Sunday, June 7, 2015

Book Review-- Two Vionnet books

Today I'll be reviewing two books about Madeline Vionnet and her designs.  I'm primarily writing from the perspective of someone who wants to use these books to produce wearable garments.  What I have to say mostly parallel's The Fashion Incubator's review, but I thought I might as well share my thoughts.

The first book is Madeline Vionnet, by Betty Kirke (as of the time of writing, ~$75-100 on Amazon). 
The second book is Vionnet, by some Japanese person/people/organization (as of the time of writing, ~$45-65 on Amazon).  It's in Japanese.
Both books contain patterns one can enlarge and print, with instructions, but the Japanese book is much more user-friendly, despite the language barrier.

The patterns in the Kirke book are printed in white on dark paper, and lack a scale bar.  Seriously.  This makes them extremely frustrating to enlarge.  How do I even know if all the pattern pieces for one pattern are even to scale?
The instructions are minimalist and difficult to interpret.
The book also includes photos of some of the dresses, but there is no consistent system of cross-referencing between the patterns and photos of the dresses they represent.  On the positive side, though, there is a discussion of Vionnet's life and design philosophy, and lots and lots of pictures.  The book is physically huge, so full-page photos are large and detailed.
The patterns in the Japanese pattern book are easy to enlarge and use.  They're printed in black on white on a 10 cm x 10 cm grid. 
The instructions are in Japanese, but come with detailed pictures, so they're much easier to interpret than the Kirke book.  Still, the instructions are not enough to fully explain the construction of the garments-- I don't know whether this was a real oversight or the fact that I can't read Japanese, but at least one set of pattern instructions omitted a necessary step.  You'll need to spend a lot of time analyzing the patterns to figure out the construction yourself.

Each pattern comes with a black-and-white photograph of the completed project.  Sometimes the photos are helpful, but sometimes they're too dark to see any detail, so I'd need to spend some time finding photos of the completed dress on the Internet.
The two books cover many of the same dresses, but there are a few that are only in one book or the other (I think).  My general impression is that the Kirke book has more patterns.

In conclusion, if you want to read a book about Vionnet with huge photos of fantastic dresses, get the Kirke book.  If you want to try your hand at reproducing these dresses, get the Japanese book.  If you want to try your hand at reproducing these dresses and you have a lot of money to burn, get both-- the instructions in the Kirke book can help fill in holes in the instructions in the Japanese book, but it's probably not worth the extra $100.

I should underscore the fact that reproducing Vionnet's dresses using these books is an exercise for people with advanced skills and great patience.  You have to figure out the construction largely by yourself; the pattern pieces look like nothing you've ever seen; the dresses are cut on the bias, which introduces a myriad of complications; the success of the garment depends heavily on fabric choice, and yet at least one of the books (I think) has no fabric recommendations; and there is no help on edge and seam finishes.  Neither book (I think) even tells you what the seam allowances should be.

Still, Vionnet's ideas on clothing design and construction are genius, unlike anything I've ever seen, and it's well worth getting your hands on at least one of the books just for the glimpse into her mind.

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