Light, novel and searching, was cast on the feminine questions of the day, when that great psychologist, Alexandre Dumas the younger, first spoke to his public of the "Route de Thebes." Modern woman is, indeed, a mysterious and alluring sphinx, that waits the traveller's advent; and every man who essays to win her must, in the event of his failure to read her riddle, risk the danger of perishing in bitterness and pain, or, at the very least, of going on his onward way with an empty heart, a void that aches with disillusion, and the irony of fate. An adorable and fascinating sphinx she is! No man regrets the weariness and wonder she has caused him. Her country is a country of marvels, and of fairy enchantment. Even the bravest, and the most inured to war, take thought before they venture within its confines. Don Juan is the only man its dangers never disconcert. Garbed in apparel of the newest cut, a rosebud in his buttonhole, he faces and attacks the dangerous though charming creature, solves all the riddles she invariably sets him, and returns triumphant to his rooms or club, in all the glory of having learnt her frivolous but enchanting secret.
Latter-day lovers lack, it must be said, the melancholy enthusiasm of Werther and Julien Sorel. They are not as treacherous as Lovelace -- there is less mournful passion. Education has altered feeling, and scepticism has crept in unawares. Woman has been reduced to playing a doll's part in the contemporary puppet-show. The doll is a lovely doll, no doubt. Her beauty is disturbing, but she is dangerous too.
The irony of her paltry destiny came home to the Frenchwoman's soul -- and, with all her native cunning and courage, she set herself to claim, aloud, her just prerogative as a reasoning and thinking being. The introduction of foreign doctrines into France, by those who travelled beyond their country's borders, stirred dreams of emancipation in the female breast. Women began to blush for the inferior part they had been forced to play for centuries past, and Mme. de Maupin's scornful words about her would-be suitors hovered on their lips. Their constant intercourse with the gentlemen of the period soon convinced them how utterly the noble races, represented by the sickly and undersized young sportsmen and clubmen who surrounded them, must have degenerated. Their husbands' morals, stained as a rule by jobbery, financial and political, and dissipation, disgusted them as much, probably, as the dreary depression and Hamlet-like despair of lovers and admirers who had long since parted with every illusion. Just at the time when certain highborn dowagers, headed by the Duchesse d'Uzes, were devoting the last days of their glory to supporting Boulanger, and the revision of the constitution, a small group of Frenchwomen were working, in the shadow, on the organisation of a woman's party in France.
Proudhon's and Schopenhauer's theories of the intellectual inferiority of the weaker sex seemed likely to return to favour, amongst a certain section of philosophical reformers.
Yet modern biologists took small interest, as a rule, in the emancipation of women, and the attacks made on the movement by the dramatist Strindberg attracted very little attention in the country.
There is an ancient Egyptian legend which tells us that, at a certain moment in ancient and fabled times, the worship of Isis was supplanted, in the Nile temples, by that of Hatôr, the goddess of Pleasure and of Dress. What happened centuries back in Thebes and Memphis, was reproduced in Paris and the other towns of France. The goddess Hatôr soon reigned supreme. Baronne Staffe's "Cabinet de Toilette" was more studied than "L'Êducation des Filles." The general habit of flirtation soon checked all the attempts of the party of Feminine Independence.
The home of a Parisian lady is a delicious nest, arranged with consummate skill and taste, a worthy setting for the pleasure-loving hostess who adorns it. All the decorative arts and textile manufactures seem to make feminine elegance and daintiness their principal care -- painters, architects, upholsterers, all work in the pretty, delicate, somewhat fragile style, that best suits woman's beauty.
The massive and simple forms of the furniture of the last epoch have completely disappeared. The revival of the taste of the First Empire, which took place some time ago, was more especially confined to diplomatic, academic, political, and serious literary circles. The steadygoing members of the Institute and the Senate were the principal admirers of those armchairs à lª Grecque, and Recamier stools, and grooved furniture of every kind.
The scenes of M. Fréderic Masson's works, of M. d'Esparbè's books, of all the sketches and all the poetry dedicated to the memory of the Imperial epoch, must have lived again in some of these drawing-rooms. It was in some such severe and simple setting, doubtless, that M. Abel Hermant was enabled to cull the tender, touching memories of his "Aïeule."
But the majority of the Frenchwomen of the present day care little for history, even so unremote. Their fancy is far too apt to wander. The idea of looking like Corinne, or Pauline Borghese, has scant charms for them.
The general tendency of women, in France, may be described as a strange and somewhat confused medley -- an inclination to go back to the social habits of the old French society, a whimsical love of Japanese taste, and a marked preference for those pale colours noticeable in the work of contemporary pastellists and water-colour artists. Their artistic instinct shrinks with horror from the commonplace in dress, furniture, and decoration. They are always seeking for originality, even in the arrangement of a bedroom, the decoration of a dressing-room, the hangings to adorn the walls of a drawing-room.
The Parisian of the present day endeavours, as a rule, to have her dress and furniture all in keeping. Her hangings and her gowns must harmonise, as much as may be. Her feeling for colour, and for the innumerable shades of general effect, is delicate and unerring. Nothing about her person is allowed to clash with the carefully arranged symmetry, or enchanting disorder, of her apartments. Simplicity is the strongest quality of her taste. She has learnt to prefer a sober effect, and unpretentious adjuncts, materials that are not showy, and dress that is not gaudy. A sort of modesty, in some cases, of vulgarity, in others, has served to introduce that light and transparent style of costume which some admire for the sake of its reposeful softness, and others because their love of fresco paintings has taught them the beauty of light and attitude peculiar to that department of art. Tables, chairs, couches, cupboards, have acquired the slim and elegant beauty of the exotic trees so frequently used in their construction. Panels and frames are generally very light, and lacquered, or, oftener still, painted in undulating waves of delicate colour. Though the stuffs and materials used in France are, for the most part, produced on the national looms, furniture in general has felt British and other foreign influence. Our bamboo flower-stands and what-nots, as fragile as the reeds they are stained to imitate, our white and varnished picture frames, the garden chairs which invade our winter sitting-rooms, our rocking chairs, and pottery and china, all bear witness to this fact. Most of our fashionable ladies are ruled by this whimsical taste, which links them on the one hand with Miss Helyett, and with Mme. Chrysanthème on the other. A strongly marked liking for pier-glasses, frieze panels, pastels, and faded tapestries, indicated, at one moment, a return to the delicate, somewhat irregular, but ever attractive decoration of the eighteenth century, and every newly arranged house breathed that complex and alluring charm -- a medley of the Trianon, the rustic cottage, and the Maison Verte. The De Goncourt brothers, who were full of an almost unconscious sense of psychology and art, had instinctively recognised this confused mingling of styles, when they published studies of fashions at Yokohama, Versailles, and the "Cour du Roy," side by side with others of René Mauperin's more recent attire. Dressing-room walls were plastered with mosaics, in shades of jade and aquamarine. Les Fétes galantes were the delight of drawing-room actors. Ladies' heads were dressed with all the elaborate fancifulness so dear to the little mousmés of Japan; and, finally, the short jackets and full knicker-bockers of the female cyclist were seen at every corner. There was an almost total disappearance, at certain hours, of the lithe and graceful charms of womanhood, and a sort of easy-going good-fellowship, and boyish freedom of speech, replaced them. Many a fascinating hostess, who had been the admired of all admirers, in her pale and creamy-tinted evening dress, appeared, next morning, flying through the Bois, in her tight-fitting English-cut bicycling jacket and her baggy nether garments -- the indispensable badge, heretofore, of the mountaineering tourist.
The Liberty stuffs and filmy Indian tissues, the eager fondness displayed for certain flowers (such as orchids and chrysanthemums), the taste for coloured prints after Lawrence, Fragonard, and Boucher, the white and pale green mouldings in which the younger painters frame their work, the delicately coloured bindings chosen for books, and even the covers of the current review and magazines, all heighten the exquisite, if somewhat confused, harmony, of surroundings which are so flattering, a testimony to the fair Parisian's intelligence, and so restful and delightful a background to her dainty and delicate charms.
She may be said to have carried the varying taste which dictated her attire, into everything else about her. But she proves her cleverness and refinement in her manner of arranging all these objects. Her constantly increasing intercourse with artistic circles of every kind, develops her wise and chastened taste for elegance and refinement. And the supreme chic (there is no other word), which is her special birthright -- handed down to her, in spite of Fashion's changes and occasional ugliness, by generations of ancestresses -- endues all the decoration, the furniture, the dress and finery, on which she lays her magic wand, with a delightful harmony and overmastering charm, which must enchant and engross all who are permitted to come within their influence.
Winter is the season, above all others, when the fair sex of the present day moves most triumphant. It is the moment of balls, and tea-parties, and first nights at the theatres, the time when all the great anniversaries and festivals come round.
Then, indeed, woman reigns supreme, and displays all the most varied and splendid phases of her elegance.
For a space she becomes Woman again, in every deed -- Woman, the enchantress and the siren. Casting aside her mannish garments, she is once more the gracious hostess, light-hearted and friendly, the worthy exponent of the ancient traditions of national politeness. Sport is quite neglected. Except for the pleasant morning canter up the Bois, in a neat riding habit, or some skating-party on the lakes, early in February, our fashionable lady spends all the time she does not give to her social duties, within her own four walls.
The reign of the great Man Milliner has begun. He is the councillor, the chief stage manager, almost the confidant, of his fair clients. His manner is flattering and obsequious, he is full of affectations and mannerisms. His sovereign will is law. No other man knows so many personal secrets, and so much domestic tittle-tattle. Men tolerate him, as certain Oriental attendants were tolerated by the Turks, because they feel he adds beauty to the objects of their adoration, and that his arts heighten the seductive charm of those they worship.
The fair sex obey his behests without a thought of hesitation, because they know that, whatever disguise he commands them to assume, they are sure to triumph. A woman's innate independence makes her mistress, in a sense, of even the most absurd and despotic forms of fashion, and she will always contrive to turn the complicated furbelows occasionally forced upon her, to the best account, as far as her own appearance is concerned. Which of us, for instance, does not recollect those artificial additions to the human form known as "dress improvers"; or, to recall a yet more vulgar development, the crinolines in vogue in 1865, and, in a more modified form, in 1885? More recently, again, sleeves swelled about the region of the shoulder, in most extraordinary fashion. Soon after, the reign of the outdoor cape commenced. The destruction of the line of the back was followed by the complete concealment of the fall of the shoulders, and all the lovely proportions of the neck and bust. Gowns grew so intolerably broad that it was almost impossible, at one moment, to get in and out of public conveyances, ticket offices, and theatre stalls. The female form divine was altered to the semblance of a huge dragon-fly, most troublesome, and always in the way. The light-footed sylphs of the Directory, and the somewhat absurd and heavy butterflies of the Empire, had both passed out of sight. Dress was verging on deformity. But this fashion, happily for us, has disappeared.
The more recent forms of dress have been distinguished by greater harmony and delicacy of colouring, a finer sense of form, and fitter selection of the covering destined to veil, without entirely concealing it. The influence of old engravings, and of the various fashions of bygone centuries, heightens the native charm with which most Frenchwomen are endowed. The cloaks, mantles, dresses, and so forth, sent out by the great dressmakers of both sexes -- Worth, Laferrière, Paquin, Félix, Rouff, Mme. Callot, Creed, Fred, Vincent, and many another master or mistress of their art -- are reproductions of the whole history of costume in France.
Can Fashion still rule where invention is so whimsical? It might well seem impossible. Fashion in fashions is growing more and more apparent. This will end in a uniform style of dress for that hurried section of society which has no time to cultivate or gratify individual taste, and for those persons who buy clothes made by the gross, just as others take their meals at the Bouillons Duval. But it will also call into existence an immense variety and singularity of costume, ruled by no definite expression or law, but full of individuality; and the really elegant women -- those who cling to this particular quality -- will always prefer this distinctive and personal style of dress.
The most special characteristic of contemporary female dress, is the elaboration of undergarments, which, during the last fifteen years, has reached a pitch commensurate, by contrast, with the simplicity and sobriety of all gowns and outer habiliments. This has been the inevitable and legitimate result of the adoption of the English habit of wearing tailor-made clothes out of doors.
All the dainty splendours and pretty trumperies which must necessarily enwrap the female form divine, have been driven inward. Lingeries and staymakers cannot make their handiwork too exquisitely sumptuous for their fair customers. No lawn can be too fine, no embroidery too cobweb-like, no silk too transparent, no skillfully treated tissue too light, too fleecily soft, too daintily coloured, and perishably delicate in texture.
Valenciennes, Irish guipure, Mechlin, Chantilly, Venetian point, Alençon, and a profusion of other laces are used, in masses as complicated as the whorls of denticulated petals which form the heart of certain rare exotic blossoms. So prodigious has this branch of feminine fashion grown, that a whole volume might easily be devoted to the subject.
Many of the modes of 1830 have returned to us. The famous leg-of-mutton sleeves, which we never expected to see again, have even enlarged their borders. They swelled to absurdity and caricature; then, by degrees, they subsided to the dimensions of full epaulettes, and before long the flat sleeve will be with us again. Dressmakers have rung the changes on every form of the legendary capes of the Restoration and July Monarchy -- coachmen's capes, and fur capes, and lace capes, some double, some triple, and even sextuple. At the present moment, there seems to be a leaning to full cloaks, with immense collars framing the head, like those in pictures of the Valois period. Skirts have been worn long, and now are shorter, cut in a huge bell-shape, to fall in folds. They are beginning to assume more reasonable dimensions, and are braided and trimmed all round, with embroideries and flat gimps, much after the style of the year 1825. The bolero jacket, fitting close over the loose blouse, which is still in high favour, is braided and trimmed in horizontal lines, just like the skirts. Hats, after having attained giant proportions, both in height and in width of brim, and having been laden with armsful of flowers, are growing narrower, less aggressive, and more graceful in shape. We are even warned of the speedy appearance of a bonnet closely resembling the handkerchief which Bordeaux grisettes wear bound about their heads. Concerning which report we may quote the old French proverb, "C'est fou donc c'est femme."
Appliqué trimmings on gowns are seen in white, black, écru, or cream-coloured lace, and these are mixed with various materials -- ribbons, silk, velvet, and jet. Grey and fawn are the favourite shades for mantles and jackets. Under-petticoats and garments of every kind are also made in very delicate colours, pale silks and satinets. Lace, which had dropped out of fashion for a moment (more was the pity), is coming in again. This return is accounted for by the quantities of flounces and liberality of trimming in vogue, which necessitate the use of all the Valenciennes, and Mechlin, and English and Chantilly laces, and blonde, and all the downy and delicate fabrics which milliners have dubbed with the descriptive title of froufroutage. All these came back into favour simultaneously with the introduction of cheviot materials and coloured wall-papers for house decoration. All the delicate shades of colour, varying as the tide, tremulous and well-nigh musical, as the tints of sky and sea, those tints as light and brilliant as the petals of flowers, and foliage greens of every hue, are endlessly reproduced in textile fabrics, from muslin and tulle to silk and foulard, from poplins and damasks to lastings, from serge to moiré silks and figured satins. The pretty Auvergne guipures [coarse large-patterned lace without a net background], the Belgian point de gaze, and Argentan and Alençon laces, adorn the boudoirs, as well as the gowns, of our fashionable ladies.
Any afternoons not spent at home, or with her friends, are passed by the fair Parisian in visits to the great shops, or to any other spot where she may hope to find new treasures. Sometimes she looks in on Laferrière, or Rouff, or Fred, or Mme. Callot, and exercises her taste in the selection of new garments, discreet in tone, harmonious in line. Sometimes, at Guerlain's, Houbigant's, or Lubin's, she reviews and sniffs the latest efforts of the perfumer's art. Special sales of silks, and expositions de blanc are sure to attract her. Such occasions give her an opportunity of laying in a whole stock of those surah chemisettes and petticoats, and jerseys, and openworked stockings, and varied and complicated garments, which do so much to heighten her wayward charms. And she will not fail to pay her respects to Worth, and Doucet, and Morin- Blossier, not to mention all the great milliners who congregate in and around the Rue de la Paix.
Her ever hungry vanity finds endless food, during the perpetual merrymakings of the winter season. When tea time approaches -- the hour when social talk is at its gayest and pleasantest -- she holds her court in her elegant drawing-room, where the most exquisite vases are laden with the loveliest flowers from southern climes. The new year's gifts to be chosen, the various formal visits to be paid, are all discussed. Some ladies, given to water-colour painting, talk about fans and miniatures; others expatiate on all the various gowns they intend to wear at races, theatres, concerts, and evening parties. Sometimes, when artists are present, the talk grows yet more interesting. Hints are given, and received, as to the best mode of posing for one's picture, and how to look one's fairest at charity bazaars, or elsewhere. At Christmas time come evening gatherings, ringing with the laughter and delight of children, and late dinners in fashionable taverns and restaurants, whither men come with their mistresses, and women with their lovers, and solitary ladies of the town sit waiting for the opportunity chance generally brings them. For in winter, women of every kind elbow one another, whether they will or not. The distances kept by polite society all fade away, when every class is crowded together in places of public resort. The society columns of the Journal and the Figaro, and many kindred publications, huddle together the most illustrious princesses, and the best known courtesans, the most fashionable actresses, and the most retiring ladies of the wealthy bourgeoisie, in most confused and easy-going fashion. This is symptomatic of our times. Republican society has suppressed the boundaries which formerly existed between every class.
The modern woman, whatever be her caste, is pricked by jealousy of her neighbour, whether aristocrat or demi-mondaine. The courtesan envies the married woman the status conferred by her condition, which gives her free entrance to every circle and every place, however puritan and correct. The fashionable lady mourns her inability to attain a state of independence, and a reputation which would leave her free to commit the wildest freaks. These longings and these spites cannot fail to draw the various classes nearer to each other, in certain places, and on certain occasions, and signs of this tendency are more apparent, seemingly, in winter, when city festivities are in full swing, than at summer haunts, sea-bathing resorts, and watering-places.
This fusion is being daily accelerated by the general tendency of literature, art, and the stage.
The balls at the Opera, during Carnival time, the sermons at St. Roch or Notre-Dame, to which every smart lady must listen, the Colonne and Lamoureux concerts, and the cafés-chantants, all bear witness to the increasing closeness of connection between the various classes. Religious feeling and aesthetic taste frequently appeal to the same auditors. Père Didon's mild and anodyne oratory charms the fair sex in its graver moments. Yvette Guilbert's gift of suggestive song, and Mile, de Mérode's graceful steps, give a pleasure which any woman may enjoy between a smart wedding at the Madeleine, or at St. Philippe du Roule, and a first night at the Comédie Française or the Opera Comique. The confessional, the circus promenade, the theatre stall, are equally accessible to all.
That similarity of tendency, of taste, and of commercial instinct, which has bound the political, the military, the financial, and the artistic world so closely together, has done its share towards the development of a community in pleasure as well as in duty. The doors of a select and royalist salon in the Rue de Crenelle, or the Boulevard Saint-Germain are opened to admit the wife of some great public official. Another, much frequented by the best Jewish society, welcomes the widows and daughters of rich Catholic manufacturers, whose fortunes and dowries may, with skilful management, increase the riches of their entertainers. General Booth's barracks, and his cosmopolitan and occasionally well-favoured troops, may find themselves next door to the mysterious chamber wherein a circle of neurotic women seek to evoke hidden spirits, and practise all the loathsome mummeries of the Messe Noir.
The corridors of the Folies-Bergères, Olympia, the Pole Nôrd, and the Scala, are full of fashionable women, attracted thither by the reports of Mile. d'Alençon's love adventures, the barely decent attire of Rose de Mai, and the déshabillés of Mile. Anna Held. Ladies of the gay class never fail to fix their residence, whenever possible, in the best quarters of the town, and the Champs Elysées, the Rue de Rome, the aristocratic Faubourgs, and the Boulevards d'Auteuil, have become the home of many a successful horizontale.
In a great town like Paris, the strictest habits and the easiest virtue often rub shoulders. It is a great hive filled with a various swarm; duchesses and theatrical ladies, grisettes and errand-girls, dowagers and demi-vierge all buzz in the intoxicating atmosphere of wild enjoyment, which so excites the vital powers that the footfall of Death is scarcely heard, and nothing but a national mourning, or something very near it, will give the merrymakers pause. The little bees can give no thought to anything but their honeyed food. Serious thought and reflection have no charms for such fragile beings. Colour and form, clatter and light, are the sole objects of their joy and delight, and with these alone their life is filled, till spring comes round again.
With the spring sunshine comes the call to still more elegant gatherings -- the Fête des Fleurs, the Grand Prix and the two Salons. Clubmen, sportsmen, and eccentric painters are favoured and caressed, and many a secret intrigue is carried on, to obtain a medal of honour, or ensure the success of certain racing colours. When the elections to the Institute take place, duchesses will compromise themselves, and famous blue-stockings lay themselves at the feet of ancient members of the Academy.
Then the green plain of Longchamp blossoms with fair women in dainty headgear, the Grand Prix and the Fête des Fleurs take place, and the long files of carriages wend their way towards the Place de la Concorde, between the crowds of sightseers gathered in the Champs Elyéees. The season of triumph rolls slowly by. Some happy fair attains passing celebrity as the subject of a successful artist's brush or chisel. Her effigy, exhibited at the Champ de Mars, is signed by Boldini or La Gandara. Soon the Horloge, the El Dorado, and Jardin de Paris will open their gates. Garden parties, tennis and croquet parties, and private theatricals are about to begin. Wagner, Berlioz, and César Franck are forsaken for Polin or Fugere, and the delights of listening to Gustave Charpentier and Vincent d'Indy are exchanged for those of the less refined and somewhat profane music to be heard in outdoor restaurants.
At last the echo of political events hastens departure. Reports of anarchist plots, conflagrations, possibilities of war or disturbance, and Bourse rumours, drive the gay world to seek country houses, parks, and sporting estates. Railway seats and sleeping-cars are ordered by telephone, and thousands of dainty travellers take their way towards the freedom and stillness of forest and of field.
The fair being, formed by Heaven for man's adoration, is a creature of intelligence, as well as of mere beauty. So many psychologists have made her their chief study, that she herself has come to believe in her own dominating importance. From the field of passion she has passed to that of intellect, and she is equally at home in either. Thousands of writers and of artists have devoted the greater part of their work to glorifying, or to explaining, her. Some authors have dilated on female passion in a manner so complicated, and so subtle, as almost to drive us to accept the oldest of all instincts for a new-found science.
Although, at every period, love has been the principal theme of authors and playwrights, it has never so completely absorbed them as at this moment.
The women of the present day have had their psychologists (Beyle, Bourget, Barrès); their flatterers (Maizeroy, Mendès); their poets (Baudelaire, Verlaine, Silvestre); their judges (Dumas, Flaubert, Becque); their historians (Hermant, Zola, Prévost); their philosophers (France, Renan); their humorists (Willy, Allais, Chapus, Guillaume); their inquisitors (D'Aurevilly, Peladan).
All these men have taught her different facts about herself Yet in every case, the work has been done with deference, treating the subject as an undisputed sovereign.
Painters have been less merciful. The half-truths of the "Lettres des Femmes" and of "Mensonges," the romantic biographies of which "Mme. Bovary" was the forerunner, the artistic pages of "Chérie" and "La Faustin " never reached the philosophic severity of Degas' pastels and Forain's sketches.
All women, in their eyes, are courtesans, without a touch of modesty.
Degas' chalk gives us the delicate skin of the modern woman, Forain's charcoal indicates every line of her thin, eager-looking body; but even this is surpassed by the graver's tool as wielded by Felicien Rops. His art is downright surgery and dissection. All the lust, and perversity, and wickedness of human passion have been perpetuated by the great engraver, in plates whose lifelike presentation of vice startles and terrifies. Other artists, too -- Louis Legrand, Jules Cléret, Helleu de Feure, Knopp, and Rassenfosse have done brilliant work in the same direction.
But most women have rebelled against a form of art which, faithful as it is, presents them in so unbecoming a light. A reaction in individual taste has followed, and it is only fair to say that to the fair sex, principally, is due the honour of having brought back the early masters, Leonardo da Vinci, and even the British pre-Raphaelite school, to their proper position in public estimation. Most ladies have imitated the falling braids of hair painted by Botticelli, the embroidered bodices worn by the wives of Italian dignitaries, limned by Benozzo Gozzoli, and the attitudes of the angelic creatures represented by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Edward Burne-Jones. This return to the taste of the Italian decadence has had some regrettable results, and the passion for bicycling may be said to have accentuated a departure from the ordinary rules governing the intercourse of women with each other, and with the stronger sex, which, if report be true, has given rise to no little scandal, and may seriously affect the fortunes of those nations affected by it.
It is no easy task to pass judgment on one's own period, to appreciate its manners and customs, and give them their just meed of praise or blame. There is always a risk of over- optimism, or too great pessimism. We lack the distance which ensures a good general view, and we are fain to satisfy ourselves with describing things as they are, without any attempt at moralising on their general significance. Certainly no man who is still young, a devoted admirer of the fair sex, and a sincere lover of elegance, harmony, and pleasing colour, can fail to feel a special tenderness for his own contemporaries, which leads him to set them far above the women of any other period. He has this excuse, at all events -- that he sees the women of his day, in all their life and beauty, that he can take note of all their gestures, of their walk and sunny smiles, that he can mark all their exquisite charms, and listen to the rustle of their dainty garments, while the beauties of bygone days -- those whom we have met on our journey down the stages of the past century -- only appear to him in stiff engravings yellowed by time, which, though picturing the garb they wore, lack all the mobile grace of living attitude, and the unreproducible expression of face and form.
To sum her up, the woman of the present period, a being full of intellect and refinement, and quick to seize the most delicate shades in everything, is unconsciously borne forward on the electric wave which drives contemporary humanity into ceaseless action. Her misfortune is, that, apart from her family duties, and the charitable work in which she so frequently engages, life offers her but vague and uncertain objects for the occupation of her eager faculties. She would fain spend herself in acts of devotion, and struggle in glorious combat. Already her intelligence has led her in the direction of art and science. We have lady doctors, and lady lawyers, and sculptors and painters of the fair sex are exceedingly numerous. The movement is yet in its infancy; great cities like Paris are intellectual poles, which drive the universe into action. Frenchwomen have not escaped this influence, and what they find hard to bear, is the passive part assigned them in a society that thrills with action.
Who can say whether the Parisian of the present day represents the end of a race, the last expression of a state of being shortly to disappear? or whether she should be accepted as an evident type of evolution, an embryonic form of the woman of the future, called to play her part in the birth of a new society?
The riddle is a deep and puzzling one, which no man, we believe, will dare to answer.
The House of Callot Soeurs was a couture house, which began in Paris in 1895 as a shop selling ribbons and lingerie. The salon, set-up on rue Taitbout, was established by the three daughters of an antique dealer and lacemaker: Marie Callot Gerber, Marthe Callot Bertrand and Regina Callot Chantrelle. The eldest sister, Madame Gerber, who in the 1920’s was referred to as “the backbone of the fashion world of Europe,” was the chief designer and the visionary of the group. Early in her career she had worked for Raudnitz, a famous dressmaking house, and it was under her direction that Callot Soeurs became famous for their use of antique laces and lavish beading.
Best known for their graceful day dresses, oriental style gowns made from rich fabrics and beaded chemises; Callot Soeurs were also among the first to use gold and silver lame. In 1914 the Callot sisters, masters of technical skill in cut and construction, moved their salon to grandeur quarters in Avenue Matignon.
For evening wear Callot Soeurs designed heavy satin gowns, their period gowns even including panniered skirts, delicate floral patterns and pointed bodices garnished with Alçncon lace often the after the style of Louis XV. Incredibly innovative, in 1920 the sisters were originators of the “manteau d’abbe”- the short cape flying from the shoulders of coats and evening gowns.
Pierre Gerber, Madame Gerber’s son, took over in 1928 continuing his mother’s standards for another decade. However, in 1937 the House of Callot Soeurs merged with the House of Calvet, and ultimately closed in 1948.