Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism by Mary E. Davis. 2006. Berkeley: University of California Press, 332 pp., photographs, notes, index. $50 cloth, $21.95 paper.

The intersections between, and influences across, various mediums of modernism are increasingly being recognized, but fashion has, to date, been largely under-represented in interdisciplinary modernist studies. In Classic Chic: Music, Fashion, and Modernism, Mary E. Davis sets out to redress this omission, making the case that "the upscale fashion press played a more significant role in defining and advocating musical modernism than has been recognized" (1). Upholding "a bold ideal of good taste premised on the convergence of fashion and art" (1), Davis argues, the early twentieth-century fashion press, based in or focused on Paris, "created momentum for the spread of a cosmopolitan musical style that was remote from the hermetic and abstract high modernism championed by contemporary music critics" (2). Magazines could serve as "guidebook[s] for elegant living" (5), of which both fashion and music were essential components; and "[i]n the guise of reporting on good taste, the fashion magazine in essence proposed an alternative strand of French musical modernism that found its raison d'être and its largest base of support in the feminine sphere" (2).

Davis begins by establishing a connection between music and fashion as "one of the oldest conventions of the periodical press, dating almost to its inception in ancien régime France" (2) with the early "tastemaking journal" Mercure Galant (3). The arrival of the Ballets Russes in Paris in 1909 constituted a key moment in the development of this relationship, attracting intense interest on the part of publishers in the fields of music and fashion alike and becoming the "perfect centerpiece" (17) for the leading arts journal Comoedia Illustré, which commenced publication in 1909 and soon after began to issue beautifully illustrated programs for the Ballets Russes. As Davis concludes, "the popularity, glamour, and high society cachet of the Russian dancers was crucial to the solidification of the link between fashion and music, and helped to legitimize the discussion of fashion in the serious music press" (21), including, for example, the journal Le Courrier Musical. [End Page 99]

Davis's subsequent chapters alternate case studies of leading early twentieth-century French fashion designers—namely, Paul Poiret, Germaine Bongard, and Coco Chanel—with case studies of key fashion publications of the same period—specifically, La Gazette du Bon Ton, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. The figures of composers Erik Satie and Igor Stravinsky and writer, artist, critic, and man about town Jean Cocteau weave through these chapters, functioning as exemplars of a "fashionable modernism" (117), epitomized in Satie's Sports et divertissements, that drew upon trendy aspects of popular culture and everyday life, including fashionable leisure activities, and that appealed to elite and stylish audiences.

The focus of Davis's individual chapters is at times elusive, in part because the chapter titles do not always correspond as closely as might be expected with the actual subject matter. The chapter entitled "Germaine Bongard," for example, centers primarily on Satie and includes only a limited discussion of Bongard, who sometimes hosted musical performances, including several by Satie, in the gallery that was attached to her design studio. The chapter on Vanity Fair begins with a twelve-page discussion of the 1917 Cocteau/Satie/Picasso/Massine collaboration on Parade for the Ballets Russes before shifting to an account of the early development of the magazine. The rationale for this organizational structure would appear to be that Vanity Fair's "critics perceived in the ballet exactly the mix of popular sources and traditional framework that the magazine had been calling for from the outset" (145), but a reversal of the order of discussion might have been more effective, given the focus indicated in the chapter title.

The book builds toward a consideration of the Ballets Russes's 1923 production of Les Noces, with music by Stravinsky, choreography by Bronislava Nijinska, and design by Natalia Goncharova, as "a critical point in the development of a modernist aesthetic that depended on interactions of art and fashion, a moment that did not simply reinforce or reflect existing affinities...


pdf