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The Mondrian Dress

Updated on May 8, 2015

Making a Mondrian Dress

Yves Saint Laurent started the Pop Art movement in couture fashions with his most famous design, the Mondrian dress. In 1965 Saint Laurent adapted Piet Mondrian's Broadway Boogie-Woogie painting to clothing to create a dress that was in keeping with the spirit of the times. In 1966, his hemlines rose well above the knees in keeping with the high price tag of his exclusive couture clothing. It was my mother's favorite dress. It has become mine now.

This lens is about my interpretation of the Mondrian dress, one that I made for a retro Halloween party in 2009 and how I came about making the dress out of unlikely materials.


Piet Mondrian - the inspiration behind the dress


Pieter Cornelis Mondriaan, Jr., better known as Piet Mondrian, was a 20th century Dutch abstract painter best known for his compositions of rectangles of primary colors with bold black grids. He was born in 1872 , in Amersfoort, a small town in central Holland. At a very young age, Mondrian was influenced by his father and uncle who were both artists. He attended the Academy of Fine Art in Amsterdam in 1892 to teach, as well as, to paint. His early paintings were landscapes and pastoral scenes of the world around him in Holland. These paintings were representational and showed the influenced of Georges Seurat's pointillism and the vibrant colors of Fauvism Upon his discovery of Cubism, Mondrian's paintings became more abstract and geometric. He eventually developed a style of painting he called neo-plasticism. He returned to Paris after World War I

and made his most famous painting Composition with Red, Yellow and Blue (1921), a composition of primary colors in rectangles on a grid of black lines.

Mondrian spent the last 4 years of his life in New York. He had his first and only one-man show at the Dudensing Gallery in New York when he was70 years old. He died two years later of pneumonia.

Photo Credit:RasMarley

This is Mondrian's Broadway Boogie Woogie painting that inspired Yves St. Laurent to create the Mondrian dress.

The Making of a Mondrian dress

Trying to capture the "look"

We were invited to a retro Halloween party in 2009 by our good friends and I had decided to wear a Mondrian Mod GoGo dress. It took a lot of researching on the internet to look at the different ways the geometric patterns were randomly placed on the dress.

Time was running out and I had to find a Mondrian dress and one that would fit me. There were a few from the Halloween online stores and on eBay, but none to my liking. Then I thought of making the dress myself and and so I tore down to the fabric stores, frantically paging through the McCall's, Vogue, Simplicity catalogs looking for a shift pattern. None of the patterns matched what was on my mind. The white fabrics in the store were too thin which meant the dress would need to be lined. The primary colors of red, blue, and yellow did not make the grade.

As I headed for home, about midway along the freeway, I had a wild idea of stopping by the Cost Plus World Market Import Store to look at some fabric placemats. I was so ecstatic to find the right blue, red, and yellow placemats for my Mondrian dress. I only needed one of each color and one black table napkin for the piping. In no time flat, I was back at a TJ Maxx looking for a white pilllowcase for the body of the dress - not just any pillowcase, but one that is 32" wide which was difficult to find. But I did find it - 610 thread count and 100% cotton to boot. The pillowcase was the right thickness to use as a backing for the placemats to be sewn onto. I was in Mondrian heaven. It was my lucky day.

The pillowcase was already hemmed. This saved time and was also the proper length.

The pillowcase was already hemmed. This saved time and was also the proper length.
The pillowcase was already hemmed. This saved time and was also the proper length.

Laying out the placemats

Getting the right look

The first thing I did was to take the front and the back of the pillowcase apart. The red, blue and yellow rectangles were pinned to the front of the dress and sewn with loose stitches on the sewing machine. The tricky part was to cut the black table napkin into strips and maintaining the same width all throughout. There was a lot of ironing involved to create the black bias strips. These were then sewn on top of the placemats to cover the exposed seams.Then the back of the pillowcase was cut into halves and the 22" zipper installed.



I cut out armholes and a scooped neckline for the dress. The front and back of the dress were pinned together and then I gingerly slipped into it to avoid getting jabbed by the needles.This was where the shaping took place by moving the pins a little bit here and there. The sides were then sewn together on the sewing machine and the facing attached to the armholes and neckline to finish off the job. There was a lot more involved in adjusting the seams around the hips. That is why the 32" wide pillowcase was a must, not only to allow me to wiggle into it, but also to allow for seam allowance. I would have made this with an A-line flare but there was not enough width in the pillowcase to do so.


The finished product

Who would have thunk!

This was the finished Mondrian Mod dress. I took many nights of sewing, ironing, fitting, but it got done. Who would have thought that it was constructed out of three placemats, a pillowcase, a black table napkin and a zipper? I was very excited about the outcome but I was a bit concerned that it might be too short. But the hubby assured me that with black tights and a pair of tall white go-go boots, everything will look just fine. To complete the look, I purchased the GoGo wig with the headband and the stretch vinyl white boots. The boots were so snug when I first put them on that I had to stretch them out for a week with plastic boot trees stuffed with small towels.

The GoGo wig and boots, of course.

Accessories, accessories, accessories

The Mondrian Mod look must be complete from head to toe.The very retro poufed hairdo and the vinyl white boots were a must. If I was going to get the look, I might as well go all out.

At the Retro Halloween Party

A blast in the past

The party guests showed up in their high-school or college blazers. Some came dressed as members of their high school band. Others came as engineers, geeks and nerds. My husband came as one of the Beatles replete with a Nehru jacket and mophead wig. And I, of course was in my Mondrian dress, one that got a lot of comments from the ladies for being so original. I heard one say, "I am surprised you kept it for so long."

There was a live band playing and it was a hoot doing our dance moves to the Beatles' "I saw her standing there." It was a night to remember.

The Ghoul and the GoGo Gal

The Ghoul and the GoGo Gal
The Ghoul and the GoGo Gal

The Mondrian dress or shift

There are many ways to cut it.

Regardless of how the bold geometric patterns are shuffled around, the look of all these dresses are unmistakably Mondrian. Aside from the traditional primary colors, peach, pink, green, purple and other trendy colors were making the scene.

Mondrian Craze

So simple yet catching

The Mondrian look is here, there and everywhere. From facades of building, bathing suits, fingernail designs, apparel, jewelry, cars, and even desserts, the Mondrian look is no doubt the most recognizable artwork in the world.


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