Design House: House of Patou (French, founded 1919)
Designer: Jean Patou (French, 1880–1936)
Date: ca. 1931
Credit Line: Gift of Madame Lilliana Teruzzi, 1972
Accession Number: 1972.30.17a, b
In the mid-1920s, Jean Patou was in constant demand by Parisian couture clients and the American leisure class that had infiltrated Parisian consumer culture after World War I. He was credited with pioneering the shortened skirt for both daytime and early evening, and was consistently celebrated alongside Chanel for innovations in sportswear fabrics and separates styling. By the latter part of the decade, Patou was pushed to adapt to a new silhouette; the risqué skirts championed by the New York flapper fell out of fashion with international café society, who preferred the more romantic, whimsical full-length sheaths that dominated the early 1930s.
This ensemble is emblematic of the simple, refined Parisian cocktail silhouette of the 1930s. The delicate drape of the dress, executed in a lavish hand-painted silk satin, was intended for evening wear, but the small, removable cape allowed for wear between six and eight. This ensemble also demonstrates the difference between the Parisian and American aesthetics of the period: while Paris valued simplicity and modest elegance, American clients were instructed to take one silhouette and dress it for the various day and evening hours with an abundance of different accessory items.
Patou retained his popularity during the Depression by catering to the Paris and New York elite, and as cocktail gatherings became more exclusive, so too did Patou's creations. The designer became so enamored of private cocktail affairs that he created custom-made "Cocktail" perfumes that were sold in a "Bar" scent box to his couture clientele.