Madeleine Vionnet, the French designer called "an architect among dressmakers," invented the bias cut and drew inspiration from Greek statues for her famous pleating, closed her business in 1939. But like so many fashion houses laid fallow, Vionnet has been reborn.
The revival of the famous French haute couture brand happened at the hand of an unlikely suitor, Matteo Marzotto, the Italian textile and fashion magnate who worked for 15 years at Valentino. It wasn't the best timing to bring back Vionnet -- in the spring of 2009 -- just when news about the global recession was the most dire. But despite starting on shaky ground, and replacing the design team last month after just two years, Vionnet has done remarkably well translating the house tradition of draping, color and pleating to Hollywood.
Gwyneth Paltrow has worn the label, as has Zoe Saldana. But it is Madonna who has done the most for this new-old name, wearing it on the red carpet (above, at a premiere in Venice) and in her upcoming film "W.E.," about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. (Four original Vionnet gowns were remade for the film.)
Hollywood's affinity for Vionnet may be the reason Marzotto took 48 hours out of his busy schedule to visit Los Angeles, to co-host a cocktail party Wednesday night with Saks Fifth Avenue at Mr. Chow -- and no doubt to charm celebrity stylists who are ramping up to dress their clients for the upcoming awards show season.
Vionnet head designer Rodolfo Paglialunga left the label last month, and has been replaced by twin sister design duo Barbara and Lucia Croce. The new ladies did not make the trip to L.A. (Their first collection will debut for media in January.) But Marzotto talked them up anyway, saying he thought they were right for the job because "they have international experience with several big houses, and they are sensible about what the consumer is going to wear." ("They also dress really modern and chic themselves," he added.)
The next steps at Vionnet will be opening a boutique in Milan next month, and developing business in China. Marzotto would also like Vionnet to offer a wider range of product (i.e. not just gowns), and to carve out a niche in the handbag market.
At the party, the spring collection certainly showed range. There were blush nude pleated gowns with jeweled belts, and more modern looking dresses in punchy brights and multicolored prints. There was also some great looking Vionnet costume jewelry, including chunky cuffs. On the casual chic end of the spectrum, party guest Crystal Lourd wore a charcoal gray Vionnet sweater dress with asymmetrical draping down one side.
As optimistic as Wednesday night's Champagne-soaked affair was, Marzotto acknowledged there are still challenges ahead for the brand. "The very rich are always going to buy," he said. "We need the people coming in to buy one special thing as well."
-- Booth Moore
Top photo: Madonna at the "W.E." premiere at 68th Venice Film Festival. Vionnet gowns are featured in the film. Credit: Ian Gavan / Getty Images
Middle photo: Models wear looks from spring 2012 Vionnet collection at a party at Mr. Chow on Wednesday. Credit: John Shearer/Wireimage
Bottom photo: Crystal Lourd, left, in Vionnet, and Vogue contributing editor Lawren Howell. Credit: John Shearer/Wireimage