This irresistibly attractive group occupied the entire first bay and part of the second bay of the French section of the halls. A long series of windows followed one another until the luminous entrance to the Feather Community. Circular divans, placed in the centre of the groupings, offered themselves propitious to the long examination of some rich toilet or to rest. In front of all these marvels, indeed, in front of all these glittering embroidered fabrics, these shimmering silks, in front of the invisible weft of expensive lace, a weariness made one want to close one's eyes, as if in front of a shimmer that was too bright and too varied.
Always along these windows, it was an attentive stroll of women, keeping a religious silence in this temple built in their honour, where all their power was concentrated, the reason for their existence.
The exhibition of this group synthesized more completely, perhaps than any other, the French taste, a very complicated taste, having drawn from the centuries through which it has passed, from the one sumptuousness, from the other elegance, from the other again a deliciously libertine and pretty spirit.
It was suggestive to discover in the elements of current fashion, the manifestation of these various aspects of the French spirit. Through those delightful windows which were never better placed than here, where their clear colours and elegant lines harmonised with the luxurious toilettes contained in them, Group XIII invincibly drew the visitor into the setting of the most elegant society.
All the charm of the luxurious and idle life was revealed; this was indeed the domain of Woman, flower of luxury and refined masterpiece, giving to the tired thought the irresistible stimulus that a clear and fresh morning has on the soul still numbed by the sleep of the night torpor. Everything concurred in enhancing the native prestige of the Woman, her grace, her delicate and captivating preciousness, the beauty of her harmonic gestures, the bewitching radiance of her figure, accentuated by the cloudy envelopment of some garment, light as a feather, then tightening to coquettishly reveal the undulating and cuddly movements of her body.
Apart from the material and processes of fabric manufacture, bleaching, dyeing, printing, finishing, etc., special mention should be made of the classes of silk, lace, clothing accessories and, above all, feathers and Parisian tailoring.
Following the numerical order of the classes, with the exception of a slight reversal between classes 85 and 86, we will speak successively about the general accessories of clothing, the processes that accompany them and finally end up with this magnificent Collectivity of Parisian Couture which was like the final outcome and the apotheosis, and where the most brilliant creations of the great Parisian couturiers were displayed in a flood of light, which are contested by the elegant women of the whole world.
Classes 76, 77, 78 and 79 included the equipment and processes of spinning and cordage - the equipment and processes of fabric manufacture - the equipment and processes of bleaching, dyeing, printing and finishing of textile materials, the equipment and processes of sewing and tailoring.
Under these somewhat barbaric titles, one could find pots and boxes of fibre for combing machines, dyes and finishes on fabrics, linen, hemp, jute and ramie yarns, gathered in braids, in garlands, in heavy skeins, machines for lainering, for dyeing bobbins and cans, presses, spin-dryers, sewing machines, various publications relating to fashion, in a word, the primary processes of the great clothing industry. Given the importance of class 80 (cotton yarns and fabrics), the French participation seemed rather limited. White and printed fabrics, white and printed cotton handkerchiefs, various aprons, etc., were found there.
Class 81, which was more widely represented, had as its remit the grouping of linen, hemp, jute and asbestos yarns and fabrics, etc., and the products of the rope industry.
The arrangement in long draperies, or in cold white heaps, or in delicious chiffonis, of cream, white or dyed linen threads and fabrics, damask table linen, fine cloths, fancy handkerchiefs, embroidered blouses, jute cloths and bags, etc., made it worthwhile to examine them.
In the showcases reserved for this class, there were also fine specimens of asbestos yarns and fabrics, embossed, decorated, heat-enamelled cardboard, wood veneers for the navy, rope braids, heat insulation, and various rope products made of linen, hemp, cotton and jute, most of which were specially intended for maritime and river fishing.
The exhibition of class 82 (woollen yarns and fabrics) was particularly remarkable.
Combing, spinning and dyeing were displayed alongside the French fabrics, presented with a taste and research whose inspiration, no doubt, had been drawn from those displays of which the Paris department stores hold the secret. All the major wool handling centres, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Paris, Reims, Elbeuf, Sedan, Vienne, Castres, were in class 82, surrounded by a respectable number of isolated industrialists.
At the head of the list was Roubaix, which once again asserted its power, by the number of its exhibitors and the variety of its industries. Thanks to Roubaix, the French woollen industry put its combing mills, its worsted and carded wool mills, its dress and drapery weaving mills, and its dyeing plants on line.
The Exhibition of Tourcoing, the sister city, though less important, deserved the same praise, both for the diversity and importance of its industries and for the perfection of its products.
Paris was distinguished by its artistic fabrics inspired by the most refined taste, Elbeuf by its universally renowned sheets, Reims by its cashmeres and flannels.
With Vienne and Castres, which manufacture fabrics and sheets with a certain analogy, we entered the category of those cities where the manufacture of cloth, which is fairly recent, shows, thanks to sustained efforts, a marked progress.
Around these great centres, a pleiad of industrial spinners and weavers shone, who, although isolated in the localities where they established their industries, do not participate less in an active way in the increasing progress of the wool industry in France.
Among these, one could find certain special manufactures, such as those of fabrics imitating furs, blankets, etc.
So far the various fabrics and materials of the above classes seem rather grey in colour, almost inadequate to the impression of unprecedented luxury which we have said is given by the whole of group XIII.
This was certainly not the case with class 83, whose silks and silk fabrics were of a beauty further enhanced by the use of a delightful chiffonisation or harmonic opposition of hues.
A saloon contained two graceful showcases, well understood to showcase the types of silks on display and facing each other, one forming the Lyon exhibition, the other the Paris exhibition.
In the first, Lyon had assembled the opulent variety of its production and in the second, Paris, through the collective grouping of the Chambre syndicale des Soieries et des Rubans, had brought together the varied range of delicious fabrics in shimmering colours.
In the Lyon showcase, sumptuous fabrics, true works of art which have established the reputation of this city throughout the world, were side by side with new productions, imposed by fashion: vaporous muslins, dyed and printed scarves which women know how to use so gracefully, gracefully crumpled ribbons, etc. As for the Parisian showcase, it imposed admiration by a happy arrangement of the types of fabrics and thus showed the advantage that a refined taste can draw from even the simplest things.
The effect was delightful, the shades were so intimately combined that, while each retained its own character, each added to the brilliance of its neighbour.
There were warp-printed fabrics with unusual designs, brocades with golds of a delicious patina, antique moires, light printed muslins, soft to the eyes, soft velvets and graded velvets in harmoniously blended shades, all enhanced by large bows of ribbons in changing colours.
Class 84 included lace, embroidery and trimmings.
Nothing could be more beautiful than this class, each element of which was intimately related to one of the feminine graces. The gold and silver embroideries, though sumptuous and rich, shone with that delicacy which old golds of faded chasubles have; sometimes again, the embroidery was located in appliques of velvet, gauze, or drapery, on dresses whose long trains seemed to harvest a whole litter of spring flowers.
Beside them, light tulles on which fine pearls glittered, reminded one of those dew-weighed cobwebs shining on the hedges on May mornings.
The passementerie, gathered together, had formed an elegant showcase proving that passementerie can be worn on light fabrics.
A seduction emanated from the lace exhibition. An inner, yet sincere emotion hovered over them. One could not help but think of those little fairies, bent over, eyes downcast, in the light of the window, entangling the many spindles with their frail fingers and thus seeming to weave the candour of their hidden soul through the subtle weave of the lace.
The hand-made laces, the "Irlande", the "Alençon" and "Chantilly" stitches, as well as the machine-made laces from Calais, attested to the search for an original and beautiful design and to the care given to the smallest detail of execution.
They were heavy laces with large flowers, cloudy laces, as fine as a mist, intended either for clothing and thus giving the woman they clothed an air of candid and frail flower, or for furnishing, for curtains, blinds sifting the light of the day, as through the fine drawings that the frost deposits on the windows.
Class 85, labelled "Miscellaneous clothing industries", grouped all the fashion accessories that could not be classified in your previous classes. In terms of the number of exhibitors and the turnover it represented, it was the most important of group XIII.
According to the statistics of the Labour Office, the whole of these industries is not only considerable in terms of the impressive number of people to whom it provides wages (nearly one million) but also in terms of the no less eloquent total of its production (more than two billion).
Bringing together the most varied articles, this class had managed to group them together with the best taste.
It included respectively:
Women's and men's lingerie; women's and men's millinery; corsets; feathers; hosiery; shoes; gloves; buttons and buckles; hair and sequins; canes, umbrellas and parasols; wax busts; elastic fabrics.
Women's and men's lingerie occupied the centre of the class.
Once confined to the underwear speciality, it has seen its domain extended to the city toilet, thanks to the blouses and bodices that have become the indispensable complement to the suit, as they add to the precise and clean cut of the cloth garment, a little of the softness of lace, crepe and muslin, and add a note of bright colour to the whole of the dark toilet.
In men's lingerie, under the well-known names of La Belle Jardinière, Schwob, Quionvar and Donckele in particular, false collars and ties of exquisite taste were noted.
Men's hats had an important place in braided straws, so-called "Panama" hats, burp cloths, etc. Felt hats, woollen hats and caps, which are becoming increasingly important thanks to the automobile and all kinds of sports, were also on show.
But the charm of this participation lay above all in the ladies' hat industry, which brought together models of supreme elegance.
The corset industry also attracted attention.
Reforming the old cuts, inspired by the most recent works of the great hygienists, it tended to combine in its new conceptions the concern for the grace of the woman with that of her well-being and health.
Alongside corsets of all kinds, adorned with ribbons and trimmed with lace, were corset supplies.
Nearby, a Parisian firm had grouped together a set of remarkable mannequins whose elegant forms made it possible to silhouette men's and women's costumes in a perfect manner, and Mr. Imans, a wax sculptor-modeller, had sent, for one of the dioramas of the Plume, a small poultry keeper giving the illusion of life itself, and which constituted a remarkable specimen of his art.
The exhibitors of the sequin industry, which plays such an important part in women's grooming, had presented their products in an original and beautiful manner
Assembling by a prodigy of patience millions of sequins, amalgamating and marrying the shades with a sure and delicate taste, they had known how to give to their articles the aspect of a huge vase in which were fantastic fishes, of a very real brightness and beauty.
Hair and hairpieces, umbrellas, parasols and walking sticks, and elastic fabrics occupied adjoining windows. The good taste in the arrangement of the exhibits, the luxury of the latter (canes inlaid with gold and silver, parasols of delicate shades), forced the visitor's attention.
Very elegant showcases had also been formed by the exhibition of buttons and bouderie.
It was impossible to imagine a more perfect execution than the buttons for liveries, hunting and service badges. They seemed to be produced in single pieces, carved from the metal and decorated with the finest chiselling, whereas most of them were embossed and embossed buttons, but of such delicate and precise execution that one refused to believe in the mechanical production of such elaborate objects.
Trimmings and fancy buttons for ladies, and mother-of-pearl buttons completed the above-mentioned industry with the bouderie.
The embroidery industry presented its products in the allegorical form of the "Sower", sketched out with the help of attached and joined eyelets.
The glove industry, with its wide variety of skins and elegant cuts, and the shoe industry, where even the luxury element was concerned with more rational forms, occupied several showcases with equal interest.
By the diversity of their manufacture, the exhibitors of the hosiery gave a complete and documented outline of their manufacture.
Troyes was next to Santerre and the Somme region as well as to the Gard region; Paris, which synthesizes the whole of the manufacture in that it is the great centre of flow, had sent its most authorized representatives.
The finest and most elegant hosiery, that which is more particularly devoted to the manufacture of stockings, socks, pants and knitwear, was next to jersey and glove fabrics, hunting waistcoats and knitwear.
The Villeminot company, from Paris, acquired a great and legitimate success by operating, during the whole duration of the Exhibition, a circular loom making knitted fabric, which underwent the operation of scraping with thistles, as the production went on.
Finally came the feather industry, which had the good fortune to present, in a delightful form, a truly Parisian manufacture.
In a salon softly lit by electric lamps, was gathered all that the hands of the most expert Parisian workers can produce to add to feminine grace and beauty.
Boas, stoles, muffs, ostrich trimmings mixed with grebe, in white, black, and shades of monochrome, were real marvels; trimmings obtained with turkey and goose feathers gave the illusion of real fur, with the added softness and lightness that must be so pleasing to the graceful female necks.
Amazons of all beauty, in the most varied shades, fantasies for fashion whose elegance was equalled only by the harmony of the mixtures, birds of paradise which seemed to sum up in themselves all that nature has made most dazzling completed this admirable ensemble.
But what added to the beauty of this section of class 86 was the diorama of the feather industry.
In three exquisitely ingenious and tasteful settings, the work of the decorator Jambon, was shown everything that the winged glove provides for this industry.
The "French Farm" brought together all our farmyard animals in its inner courtyard, under the care of a small farm girl modelled by the sculptor Imans.
The immediate contact between the raw material in its original state and the manufactured product highlighted the value of the transformations carried out by the manufacturers in order to give, with the help of the unique use of goose and turkey feathers, the illusion of the most beautiful and caressing fur.
The central diorama represented a corner of the "virgin forest". An infinite variety of the rarest and most diverse birds, in the most brilliant colours, played and flew in the middle of a jumble of plants, entangled, assembled by capricious and embracing lianas.
Finally came a "corner of the Cape Colony", where the rational breeding of ostriches is almost exclusively centred, and which are threatened with extinction by incessant hunting. A pair of ostriches, surrounded by their ostriches, one of which had just come out of its shell, was placed in the middle of an African landscape. The warm colours of the light on the sand and on a backdrop gave the illusion of a hot, burning sun. They also highlighted the beauty of the two large specimens, the finest of the Cape species, and it was amusing to see the contrast between the haughty form of the male and female and the beauty of their feathers with the shapeless and unhappy appearance of the small ostriches covered with a rudimentary down.
Such was the truly luxurious and captivating aspect presented by the Feather community. It was upon the desire expressed by its president and first vice-president, Messrs. Emile Dehesdin and Georges Donckele, that the Class 86 Committee agreed to make the necessary sacrifices to allow this industry to be represented with dignity and to make this exhibition the main attraction of the class.
All the people of Liège who are aware of the happy contribution that France made to the success of their exhibition are especially grateful to this community and in particular to Mr. Mirtill Mayer and Mr. Georges Brossard, President of the Feather Dyers' Union, who brought together the elements necessary to bring it to a successful conclusion.
Now here is the class of couture that brought together all these elements, amalgamated them, and gave them life to adorn the body of this modern majesty: the Woman.
Parisian couture enjoys an incomparable prestige among all its colleagues, and the couturiers of the Rue de la Paix are known to the elegant women of all the countries of the world.
As with architecture, one could say that fashion is the spontaneous manifestation of a soil. Indeed, it is subordinated to the climates, to the general life of the city, to the tastes of its inhabitants.
This remark could not be more true than when applied to Parisian couture. All that a refined people can create of beauty with a subtle sense of half-tone, was to be found in this class. The charm of the toilet resided less in the beauty of the fabrics used than in an imperceptible crumpling, in harmonious lines, in all that in a word can clothe that body of the Parisienne whose types Cheret has shown us.
In the conception of the Parisian toilette, there is less craft than art, and in this respect it can be as significant for the psychologist as the works of the painter, the statuary, the architect.
To dwell on this subject would be to risk repeating what we wrote at the beginning of this chapter; moreover, there is too much poverty in the category of words available to us to express our thoughts for the same adjectives not to come back to us. We are therefore obliged to say that this "admirable" with which we qualify the Parisian toilet has its greatest significance here, as it will also have when we apply it to the Belgian Decorative Arts Exhibition.
The greatest names of Paris were to be found in this succession of prestigious shop windows; first of all, there were the department stores: the Bon Marché, the Louvre, the Samaritaine, the Galeries Lafayette, the Belle Jardinière and those universally known kings of fashion: Paquin, Redfern, Perdoux, Raudnitz, Laferrière, Dœuillet and others.
Alongside the women's wear, there were military uniforms, academics' uniforms, bishops' uniforms, servants' liveries, evening wear, etc. On one side of the bay was a salon where the Parisian Couture Association had placed its most beautiful and artistic models, presenting them in a setting that gave the illusion of the circumstances for which they had been designed.
A series of showcases clustered in a dazzling semi-circle. Thousands of concealed electric lamps streamed light on the sequins of a dress, gave an invaluable velvetiness to a long train of a court coat, accentuated the lightness of a garment, all in vaporous lace, put subtle blue lights in ermine collars, giving them the appearance of a light thing ready to fly away at the slightest breath.
And, beyond, the mirrors, forming the backdrop of the windows, extended this profusion of marvels to infinity and gave the illusion of a great social evening or some court ball.
One felt that one had just penetrated into an almost unsuspected world, in the midst of a luxurious décor which was like a fairy tale and gave one the regrets which seize the sleeper who suddenly awakens from a beautiful dream.
Such was the impression left by the visit to the Parisian Couture Salon, with a feeling of enveloping warmth, with a powerful charm in the midst of which one would have allowed oneself to live, as a carefree enjoyment of tomorrow, and which synthesised that group XIII in which France was the most itself, with the most unquestionable and undisputed scope and superiority.
©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle de Liège 1905