Universal and International Exhibition of Paris 1900

The balance sheet of a century

April 15, 1900-November 12, 1900


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Palace of Threads, Fabrics and Clothing

Palace of Threads, Fabrics and Clothing at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1900

This palace is magnificent. A central dome whose vault is decorated with charmingly painted glass windows, a large portico 27 metres wide, and, on the right and left, a colonnade of the most ravishing effect. Inside, there are three longitudinal naves and secondary galleries, on the first floor other galleries, and upstairs and downstairs luxurious showcases.

In this palace, this hall, these showcases, the whole history of yarn, hemp, linen, cotton, wool, silk yarn, and everyone knows that this history is marvellous.

How much work, how many different operations to make from cotton these fabrics that we call calico, cotonnade, jaconas, muslin, tulle; from this hemp or linen thread the rope, the canvas, the batiste, the lace; from this woolen thread our clothes and our hangings, from this silk thread such rich fabrics!

French and foreign showcases contain the raw materials, sent perhaps from all parts of the world, to be used in our factories in Europe and France.

Here is cotton as it is harvested, and then as it is made in raw preparations; there is linen and hemp, unworked, worked; and this exhibition is adorned with flowers of hemp, linen and cotton, painted garlands that run along the wall, framing the names of the manufacturers.

Here are the silk cocoons, varying in shade and size according to the species of the insect and the country of origin; here is even the precious caterpillar, already languishing, which drags itself along the leaves of the mulberry tree.

Here is the wool in its raw state, then sorted, dried, washed, greased, carded, spun, woven into a fabric that other operations degrease, pinch, crush, shear, press and finally make it suitable for our clothing or furnishings.

If we want to learn, we will find within a stone's throw this ingenious equipment, these powerful machines which help in the preparation and manufacture of our fabrics.

The cotton industry occupies more than 500,000 workers in France; Rouen, Lille, Roubaix, Amiens, Saint-Quentin, Tarare, etc., etc., which work the colony, have sent us their most beautiful products. The muslins of Tarare, while keeping their own style, compete with the most beautiful foreign products. Our cotton fabrics are in the place of honour, which does not prevent us from admiring the English and American productions, from bowing with respect before the windows of Piedmont and Lombardy, before Russia for its so charming Indian fabrics. These beautiful red Indians from Vladimir and Moscow look like silk.

Woolen fabrics, which include short fabrics, merino, poplin, serge, damask, tartan, Utrecht velvet, and felted fabrics, drap, Casimir, woollen satin, come to us mainly from the provinces where the sheep breed prospers. Roubaix and Tourcoing thus exhibit woolen fabrics of all kinds; Saint-Quentin and Reims light fabrics; Amiens its Utrecht velvets; Elbeuf, Lisieux, Sedan incomparable sheets.

Linen is no less interesting than cotton at the Palais du Fil: with Lille, Valenciennes, Cambrai, Flers, Voiron, fabrics of all grains and prices, linen cloths and bed sheets dazzling in their whiteness and finesse, which are certainly as good as the finest fabrics from Holland.

And what an enchantment if from the cloth we go to the tableware, to the thread batiste, to the lace! We stop at all the windows, we linger; this one has no rival: it is Alençon, our point of France. But Venice is not far away, but Brussels, but Bruges, Barcelona and its blondes, the stitch of England with its three symbolic flowers mixed with the most graceful garlands. After the queens of lace, we still have admiration and enthusiasm for our superb chantilly, our Bayeux, for Calais, Mirecourt and Le Puy, for our ravishing guipures.

And on all sides, in each and every window, whether they bear a French or a foreign name, dresses on mannequins all in black or white lace, an unheard-of luxury that transports us into a dreamy fairyland.

Another enchantment when visiting the silk factories. Lyon, Saint-Etienne, Paris, in the front row as always.

Paris has reserved a central pavilion for itself. Its exhibition is of unequalled richness and perfect good taste. Lyon, which does not yield to Paris, has long since prevailed over Piedmont and Lombardy for its silks, its failles, its satins; over Genoa, Siena and Venice, for its gold and silver cloths, its velvets, its lampas, its brocades. Saint-Etienne has no rivals for ribbons of velvet, gauze, silk, and salt, in the freshest and most delicate shades.

Lyon and Saint-Etienne, by a new and graceful inspiration, throw velvet flowers, velvet patterns on their richest fabrics, also called artistic velvet. It is a delightful effect. The chasuble of Lyon with its angelic banner, its Salvatoris chasuble, its mitres, one of which is intended for Mgr de Tarbes, is more brilliant than ever.

Switzerland also has a pretty exhibition, silk muslins of great beauty. A fully made and warm silk dressing gown from Vienna (Austria) weighs only 500 grams; it is on its scales. Embroidery is mixed with silk, muslin and lace.

Lyon and Paris present rich furnishing fabrics embroidered with exquisite art, dresses embroidered on silk, saline, gauze, muslin, next to lace dresses, tulles embroidered in silks of various colours, crêpelines strewn with sequins.

Lunéville throws gold and silver flowers on its tulles. Saint-Quentin uses 140 shades to embroider the curtains of a bedroom. And what a bed throw! We would have to name all our cities...

The blinds and curtains of France and abroad are of unequalled beauty.

A very curious and beautiful embroidery in the Clothing gallery, which has nothing to do with clothing: Christ before Pilate, "on the Place aux Dalles", says the legend, natural size, evening and needlework. The background of the painting is in dark red velvet. The embroidery, which goes from white to black in an infinite number of shades, took twenty years. Only one person, a lady, has done this work. From the same stitch, portraits: the Holy Father, the Emperor of Russia and President Carnot, Queen Victoria, Pasteur, Christopher Columbus.

Japan has wonderfully beautiful hangings, screens, fans, and paintings in satin embroidery. Here herons, there owls, landscapes, forests and waterfalls, the door of the famous temple of Nikko on a festive day.

Our Paris fans, made of feathers, sequins, embroidered on silk or decorated with artistic paintings, are worth a fortune in themselves, and rival the most beautiful that Spain has ever made.

Another luxury object, a great luxury, is fur. Sweden, Russia, Siberia have the most beautiful exhibition in the world: stuffed animals, prepared and made-up skins. Here too it would take hours for a complete study. But it is impossible to say everything, to paint everything, perhaps to see everything.

Clothing, French and foreign, occupies a large place in the Sons and Fabrics palace, elegantly arranged mannequins. Hungary, Holland, Switzerland, Romania also show us the costumes of their countries. Paris has its salons. One comes to see the fashion of 1900 to compare it with the fashion of the century that is coming to an end, Grand Empire and Restoration, 1830 and Louis-Philippe, Napoleon II and the Empress Eugénie, Do we have regrets?

©Louis Rousselet - L'Exposition Universelle de 1900