#c436 $4,200 SoldPingat beaded lace cape, c.1875-1885
The 1890 Baedecker Guide recommended that visitors to Paris go to the three top Parisian haute couture houses: Worth, Pingat, and Laferrière. James McCall's authoritative 1882 book refers to Pingat and Worth as two "of the three greatest artistic dressmakers to the world." While little is known about Émile Pingat the person, the surviving examples of his work paint the picture of a creative genius.
By 1880 Pingat had emerged as a master of both surface decoration and outerwear. "For dressy jackets...Pingat is the great authority on mantles" (The Queen, 11/13/1880). These two skills are brilliantly showcased in this brilliant beaded lace cape.
His craftsmanship was "near flawless, the epitome of the designing dressmaker's art...flashy fabrics are sublimated to subtle surface trims. His clothes, murmuring elegance rather than shouting affluence, demand close inspection inside and out" (Elizabeth Ann Coleman's classic The Opulent Era).
In the detail picture below, note how subtly Pingat softened the bright red beads by covering them with black tulle. The beads retain just a hint of flash. Likewise, the bright orange of the satin weave wool base is covered with rows of black lace, again with just a fleeting suggestion of intense color. Here is the peerless technique of the master couturier.
Both the bright orange red base and the glittering red beads are covered with black (black lace and tulle respectively). We see Pingat's sublime genius in the materialization of his high fashion metaphor: just as the incandescent beauty of the fiery red beads and flaming orange satin are obscured by black fabric, even so a woman's passions are like a banked fire.
The resplendent cape is lined with gold silk satin. The heavily beaded collar is wired to stand upright. The hem is finished with a wide fringe of jet black beads. The dazzling cape, which closes at the neckline with a hook, also has long gold moiré ties. The label reads "Émile Pingat/30. Rue Louis le Grand.30."
I purchased this radiant cape from a collector many years ago; and then sold it to another private collector who is now downsizing. It originally came with an attached note: "A jet cape worn by Mrs. Irving M Scott about 1877."
Mrs. Scott, born Laura Hord, was a descendant of one of the first Virginia colonists, Thomas Hord (b. 1701 in England, d. 1766 in Virginia). The note did not come back with the cape, but I still have the picture, which can be downloaded.
Mrs. Scott is listed in Who's Who among the Women of California as a leading member of San Francisco society. In addition to the usual charitable projects expected of a society leader, she used her considerable wealth to promote women's causes. She is mentioned in the History of Woman Suffrage (1883-1900) as hosting the promoters of the Woman's Congress Auxiliary for the Midwinter Fair in San Francisco, which became an intellectual focus for gifted women.
This important cape is a special find for the serious collector for two reasons: few surviving examples of the Pingat oeuvre in top condition have come on the market because Pingat did not have the large output of the House of Worth; and the cape was originally owned by a remarkable, forward thinking woman with a well documented position in American social history.
It was most unusual for a woman at the top of the social hierarchy to step into the controversy of women's suffrage. Mrs. Scott was equally comfortable bypassing the venerable House of Worth to choose a new—and equally great—couturier, Émile Pingat.
The condition is almost excellent. The only problem is a small area of wear on the lining near the label.
The cape is 35" long at the center-back.