Art Deco Dress Restoration and Is It an Authentic Dress?

Art Deco Dress Restoration and Is It an Authentic Dress?

If you talk to anyone about vintage fashion nine times out of ten they’ll say how much they love 1920s style, synonymous with beaded ‘flapper’ dresses, headbands and cocoon coats. In current times people seem to resonate with past times of cultural upheaval witnessed by how people dressed and most notable in the fashion revolutions of the 1920s and 1960s. While shorter hemlines and boxy shapes were introduced in the late 1910s and brought to extreme in the 1920s, the later part of that decade saw a return to longer hemlines and a smoother, slinkier line forming the beginnings of 1930s style.

We have a beautiful Art Deco era gown in our collection- an ankle grazing, silk dream with a low waistline, from which alternating panels of Chantilly lace and silk fall. It’s made from lightweight silk chiffon and Chantilly lace with an attached full length lining in the same materials keeping the wearer modest. The slinky drape that makes these boxy dresses flattering is caused by the fabric being cut and sewn on the bias (diagonal), rather than falling straight. You can see this in the fall of the neckline.

Now this was an exciting find for us! Something that has oodles of understated elegance with an authentic age. However, on closer inspection the lace was riddled with holes and the chiffon shoulders and neckline had several small tears. To get her ready to be worn again I went on a hunt for the finest thread I could access in New Zealand. Unfortunately fine silk thread is quite hard to come by and pricey, so instead I found an ultra fine (100wt) 2-ply polyester thread called InvisaFil™ (Wonderfil Invisifil 100wt IF217) from the Ribbon Rose. The first steps were to sew up all of the lace holes, fortunately most were pretty small. Darning lace involved holding it up to the light to find the holes, then securing the fabric flat and taught in a small embroidery hoop. I’d knot the thread on in a thicker piece of lace and sew the hole up, either mimicking the pattern of the lace where I could or simply using a ladder stitch to bring the two sides together. The lace was so fine and busy the repairs just disappeared!

After many sessions of sitting at the TV sewing, the lace was in one piece. There must have been over 100 repairs! Next, the shoulders were in a bit of a state and had bad old repairs which were coming apart, but they were now way as bad as many antique dresses we’ve seen and certainly still wearable. Fortunately the damage was mostly on the beige chiffon lining rather than the top layer so I dyed a lightweight cotton muslin to a similar shade (not quite as richly coloured or as fine as I’d have liked) and hand sewed these under the holes after removing the old repairs and tidying up the torn edges. These patches also needed to be sewn under the rolled neck hem on the inside edges so I had to either tuck the edge of my patch under where I could and on the other side had to unstitch and re-sew the hem over the patch to keep it strong, phew! This chiffon was very fiddly and NOT a joy to work with.

Lastly, I used a traditional darning technique on the remaining small holes where you weave your thread over the edges of the hole. Overall I think these repairs could look neater but without access to similar chiffon it was difficult and I wasn’t too concerned as most of these were on the lining and the integrity of the original dress remains. The key here is to remember we are not doing conservation for a museum or collection, rather we are supporting dresses to be wearable and enjoyed again.

While the dress design itself is pretty simple and is comparable to several examples of dresses from circa 1929-1933 in museums, the label is a bit of an enigma. Nothing could be found about “Rose Duval” of New York and Paris in the many archival and museum online collections I searched, which of course is not an exhaustive search method.

The most curious part is the location; most dresses and even jackets from this era have their labels sewn into the waistline or side seam rather than in the back neck which is more common today.

The label itself is also just tacked on the top two corners with no evidence in the chiffon below of it having been sewn on better in the past. After chatting with several people on an antique textile collectors page, the guess is that this evening dress was possibly made in Europe/France and imported to the US then the label was attached, possibly at a later date, to make it appear more desirable like it came from a local designer. We would love to know anything about Rose Duval, but in the meantime we’re not too worried as its a stunning dress and deserves to be cherished again.

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