Madeleine Vionnet - my role model

This month as part of International Women's Day celebrations I have joined a women's blogging group - sharing encouragement and support and most importantly making my voice heard. Something that I take for granted all too easily.

So today I'd like to introduce to you a remarkable and inspiring woman who is a true role model to me and who, in my opinion, is not as well known as she ought to be. Her name is Madeleine Vionnet and she was one of the greatest fashion designers and couturiers of the 20th century. Her heyday was the interwar period from 1918 - 1939 when her influence was on a par with Coco Chanel. Her decision not to reopen her ateliers after WWII is one of the main reasons that she fell into relative obscurity.

You can find out more about her style here and here, but what I'd like to tell you about is her truly modern vision as a business woman. At a time when working conditions were not high on the list of priorities for most companies, Vionnet introduced a number of measures to increase the welfare of her staff. She provided free dental and health care to her entire workforce, bought chairs with seat-backs for her seamstresses and even provided holiday, maternity and sick leave. Her own experiences as a young apprentice inspired her to do better for her own staff.

Her designs were so groundbreaking and popular that they were frequently copied. Think of 'Hollywood Glamour' and you will undoubtedly be picturing one of her distinct bias cut gowns. She was a pioneer in trying to protect her intellectual property and meticulously photographed each design in front of a three panel mirror in order to document - in one picture - the front, back and side views. These were catalogued and she was part of several high profile, though ultimately unsuccessful, schemes to stem the flow of copied designs into the marketplace.

Her vision for women is another aspect that I still find so relevant in 2016: she wanted to liberate women's bodies from the constraints of the corset and allow them to move. An often quoted saying of hers is: When a woman smiles, then her dress should smile too. Comfort inspiring design - now there is an idea I can agree with!