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Gallery of the Toilet - Expo Ghent 1913

Gallery of the Toilet at the Exhibition Expo Ghent 1913

And finally, the highlight of the Palace of Luxury Industries; the group of yarns and fabrics and garments which, with its marvellous windows, its artistic dioramas, its dazzling and clear lighting, transported the visitor into an artificial world of supreme elegance, into that world where the electric bulb is the sun, for whom flowers grow only in expensive vases, where women are luxury objects who leave the mobile window of the car only for the warm and luminous salon where one gossips.

Let us consider, however, the severe side of these industries; it is not the least interesting. The textile industry, says an excellent notice, which, in the French catalogue, was the preface to the yarns and fabrics, holds a preponderant place in France by the number of workers and employees that it occupies and by the sum of the wages distributed.

The cotton, linen, jute, wool and silk industries are located in the north, in Lille, Roubaix, Tourcoing, Amiens, Reims, in the Vosges, in Normandy, in the region of Lyon and Saint-Etienne. Nothing can give a more accurate idea of the importance of an industry than its ability to export its products abroad; and in this respect, the textile industry comes first.

The spinning and weaving of flax and hemp also play an important role in France and contribute to a large extent to the prosperity of the industrial region of the North.

The wool industry dates back to the early centuries and has always followed an upward trend, despite some periods of crisis caused by the demands of fashion.

The silk industry first appeared in France under Louis XI, towards the end of the 15th century, in the vicinity of Tours; but in the 16th century, this industry was born and developed rapidly in the Lyon region, where it acquired a worldwide reputation.

With Saint-Etienne for the manufacture of ribbons, with the Paris market, with Lyon for its fabrics so rich in designs and colours, France remains unquestionably at the forefront of silk producing countries.

Alongside the yarn and fabric group, which was represented by the most well-known manufacturers from the regions we have just mentioned, was the clothing group, which was certainly at the forefront of the French Section's groups.

It occupied an area of more than 4,000 square metres and included sewing, the clothing industry, lace, embroidery and trimmings, furs and accessories for the toilet and clothing.

But here, in the opening of the velvet doors, is a luminous and magical vision. In the centre, as if isolated in the middle of a temple, the Parisian couture community, in four scenes of supreme elegance, presented a shimmering ensemble of marvellous dresses, an ensemble that once again affirmed the universal reputation of elegance, of "chic", which is the prerogative of Paris.

And what art of staging, what concern for harmony of tones, of decorations, had presided over the display of these toilettes. On wax mannequins of ideal proportions, with pink flesh, smiling lips, shaded eyes and long eyelashes, they draped themselves ideally, while real carpets, stylish furniture and expensive statues made up the luxurious and rich salon where they could best show off the splendour of their tones, the velvetiness and brilliance of their appearance.

All the industries connected with the accessories of men's, women's and children's clothing were represented in the class of the various clothing industries, from the hat form to the elegant shoe, from the classic shirt to the finest lingerie.

The lightest undergarments, the most refined trousseaux, the flower that must be touched to be believed artificial, the latest corset, the artistic fan, the light umbrella, the light feather, the luxurious stockings, the shimmering cravat, the soft fabrics and sports knitwear, the gloves and suspenders, everything that serves and pleases in the toilet, were represented in this class. Every kind of industry had grouped its showcases, the high luxury industries as well as those of large production.

The department stores had made an exceptionally imposing display, and apart from their individual windows, had each arranged a diorama reproducing a scene from the eighteenth century, that gallant, light, seductive, frivolous and precious century which, better than any other, could give the industry of these pretty feminine "things" a marvellously adequate atmosphere.

Eleven dioramas followed one another in this way, like a series of paintings presented in appropriate frames and bathed in a soft light, emanating from an invisible source, which gave them the relief of life.

Not a single visitor did not linger in front of them for a long time and remain astonished by the art of these waxes.

These dioramas were :
A workshop of feather-panachiers in the 18th century, executed by the Chambre syndicale des négociants en plumes brutes.

"I accept the happy omen," a painting by Moreau le jeune, reproduced by the Lafayette galleries;
"L'espièglerie gourmandée", in the 18th century, reproduced by the Grands magasins du Bon Marché;
"La Camargo" by Lancret, a reproduction in which the talent of Mr. A. Violet de Paris has been demonstrated;
"La toilette," a diorama after Baudouin, by the corset industries;
"Confidences," after Etcheverry, by the Collectivité des fabricants de paillettes;
"L'essai des pantoufles," after Mallet, a diorama by the Shoe Group;
"Le choix du trousseau," by the Couvre department stores;
"Masked party in Venice" in the 18th century, featuring the art of M. Imans de Paris;
"Madame Mole Raymond", a diorama reproducing with astonishing fidelity the famous painting by Madame Vigée-Lebrun, and which did honour to the Collectivité des fabricants de chapeaux pour dames, which had executed it;
Finally, a "Magasin de Fleurs et Plumes pour modes à Paris", by the flower and feather industries.

Mr. Maurice Leloir, the kind and distinguished collector, had kindly agreed to complete this prestigious ensemble by lending his collection of antique corsets displayed in a showcase.
showcase. It was the history of the corset, especially in the 17th and 18th centuries. There were huge and tiny ones, some made for the stiff majesty of powdered marquises, others for the freedom of the fashions of the Revolution, having no other mission than to be a light, delicate, barely perceptible support.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition Universelle & Internationale de Gand 1913