The Illustrations of Pierre Mourgue and Subtlety in Fashion
“What is too much? What is it not enough? And what looks authentic? It seems to me that kind of hard-core questioning has been missing in fashion, which explains why so many runway collections lately look tentative or disconnected from women’s lives. Many designers have a one-dimensional view of glamour that boils down to tits and fringe. They seem oblivious that many women evoke glamour in a single gesture — the way, say, we cinch a good-looking coat at the waist or let a loose top reveal a hint of collarbone.”
— Cathy Horyn, 2015
What if we had all the clothes we could dream of? Would we have style? Would we be glamorous?
As convenient as it might be to think we would (and as fun as all the clothes would be!), the likely truth is we'd have neither any more style nor any more glamour than we do right now. There's a tendency to view certain desirable qualities in the fashion domain—style, glamour, elegance, chic—as attributes we can gain by acquiring material things. Yes, they're attributes we can gain, but we can't buy anything that will help us gain them. Instead, we must make investments in our attitude and our mindset (even if it means re-inventing ourselves). The desirable traits we seek emanate from what we are, not what we wear. There's no denying that clothes matter, but theirs is more like a supporting role.
Let's take glamour. As Ms. Horyn aptly suggests, it is found in the details- a pointed hip or the slight tilt of a shoulder. These may seem like subtleties, but then again, isn't glamour subtle? Or style? Or elegance? There's nothing overt about these qualities. They're hard to pin down and almost impossible to define with words (which, as a side note, might be why imagery is such a powerful medium in fashion, but I digress).
Ms. Horyn also points out that it is a challenge to understand the subtleties of glamour, even for those in the fashion industry, one which is in many ways built in the pursuit of glamour. One group I can always rely on for a master class in subtlety is fashion illustrators, whose work can show us so much about the effect that small details have on creating an aura of glamour.
A few months ago, we looked at the avant-garde work of Georges Barbier. Today, we look at Pierre Mourgue (born circa 1900), a French fashion illustrator who worked with many of the major fashion houses and magazines of his day. I haven't been able to find much about his motivations or legacy, but I know this: here is someone who understands exactly what it means to evoke glamour in a single gesture.