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Fashion History: Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay Terk, the first avant-garde representative in fashion of the 900s, was born in Ukraine in 1885. After having studied art in Saint Petersburg, she moved to Paris in 1906 and started to paint under the influence of the works of Van Gogh and Gauguin.

In 1910 she married the painter Robert Delaunay and co-funded with him the Orphism art movement. The two artists henceforth worked in close association doing experiments with colors in art and design. Their research around shades of colors were inspired by the optical effect of simultaneous contrast, which occurs when one design, when placed next to another, affects both.

Scarf in printed silk twill by Sonia Delaunay, 1925 - 1930. Courtesy of Modemuze

The first simultaneous design opera is dated 1911 and consists in a patchwork quilt made by multicolored geometrical cuts of fabric sewn together. Since then, Sonia Delaunay started the production of sartorial works in simultaneous style and worked in the field of fashion, connecting her practice to the painting. The Simultaneous dresses she designed focuse on color’s impact and have simple shapes to underline the geometrical patterns. Her opera has influenced fashion trends during 20s and 30s and the style of the 60s.

Wool jacket with Simultaneous motif by Sonia Delaunay, 1924. Photo by Jean Tholance. Courtesy of Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris. All rights reserved.

In 1917 she designed the costumes for the Cleopatra ballet, directed by Sergei Diaghilev, who helped her to open a string of shops in Bilbao, Madrid and Barcelona, selling clothing, fabrics and homeware. Later in 1927, during a lecture at the Sorbonne titled “The Influence of Painting on the Art of Clothes”, she explored the rhythmic relationship between colours in her fabrications and the reasons behind the move towards ready-to-wear during a time where couture was the norm.

Wood button painted with geometrical motif by Sonia Delaunay, 1925/1930. Photo by Jean Tholance. Courtesy of Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris. All rights reserved.

She died in Paris in 1979, after she received the Légion d’Honneur and painted the poster for the International Women’s Year of UNESCO, both in 1975. She also took part in the Paris-Moscow Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in 1979, to which she had donated her entire graphic work in 1976.

To discover more, browse Sonia Delaunay’s items on Europeana Fashion Portal!

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