Parade of Peacock Feathers Dress

Having apparently squashed the rose-colored glasses I keep around to help offset personal and global downers, I’m extra-bummed that anytime I fall in love with something beautiful there’s always a least a little darkness attached.

Take silk: though I felt called to start budgeting for my Periwinkle Silk Goes Goddess-y Blouse the moment I saw it—and vowed to have a less poufy, more printed version created in dress form—knowing the very very tough life that captive silkworms lead definitely cast a cloud over my greed.

Because even I, with my “Let them eat mulberry leaves!” perspective, feel a bit guilty about how ole silkworms feast, molt, mate, lay eggs, and die soon after. Author Dana Thomas, observer of modern silk production, leaves no room for one to have happy fantasies about silkworm eggs going on to live happy caterpillar/silkmoth lives, either; she notes that (hopefully unexploited) workers steam the critters in their cocoons before unwinding the cocoons onto reeling machines and getting down to a process where “the work is swift, the water filthy, smelly, and very hot.”

Kind of grim, right? By the time I’d done two months of off-and-on searching for silk fabric I was worn down with liberal guilt.

[But then that’s part of the reason Thomas’ excellent book is titled Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster and not Consumption: Enjoy It Mindlessly.]

Naturally I could have reassessed my wants, abandoned my quest for a silk print, and turned to bamboo jersey. Once I stumbled upon a fabric with the right colors, design, and sheen for my purposes, however, I’m afraid the plight of the silkworms was mentally filed under D for Denial and cross-referenced under H for Hypocrisy.

As a bonus, the madcap print—varying sizes of peacock feathers sprawled over a 2-foot repeat—reminded me of one of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever seen, James McNeill Whister’s Peacock Room.

I’m discovering that my custom peacock feather print silk dress (worn V-neck/halter style) loves a good breeze

Though a mere dewy-eyed girl when I first encountered Whistler’s beautiful deep aqua and gilt creation, I’d still move in today. Especially as the room boasts a mural that captures the seemingly eternal battle between those who create art for money and those who hold the proverbial purse strings.

My childhood love: James McNeill Whister’s Peacock Room — loved even more now for its mural (Art and Money; or, the Story of the Room)

But back to the dress, close sibling to my voluminous periwinkle purchase.

As documented earlier with the blouse, the style is a mix between a simple Greek chiton and a peasant blouse. A drawstring neckline and a detached belt let the wearer transform it from two sewn-together rectangles to a dress/tunic that can be worn in a variety of styles.

In my case all the “variety of styles” involve feathers on poitrine and posterior, but when one is channeling a peacock, shyness isn’t an option. I’m actually hoping a wild print plus under-engineered clothing shape = loud and clear sign of midlife crisis.

WAKE UP PEOPLE

L, 3 yards of silk Haute Hippie peacock print fabric await transformation; R, pale silver sandals meet up with meandering peacock feathers

However, as a fan of structured clothing, I’m naturally clinging to my creation’s drawstring for dear life. It’s my gateway to texture and shape, and although the string and channel construction is underappreciated in my household (“It looks…Amish,” quoth my beloved), I stand by my belief that a gathered neckline or sleeve has timeless charm.

If the style was good enough for the innovative Madeleine Vionnet, by gum, it’s good enough for me!

Speaking of art and money: As one of the master’s of the goddess-y gown, Vionnet’s mix of technical and artistic skills centered around ease of movement and letting the inherent qualities of a fabric shine (L, detail of a 1936 pleated neckline; R, shoulder detail from a 1938 gown — both c. the Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Lately it’s been good enough for those hired to carry on Vionnet’s work, too.

During her long career, Madeleine Vionnet expanded industry horizons; today Vionnet SpA reinterprets her vision (Spring 2011)

In fact, I’m somewhat mourning my tradeoff of fewer pleats for less width/more manageability—but since I’m busy trying to figure out how and where to put necklines, hemlines, and volume I don’t have much time to dwell on my decision.

I’ve pretty much decided I can do false-advertising-in-action demure…

A short + straight waist means I rarely belt, but the crazy print of Peacock (keyhole in back/high neck variation) does keep the eye moving…hopefully away from slatternly slip straps

fear I need to draw the line at front-pleated skirts…am safe with the split shoulder, V-neck halter style better modeled with the Periwinkle Pouf…

A multi-way dress has many challenges, and while my sewist conquered print placement I’m testing necklines, hem lengths, and volume distribution

…and may have broken something trying to be trendy via tunic, cuffed skinny jeans, and vaguely cage sandals.

Technically, my Peacock dress can become a Peacock tunic…so I’ve thrown my staid basics aside in order to experiment with about 10 (aging) trends at once

Luckily for me and my styling efforts, the peacock symbolizes renewal. Here’s to having such a vividly colored reminder that every failure marks another opportunity for success!

PSA 1 and 2: Learn as Betty Kirke, costume historian and author of the classic Madeleine Vionnet, shares her knowledge about Vionnet’s revolutionary construction techniques—or get a glimpse of the Vionnet retrospective at the Museum of Decorative Arts (redirects to YouTube):

PSA 3: Get a look inside the jewel box known as the Peacock Room, currently housed in the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, and read up on the artist-patron feud that inspired the room’s famous mural

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7 Responses

  1. A vision in peacock plummage! I am spending some down time catching up on blogs…nice to see your color, and love it as a tunic!

    Linda@Lime in the coconut

  2. That is one crazy gorgeous dress. I like the arrangements with the neckline a bit more open. But the fabric is truly stunning.

  3. Hi Ms Linda—

    So glad you had a little time to catch up (and hope to return the favor); many thanks!

    Don’t you think I need the backdrop of your spectacular tropical yard/gardens to do this justice? I promise to wear it tunic style….

    Pseu—

    Thank you; it’s such nutty fabric, isn’t it? Better in person as it’s a subtle sheen.

    I hear you on preferring the more open necklines. [Not as open as Rebecca Hall in the blue, but open!] Since I normally avoid anything crewneck like the plague, it’s so strange I’m even contemplating the high necks. I swear someone must be drugging my Wheaties.

  4. I like it best as a tunic. The fabric is gorgeous everywhere.

  5. Amid/Lisa—

    Thank you! As a recovering big-and-baggy clothes wearer I tend to shy away from tunics but I admit I’m having fun wearing it this way.

    [And it does cut down on potential peacock feather overload to shorten it up!]

  6. Personally I don’t see much difference in boiling shrimps/prawns and then boiling silk worms – they all die. One ends up on the inside, the other on the outside of a human body. Now, my eyes hurt from staring at this beautiful fabric! No matter how you wear it you will look amazing, not Amish in it!

  7. Kaffe/Tine—

    I knew you’d be right there with me enjoying the colors of this fabric!

    Thanks for the kind words; I feel a bit more hip wearing it as a tunic but have enjoyed wearing it as a dress, too…glad you like it in its variations, too.

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