Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about springtime that always puts me into an Art Nouveau-phase. Sort of like a Nouveau perennial plant. Each spring, I start dreaming about all things green and gold and swirly. Maybe it’s the springtime-green connection? In any case, the way Art Nouveau influenced fashion and art is inspiring at any time of year.
Back in December, we shared a post about Aesthetic Dress and Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Aesthetic dress actually helped to inspire Art Nouveau, alongside the adjacent Arts and Crafts movement, and German Gesamtkunstwerk. Art Nouveau is an artistic style that developed in reaction to historicism and academic art. Like Aesthetic Dress and Arts and Crafts, it took inspiration from nature and natural forms, asymmetry, whiplash lines, dynamism and movement. Particularly popular during the Belle Époque era, Art Nouveau proponents sought to break down the divide between fine arts (think paintings) and applied art (furniture, textiles, architecture, etc.).
For about twenty years or so, Art Nouveau spread across Europe, resulting in several very distinctive buildings and public places. You have probably seen pictures of some famous Art Nouveau metro stations or hotel lobbies, and if you live in western Europe, you have likely seen Art Nouveau buildings or places out in public! By the 1920s, Art Nouveau was largely replaced with Art Deco, and then with Modernism. During its moment in the sun, though, Art Nouveau resulted in some seriously amazing fashion pieces.
Famous couturiers like Poiret, Worth, Paquin, and Doucet incorporated Art Nouveau into their designs. Costumers will probably recognize the above iconic House of Worth gown, from the collection at the Met Museum.
Now this is a super interesting garment. This British tea gown is from 1898-1901; remember how we discussed tea gowns back in our Aesthetic dress post? These casual and less-structured garments were worn to receive guests at home during the late-19th and early-20th centuries. This tea gown is distinctly Art Nouveau, with its asymmetric embroidery. However, you can also tell that it took inspiration from motifs used in Japanese Kimono, and from 18th century robe á la française (see the little watteau?). Take a look inside the sleeve cuff- the lining is vividly bright magenta! This highlights the purple tones used in the lilies. The smocking around the neck is evocative of Liberty & Co. tea gowns, which were in vogue during this time. Unfortunately, the maker of this tea gown has been lost to history. It is truly a stunning example of craftsmanship! This beauty also lives in the collection at the Met Museum.
There are so many gorgeous Art Nouveau inspired clothing pieces! Maybe we will do another blog post on dresses and clothes in the future. For this one, we’re going to focus on shoes and accessories.
This Marcus &. Co. sweet pea brooch from the collection at the Met Museum is a stunning example of plique-à-jour enameling, where the cells of color are left backless, which lets light shine through the colored enamel. This gives the effect of stained glass- like a Tiffany lamp! If you like learning about Art Nouveau jewelry- or actually, any sort of antique jewelry- you should follow our friends over at Lang Antiques in San Francisco. Aside from their famous jewelry store, they have a huge wealth of online information about antique jewelry in the form of Antique Jewelry University! Here is a splendid page all about Art Nouveau jewelry.
Some more lovely Art Nouveau pendants and brooches. Glass, opal, moonstone, horn, bone, gold and silver were all recurring materials in Art Nouveau jewelry, alongside enamel.
Look at these beautiful butterfly shoes! These are from Bally, a Swiss designer. These are quintessentially Art Nouveau with their nature-inspired motif and little cutouts.
This gorgeous Scottish green enamel and pearl tiara was made by A and J Smith of Aberdeen, Scotland. What’s interesting about this tiara is that it kind of bridges the gap between the Edwardian era and modernism- it was made to be worn during a formal evening event, but the design is more simplistic and delicate than traditional Edwardian jewelry, and it uses pearls and enamel rather than precious stones. That comb piece is actually hinged, which allows the tiara to sit almost upright on the wearer’s head. This tiara now lives at the Aberdeen Art Gallery.
This pair of gold lamé shoes with leather applique dates to about 1900-1910. They now live in the Shoe Icons collection. Ooh, swirly.
Behold- Art Nouveau boots, for kids! These unusually fancy childrens’ boots feature fabric insertions under a serpentine leather cutout. Cutouts were very distinctive for Art Nouveau styles. The patterned fabric is also an indication that these were made while Art Nouveau was popular.
These children’s boots also feature patterned fabric and an intricate leather cutout.
Here are a couple of very pretty hair combs that I would like delivered to me ASAP, please.
These 1914 wedding shoes are intriguing. They are simultaneously evocative of Art Nouveau and also…the 1960s? In any case, they’re splendid! These were made by Peter Robinson Ltd. and live at the V&A Museum.
These British brocade shoes from 1900-1910 have a similar vibe!
Just some American Duchess shoes that I think would go splendidly with an Art Nouveau costume (in my humble opinion). These Lucilles, Endoras, Colettes and Camilles can all be found in our Edwardian section, of course!
This aesthetic is truly enchanting. Are you an Art Nouveau enthusiast?