Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



From Creating Textiles: Makers, Methods, Markets. Proceedings of the Sixth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Inc. New York, NY, September 23–26, 1998 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1999).


Copyright © 1998 by the author(s)


This paper is less concerned with Twentieth Century French textiles as such than with what may have inspired their designers, with the possibilities suggested to textile artists in places where art, literature and design meet. To an artist with an appetite for the new, few places offered more possibilities than Paris in the decades before and after World War I. Between 1910 and 1940, textile designers working in Paris were part of a dose-knit community of the avant-garde that included writers, musicians, architects, painters, illustrators, interior and theatrical set designers, costumers and couturiers -- who not only mingled and took on multiple roles but whose work even today has the power to surprise.

In a lecture deli vered at a Paris theatre in November of 1917, one of the leading members of this community said: "Surprise is the most living, the newest element of the new spirit--its mainspring. It is by the element of surprise, by the important place it assigns to surprise, that the Hew spirit is distinguished from all earlier artistic and literary movements. Thanks to surprise it is set apart from all of them and belongs exclusively to our own time."

The speaker was Guillaume Apoltinaire, poet, journalist, tireless champion of Fauves, Cubists and Futurists, precursor of the Surrealists, and a compelling personality whose vitality, generosity and humor made him the ringleader of the avant-garde. The idea of examining his contributions, direct and indirect, to the art of textile design sprang from surprisingjuxtapositions, such as a page from Apollinaire's last poetry collection, Calligrammes: Poemes de fa Paix et de fa Guerre, published six months before his death in 1918,1 and a dress attributed to an unidentified Paris couture house, dated to the late 1920s, which was included in the Metropolitan Museunfs exhibition Wordrobe in 1997. The dress is made of an extraordinary black cotton lace, which the exhibition's curator, Richard Martin, has described as "a high art of alphabet soup. "J Could Apollinaire' s poems have been an ingredient in this alphabet soup?