Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism / Edition 1

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Music and fashion: the deep connection between these two expressive worlds is firmly entrenched. Yet little attention has been paid to the association of sound and style in the early twentieth century—a period of remarkable and often parallel developments in both high fashion and the arts, including music. This beautifully written book, lavishly illustrated with fashion plates and photographs, explores the relationship between music and fashion, elegantly charting the importance of these arts to the rise of transatlantic modernism. Focusing on the emergence of the movement known as Neoclassicism, Mary E. Davis demonstrates that new aesthetic approaches were related to fashion in a manner that was perfectly attuned to the tastes of jazz-age sophisticates. Looking in particular at three couturiers—Paul Poiret, Germaine Bongard, and Coco Chanel—and three breakthrough fashion magazines—La Gazette du Bon Ton, Vanity Fair, and Vogue—Davis illuminates for the first time the ways in which fashion's imperatives of originality and constant change influenced composers such as Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky, and Les Six. She also considers the role played by the Ballets Russes, and explores the contributions of artists including costume and set designer Léon Bakst, writer and director Jean Cocteau, Amédée Ozenfant, and Pablo Picasso. The first study to situate music in this rich context, Classic Chic demonstrates the profound importance of the linked endeavors of composition and couture to modernist thought.
In addition to its innovative approach to this important moment in history, Davis's focus on the social aspects of the story makes the book a tremendously engaging read.

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Editorial Reviews

“Engaging . . . . A good book, one certainly worth reading for the wealth of information it contains.”
Musical Times
“A fascinating study of what turns out to be a most intriguing subject.”
“An important and ambitious in-depth study and no one will come away from reading it without a greater understanding of a fascinating period in the history of modernism and fashion.”
Music Research Forum - Carissa M. Pitkin
“A refreshing look at Parisian culture at the turn of the century. . . . A fine addition to the interdisciplinary realm.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520245426
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 11/28/2006
  • Series: California Studies in 20th-Century Music Series
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 361
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary E. Davis is Associate Professor in the Department of Music at Case Western Reserve University.

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Read an Excerpt

Classic Chic

Music, Fashion, and Modernism
By Mary E. Davis

University of California Press

Copyright © 2006 The Regents of the University of California
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-520-24542-6

Chapter One


Every revolution begins with a change of clothes. RENÉ BIZET

In the June 1923 issue of French Vogue, an unusual portrait of an unlikely subject appears amid the fashion plates. Accompanying a story about the adventures of a fictional Parisian named Palmyre, the drawing is fashion illustrator Eduardo Benito's sketch of the "good musician" Erik Satie, "bearded and laughing like a faun." The composer is just one of the characters in the larger tale of Palmyre's "escapades in the world of artists," which is part of the magazine's feature series tracing the lives of six stylish young women in the French capital. Palmyre, in this installment, dines with Raymond Radiguet, the "author of stunning novels," then accompanies him to the fashionable club Le Boeuf Sur le toit, "where the jazz band is all the rage." She rubs shoulders with the Boeuf's habitués, including Jean Cocteau, Francis Poulenc, Georges Auric, and Darius Milhaud, but the high point of the adventure is an encounter with Satie, "simple and good like a child." These outings, "the dearest to Palmyre's heart," allow her to "partake in the current taste of elegant Parisians for nightclubs."

Vogue's spotlight on Satie and his club-hoppingfriends not only provides surprising evidence of the group's celebrity status in the 1920s, but also suggests that the upscale fashion press played a more significant role in defining and advocating musical modernism than has been recognized. In articles, fiction, and illustrations, a range of publications directed at a largely female readership promoted a bold ideal of good taste premised on the convergence of fashion and art, and led the way to a rejuvenating makeover of cultural life. The glossy pages of these journals offered the 1 fashionable Parisienne a guide to music in the French capital, and more importantly created momentum for the spread of a cosmopolitan musical style that was remote from the hermetic and abstract high modernism championed by contemporary music critics. In the guise of reporting on good taste, the fashion magazine in essence proposed an alternative strand of French musical modernism that found its raison d'être and its largest base of support in the feminine sphere.


Although it has gone unremarked, the alliance of music and fashion is one of the oldest conventions of the periodical press, dating almost to its inception in ancien régime France. The Mercure Galant, one of the first French periodicals, made the connection as early as 1672, covering both topics on its pages and introducing the notion that they were essential components of an elegant lifestyle. With a title that evoked the mythological messenger of the gods, as well as the sensibility of pleasure and amusement that characterized the court of Louis XIV, the magazine provocatively promised in its inaugural editorial to report on a mélange of "all the things that other magazines won't cover." It held to its word: while it followed the Gazette de France by printing political news, and imitated the Journal des Savants by publishing erudite literature, the Mercure Galant went beyond the scope of either of these publications by also offering a mix of society gossip, news of marriages and deaths, notices of curiosities (Siamese twins, bearded ladies, and the like), and reviews of plays, operas, and new books. Published weekly and supplemented by a more elaborate numéro extraordinaire each quarter, the magazine was designed to appeal to Parisians and provincials of both sexes, and like many contemporary publications it adopted the device of the letter as its mode of communication, taking a tone that suggested good breeding and intimate snobbishness. In short, the Mercure Galant was dedicated to providing the tools necessary for a lifestyle of elegance and panache, and it established the centrality of both music and fashion to the enterprise of living well.

Creating a model that remained standard in the style press for centuries, the Mercure Galant introduced a two-part formula for the treatment of music, promoting musical connoisseurship by printing criticism and feature articles, and accommodating the vogue for amateur music making by publishing scores. In its reviews, the magazine reported on performances at court and private aristocratic fêtes as well as entertainments at public venues, such as the annual celebration of carnival and the regular outdoor fairs held on the outskirts of Paris. Occasional discussions about musical instruments and techniques also appeared on its pages, including an article complete with graphic instructions addressing the complex matter of theorbo tablature. In addition, the magazine printed scores for at least two musical works in the "Amusements" section of each issue, a practice that intensified after 1710, when Charles Dufresny, a great-grandson of Henri IV and a respected composer himself, assumed editorial control of the journal. The published repertoire, limited to pieces simple enough to be performed by most musically literate readers, included everything from popular chansons and bawdy drinking songs to airs from the latest operas, and while a number of these scores appeared in earlier collections issued by the music publisher Ballard, most came into print for the first time on the magazine's pages.

The coverage of music and fashion in the Mercure Galant fit perfectly with the magazine's view of itself as a tastemaking journal. By publishing both music criticism and scores, the magazine allowed readers to participate in varying levels of contemporary musical life, encouraging a sophisticated familiarity with professional performances while providing the tools for the pleasurable pursuit of amateur music making. By mingling reviews of music associated with high culture-exemplified by Lully's operas and other court genres-with the publication of airs à boire and vaudevilles drawn from the culture of the public sphere, the magazine conveyed the ideal of a broad appreciation of music, and defined this as encompassing lowbrow fare as well as music considered to be serious and sophisticated. Finally, by printing a steady stream of new musical works, the Mercure Galant participated in the nascent music publishing business, engaging readers with a constantly changing repertoire. Projecting music's qualities of diversity and ephemerality, the Mercure Galant thus presented this art as one of the pleasant amusements of everyday life.

Much as it introduced music criticism and score publication in the regular periodical press, the Mercure Galant broke new ground by reporting on fashion. Not the first journal to cover matters of dress-the daily paper Le Courrier Français (established 1649) and the society paper La Muse Historique (established 1652) had each devoted a few random pages to the topic-the Mercure Galant was the first to afford it a place of importance, and more importantly introduced a new tool for the task: namely, the fashion plate. Borrowing the idea for visual representations of fashions from the costume books and almanacs that flourished from the fifteenth century onward, the Mercure's editor and publisher Jean Donneau de Visé began to use illustrations captioned with descriptive texts to convey the latest looks in his journal in 1678, after he was granted a royal privilege allowing him to include engraved plates in the publication. The Mercure Galant's first fashion spread, published in a special issue that January, included six such engravings: two representing men's clothing, three depicting women's ensembles, and one showing a man and a woman together in front of a Parisian boutique. Finely wrought, these plates were commissioned from two of the most prominent artists affiliated with the court at Versailles-Jean Bérain and Jean Le Pautre-and they reflected the styles and tone set by Louis XIV and his aristocratic followers. The captions that ran under each image identified the clothes generically as "winter dress" or "spring dress," but an accompanying text explained in some detail the various elements of the luxurious costumes, from the "silk ecru bonnet" in one outfit to the "brocaded hem banded in ermine" of the next. The plates also included the names and addresses of the various purveyors of the ensemble, thus implicating advertising in fashion reportage. This mix of image, text, and advertising quickly gained widespread acceptance, and has remained the standard format for fashion layouts for more than three centuries.

Right up through the Revolution, the Mercure Galant's many innovations served a central goal, establishing the concept that a magazine could be a comprehensive resource and guidebook for elegant living. Stylish in its own right, it mixed multiple modes of text, including illustrations and musical scores, with articles on a range of topics across disciplines, creating a lively format for reports on the latest trends. Continually renewing the present and largely indifferent to the past, it forged a link between the elements of daily life and the construction of an idealized lifestyle. Perhaps most importantly, in its content, design, philosophy, and strategy, the Mercure Galant inaugurated the association of periodical publication with modernity, thus laying the groundwork for the development of the fashion magazine.


As fashion ceased to be the prerogative of rank or birth in the early eighteenth century, it became the subject of ever increasing coverage in the French periodical press. A range of new magazines targeted to female readers situated dress in its contexts, reporting on styles and tastes in popular salons and public venues. More than simple fashion books, these journals printed literary criticism and moral debates, as well as etiquette tips, recipes, medical cures, advertisements, and advice columns; among the most erudite was the monthly Journal des Dames, founded in 1759, which focused on politics and literature, publishing the works of Voltaire and other philosophes. This sector of the press grew rapidly: between 1710 and 1785, twenty such women's journals were launched, at the rate of one every four or five years, and with the appearance of the Cabinet des Modes in 1785, France had its first self-professed fashion magazine. This fortnightly journal, which promised news of the latest styles in dress, home decoration, and jewelry, all "described in a clear and precise manner and represented by engraved colored plates," was affordable, beautifully presented, and teeming with illustrations. Wildly successful, it inspired a wealth of new publications, and the fashion press as we know it today was born.

Following the model established by the Mercure Galant, the Cabinet des Modes and other new fashion magazines outlined a set of standards for elegant living in which the appreciation of music, along with literature and the fine arts, figured prominently; as the Journal des Dames declared in 1761, "We will not be afraid to associate the arts with the most frivolous of fashions, since one ought to find Montesquieu and Racine alongside pompoms and ribbons on a well-equipped toilet table." These publications also followed the Mercure Galant by encouraging women to cultivate dual modes of musical existence, privately dispensing pleasure as performers while publicly displaying expertise as consumers of musical culture, and they provided tools for both pursuits. For the domestic sphere, where women were expected to exhibit competency and connoisseurship, magazines encouraged self-instruction and private music making; the Journal des Dames, for example, printed articles on composers and their works, and included decorative foldout music scores, choreographed contradances, and even a magnificent illustration of Benjamin Franklin's glass harmonica for the delectation of its readers. For the public sphere, where women were expected to be arbiters of musical taste and authorities on the city's fashionable cultural events, magazines selectively chronicled the available offerings and singled out certain venues as stylish and desirable. More often than not, discussions of public performances did not take shape as reviews, but focused instead on the spectacle at hand-especially the clothing, jewelry, and hairstyles of the society women in the audiences-rather than on the music, which often went completely unmentioned.

The central preoccupation of these journals, after all, was fashion, and to this end they adopted and developed the fashion plate as a primary means of communication. Through much of the eighteenth century, these illustrations, like the plates in the Mercure Galant, were straightforward, typically featuring a formally posed mannequin standing against a minimal background in a manner intended to show the clothing to best advantage. With the introduction of the Journal des Dames et des Modes in 1797, however, the fashion plate became a more creative artwork. The weekly magazine, which was directed by the artist Pierre de La Mésangère, included in each of its issues eight pages of text devoted to fashion, along with one or two fashion illustrations, which were engraved and hand-colored by some of the finest artists of the day. Featuring more relaxed mannequins in enhanced settings, it presented images that laid the foundation for an iconography of the fashion plate in which women were portrayed in the context of modern Parisian life. By the end of the century, the fashion plate had developed into a tableau vivant of upscale urban life, in which stylish clothing was firmly associated with women's activities and environments.

As the fashion plate became commonplace in the press, conventions took hold: foreign, historical, and religious settings became typical; formal poses and passive facial expressions became the norm; and certain feminine activities were depicted repeatedly. Among the most popular of these was the image of a woman (or women) making music, most often playing the harp or singing. The illustration of these musical pursuits served multiple purposes, allowing the clothing designs to be shown to good advantage, highlighting the contemporary vogue for feminine musical accomplishment, and implicating musicality as an integral part of both domestic life and high style. Reinforcing the connections between music, fashion, and femininity, the musical fashion plate reflected social and cultural issues as well as trends in dress.


Like the press in general, the fashion press expanded and diversified at an astonishing rate throughout the nineteenth century, stimulated in part by the heightened demand for periodicals that developed as bourgeois French-women became an increasingly vital force in society. As demand rose costs also fell, due primarily to technological improvements, especially in the manufacture of paper. The industrialization of printing and the upgrading of postal service had an impact, as did the introduction and rapid spread of lithography in France, which facilitated the mass production of fashion plates beginning in 1816. The expansion of advertising as a revenue source also lowered the prices of fashion periodicals, and the century saw numerous relaxations of French censorship rules, culminating in the elimination of censorship in 1881. In total, these developments led to both a wider range of journals and a broader consumer base.

In the wake of these changes, a dizzying array of fashion magazines appeared (and disappeared), each claiming a distinguishing niche: L'Observateur de la Mode (established 1818), for example, aimed to judge fashion "as philosophy and history," and Le Petit Courrier des Dames (established 1822) billed itself as the "new journal of fashion, theater, literature, and art." The mid-century saw the introduction of increasingly specialized journals, focused on everything from the mechanics of sewing to the glamour of Parisian society. Magazines such as Le Musée des Modes: Journal des Tailleurs catered to professionals in the fashion industry, while publications devoted to domestic and family life flourished; magazines implicating serious literature in their mix of fashion reportage, household advice, and etiquette tips likewise gained a stronghold among readers. From simple and didactic to luxurious and escapist, nineteenth-century fashion magazines addressed the gamut of women's concerns and kept pace with the changes that affected their lives.


Excerpted from Classic Chic by Mary E. Davis Copyright © 2006 by The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

1. Magazines, Music, and Modernism
2. Paul Poiret
3. La Gazette du Bon Ton
4. Germaine Bongard
5. Vanity Fair
6. Coco Chanel
7. Vogue

Works Cited
Illustration Credits


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