Photographer George Hoyningen-Heune immortalizes the artistry of master haute couturier Madeleine Vionnet’s designs in this stunning photo article “Bas Relief by Vionnet” for Vogue‘s November 15th, 1931 issue, while the accompanying text seeks to put that artistry into words”
“Beauty, although scarce, seems to be one with matter and energy. The supply of it on earth never entirely runs out. It keeps cropping up, and what’s more, it keeps cropping up in its, most classical manifestations. It lacks novelty, defies imitation, and excites the wonder of the crowd in much the same way as the ageless moon does these things.
And so when in the year 1931, a designer named Vionnet makes a garment called a pajama, and a woman with a long, graceful, leggy figure puts it on, we look at those classic lines, that eternal grace, and get the very self-same thrill that the Athenian populace must have had when they went to look at Citizen Phidias’s new achievement, the Parthenon.
They must have wondered how in the world the sculptor chap put that wonderful flowing quality into his stone drapery, his carved limbs; now, we wonder how on earth Vionnet cut these pajamas to such perfect proportions, how a twentieth-century young woman can have so much of the glory that was Grecian, and most of all how the photographer posed the whole business so as to give us once again in a new medium the symmetry, the balance, the look of restrained flight, and the same magnificent massing of drapery that has had the world in ecstasies since that ancient day when the Parthenon went up.
Photography is the newest of artistic mediums; pajamas are the newest of sheaths for the female form; and yet the one has taken a picture of the other, and the combination gives us a result that is not new or old, not modern or classic, but ageless like Botticelli’s “Spring,” a “Ninth Symphony,” a Sphinx, or a sunset. But even this result does not approach in antiquity our reaction to it. Long before we gasped at sky-scrapers, centuries before the Greeks stared upwards at their friezes, man felt this curious catch within, this purely primitive, almost unbearable, yet wholly admirable reaction to beauty.”
**Hoyningen-Heune captures the undulating folds of Vionnet’s silk pajamas as if in motion but in reality this image is entirely staged. The model posed on a slanted board covered in black fabric, the folds in the gown were painstakingly pinned in place.