Pense-t-il à moi?

Figure 1. Pense-t-il à moi? ( Illustration by A.E. Marty, originally published in Gazette de Bon Ton, issue 5, May, 1921.

There were no visitors today. It’s just me, the grazing cattle, and the wind in the poplar tree. Of course I didn’t see any cows, only heard them. They didn’t come too close and the grass is starting to skim my exposed ankles. Today, I was lucky. The sun was bright and warm and the tree provided a canopy of shade when the sun got too strong. I’ve grown used to the fence, built to keep animals out and to help prop me up for all to see. Now the air is cooler and the animals are returning to the barn to sleep. Nothing to do now but to idle the time away, dressed for leisure today and every other day. My dress (figure 1) and my station, will soon become passé. Will they both become “the innactual, the ‘out of date, the irrelevant”? (Baudrillard 2). The image of America’s Gibson Girl has faded with pre-war propaganda, and emancipation brought American women their vote. But for me, as the sun lowers behind the hills in the French countryside, I sit and wonder, ‘pense-t-il a moi?’

Twelve months ago in Rome, Joan of Arc was canonized and the 40-hour work-week is being contested and adopted across Europe ( I want to join my sisters in our fight and visit Gertrude Stein in her Salon (figure 2); meet the men they call Surrealists and the ones they call Cubists. My friends have returned from the factories (figure 3) and are back at home tending to their womanly duties.  I wonder how these years are golden, but also, ‘pense-t-il a moi?’

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Figure 2 Gertrude Stein in her Paris studio. Image from the Library of Congress , photographer unknown ( . Image taken May, 1930.

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Figure 3 ‘Frenchwomen during the war’ sourced from by G. Capon.
















Last week my sister climbed through the pasture, to read issue 5 of the Gazette du Bon Ton, in which I’m featured. Holding a cigarette in one hand, she turned to planche 38 where I’m depicted sitting, as I am now, on the fence. She turned to me, paused and noted disapprovingly, on how the rose was beginning to droop since the portrait was taken. She tutted. I told her I had a longer shelf life than the flower, but of course that proved difficult with the rose in my mouth.  She didn’t understand me. When my sister described the kimono, she likened the flower motif to poppies and how the deep v in the neck made my shoulders appear less broad. I continued to sit, eyes closed, while she relayed the contents of the issue; about all I am missing here and abroad. But it wasn’t long before my mind wandered to him, and I muttered, incomprehensibly “pense-t-il à moi?’

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Figure 6 Paul Poiret wallpaper with poppy motif, 1912. (

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Figure 5 First remembrance day poppy, 1921. (

When Paul Poiret (figure 4) discovered me, I was sitting right here, still as can be for the twelfth year. As he tried to choose which of this season’s dresses would be best suited for my condition, he told me of the years he spent in the military and his difficulty in the art of fashion since returning. He reached for a dress – the one I’m wearing now. But what was the splattering motif across this lustrous textile? Were they poppies, lollipops, roses? Poppies were quick to become symbolic of WWI and in just a few months, Anne Guerin, founder of the women and children’s league in France,  would begin circulating the poppy across Europe, commemorating soldiers, their widowed wives, and fatherless children (figure 5) : “Her own organization, the American and French Children’s League, sold cloth copies of the flower to help raise money to re-establish war-devastated areas in Europe,” (

If it was adorned with poppies, were they a tribute to those affected by war? Poiret had previously used the poppy as motif in a 1912 wallpaper pattern (figure 6). Perhaps the design wasn’t about war at all but a nod to the increased opium use in China, Britain and the US in the late 1800’s (McMahon 40) or the high number of opium dens across Paris at the turn of the century ( – another reference to our long standing love affair with all things Eastern. In fact, it’s likely that the motif is not poppies at all but a very conscious branding tactic on behalf of Poiret who’s labels are adorned with a single rose (figure 7). In times as precarious as these, we are contending with the advent of branding being shoved down our throats; in my case, quite literally.

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Figure 7 Paul Poiret logo with rose.

“It was in 1903 that the French designer Paul Poiret debuted a kimono-based cloak called “Confucius”—after the ancient Chinese philosopher—which according to his immodestly titled autobiography King of Fashion marked “the beginning of the Oriental influence in fashion,” (Carver 304).

Whether poppies or tumbling lollipops or branding roses, it’s no matter to me. The soft silk and bobble trim, prepared me for the arrival of my lover, when I no longer wonder “pense-t-il à moi?

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Figure 4 Paul Poiret circa 1913. Photographer unknown. Retrieved from the Library of Congress (

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Figure 7 Kimono Coat by Paul Poiret. Image sourced from the Kyoto Costume Institute (www.kci.or). Photo by Richard Haughton.













I knew of Poiret’s infamy for his kimono coat. “The novelty value of its simple cut and exotic fabric recommended it as a symbol of Japanese culture for Westerners,” (Carver 304), I thanked him for relieving us of the corset but that I could not forgive him for the constraint of the hobble skirt from so many years ago ( As it happens, I had grown much smaller since my fence sitting began. He grimaced but assured me that my slim silhouette was perfect for the look of ‘la garçonne’ that was sweeping across Europe and the Americas. He likened my chest to an empty birdcage and my body to a hive without bees (Riello & McNeil 465); a woman called Coco was driving him mad by simplifying the female structure, removing embellishments and ignoring her curves. Just three months ago Chanel’s No.5 Eau de Parfum was released for the very same women, an idea perhaps borrowed from Poiret himself (Mazzeo). If there was a race between them, where modern was the finish line, Poiret was sharply behind. Somewhere in this dense forest of political and social change defining the 1920s, Poiret’s little black dress was still sprigged with sentimental flowers.

I removed my Edwardian dress, which was the height of fashion when my sitting began but which had become outdated since the pre-war era, “…robust Edwardian models of femininity preceded the effects of war,” (Breward 186) and drew the silk robe around me, tightening it with the green sash. I slipped into the elegant pumps and resumed my position on the fence. For a moment I was modern, youthful, feminine. And for a moment I’m convinced it is the dress that will bring him to me, but the moment is fleeting.

“…fashion is generalized and becomes less and less the exclusive property of one sex or one age. Be wary, for it is a matter neither of progress or of liberation.” (Baudrillard 96).

Monsieur Marty sat on the hill, sketching in his notebook as the sun slowly set behind me. He tells me to tilt my head and close my eyes. You see, the eyes would reveal too much – they are the windows to the soul and fashion is not about the individual or about the woman; Marty’s sketches were for the masses, and“fashion has only to do with the feminine, and not with women,” (Baudrillard 96). Whether it was the tonic from the flower or the heat from the sun, I drifted to sleep in the pasture, asking my dream “pense-t-il à moi?’

My girlfriends came to visit me yesterday. Each of them had seen the Gazette, and remarked on my beauty, and the beauty of the dress. When they arrived at the fence, they were all wearing it too, each a mirror image of each other, “At a stroke, it becomes an intense site from which no-one is excluded – the mirror of a certain desire for its own image,” (Baudrillard 93). Sadly, not all of them wore Poiret’s, but pirated copies (Wilson 86). Though my muscles ached and my spine was beginning to curve, they encouraged me to keep waiting. “He’ll be by any minute,” they said.

All but one who asked:

“When did you last see him?”

“In my daydreams? Just this afternoon.”

“And in life?” she insisted.

I wrapped the dress more tightly across my chest and let out a wistful sigh.

“See him? He’s as clear as a picture and yet still only an idea.”


Works Cited

“1920 WWI G. Capon French Women War Workers Mini Poster Original Historic WWI.” Period Paper. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Artophile. “Pense-t-il à moi?” A.E. Marty’s Artwork Titled Pense-t-il a Moi? Presented by Artophile., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Breward, Christopher. The Culture of Fashion: A New History of Fashionable Dress. Manchester University Press, 1995. Print.

“Coat.” Detail of Collections 1910s. Kyoto Costume Institute, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Jean Baudrillard. “Fashion, or The Enchanting Spectacle of the Code” in Symbolic Exchange and Death. New York: Sage, 1993. Web. April 17, 2016.

Carver, Beci. “What Women Want: The Modernist Kimono.”Modernism/Modernity 22.2 (2015): 303. Web. April 12, 2014.

Freedman, Estelle B. “The New Woman: Changing Views of Women in the 1920s.” The Journal of American History 61.2 (1974): 372-93. Web. April 12, 2014.

George. “Drug Dens: 10 Urban Underworlds of the Opium Age | Urban Ghosts.” Urban Ghosts Media. N.p., 30 May 2013. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

“Gertrude Stein Sitting on a Sofa in Her Paris Studio, with a Portrait of Her by Pablo Picasso, and Other Modern Art Paintings Hanging on the Wall behind Her].” Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016. Staff. “Joan of Arc.” A&E Television Networks, 01 Jan. 2009. Web. 12 Apr. 2016.

“The Poppy, Symbol of Remembrance.” Canadian War Mueseum, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Mazzeo, Tilar J. The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Biography of a Scent. Harper Collins Publishers, 2010. Print.

McMahon, Keith. The Fall of the God of Money: Opium Smoking in Nineteenth-century China. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2001. Print.

“Paul Poiret, Half-length Portrait, Facing Left.” The Library of Congress. Library of Congress Online Catalogue, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Riello, Giorgio, and Peter McNeil. The Fashion History Reader: Global Perspectives. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2010. Web.

“Sidewall, Poppies, 1912.” Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Cooper Hewitt, n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Wilson, Elizabeth. Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity. I.B. Tauris, 2003. Print.


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