Boutet de Monvel's roman and Greek classicism inspired prints, and Paul Poiret's and George Barbier's depictions of Orientalism. These displays surround a collection of four original costumes from the period, each one showing a different style as illustrated in the fashion plates. i feel that the inclusion of these garments allows the viewer to better understand and appreciate the luxury and extravagance of this period.
As well as displaying finished plates and costumes, the process of creating these plates is explained using step-by-step prints. I was amazed by the amount of time and skill that was put into creating each individual plate. The original sketches are transferred onto a copper plate to produce a line print, individual paper stencils are then used for each colour which is painstakingly hand painted. Some of the individual plates could use up to 100 paper stencils! The subscribers to these journals were collecting works of art as much as keeping up-to-date with fashionable Paris. This explanation of the creation process seems to be a highly important feature at the Library. Many of the library's permanent exhibitions focus just as much on how the artefact was produced, as displaying the final piece. Could this be as a result of Charles Beatty's inquisitive engineer's mind combined with his love of collecting beautiful things?
Overall I feel this is a worthwhile visit, especially for fans of fashion illustration and early twentieth century dress. This exhibition may also act as a convenient stepping stone towards the many costume exhibitions and events due to commemorate the anniversary of the First World War that are opening this year. If you are unable to visit in person, the library has set up an excellent online gallery with a selection of the prints and information found in the main exhibition. This can be found here:
Chester Beatty Library, Dublin
Running until March 30th 2014