She dipped her crow quill pen into the wide bottomed glass that was filled with India ink. Then she touched the tiny tip onto the pencil outline of the long arm that seductively stretched across a leg draped with translucent, silk georgette.
Contour lines this fine required perfectionism. Her pen pushed gently onto the outline, spreading the black ink with gentle up and down pressure from her fingers. The thin, then thick, then thin again lines made her drawing come alive. Editors loved her work.
Inking the illustration took as much time as developing the ideas, thumbnails and final sketches for the artwork. If the quill nib caught against a tiny nub within the paper, or if her touch was inconsistent, the ink would splatter permanent black splotches everywhere, ruining her work. The music on her Victrola helped keep her hand steady….
Although little is known about the artist, Christine Challenger not only illustrated couture fashion, but also brazen 1920s Bohemian ideals. Ideals that she believed elegant American women should aspire to.
In her opening illustration above, Challenger places the exotic beauty before a mirror.
Her reflection not only captures the stylish bandeau headdress wrapped around her forehead, but also the model’s quiet reflection about the women who came before her. Through the tiny portraits hanging at both sides to the mirror, Challenger depicts a cartoon of feminine ideas about change, freedom and hope for the future.
The 1920s marked a new, bold era of freedom through fashion for women. It was also a time of seduction. According to her words, the exotic woman above wears an “exquisite nightgown of flesh Georgette with lace.” There was a reason why the artist drew the model so that her back is turned toward us….
No details were left to the imagination. The illustrator went on to describe that her model lounged on a rug made “of black velvet finely embroidered with wool in brilliant colors.”
Her pert puss sits admiringly on an accent chair, with “cushions of emerald green and black taffetas, finished with embroidery of silver and silver fringe.” Of course, this required genuine silver embroidery floss.
Accessories for the those en vogue that summer were sublime:
“The diamond watch hanging from a platinum and diamond fob is being much exploited in Paris, and even worn with tailor-made clothes. The bracelets, enameled with mosaic effect, are connected with a chain of crystals. The parasol is in gold and silver Japanese brocade lined with orange, with a handle of orange and gold carved to represent a cluster of fruit.”
Christine Challenger, July 1921
Challenger’s bathing suit design was quintessentially Bohemian. She states:
“Here is an audacious bathing-suit in dull purple satin trimmed with conventionalized flowers in soft yellow duvetyn. A touch of purple tails off the charming, tight-fitting cap.”
Duvetyn or Duvetyne was a matte, twill-like fabric with a soft nap, resembling velvet. It was used only briefly in fashions, shortly after it was first introduced. The waist length purple hat tails were designed to drape from the base of the cloche, around the neck and flutter at the back.
According to what few records found, Christine Challenger was born in England and immigrated to the States in 1915. She married banker Blair Reed and they lived in Manhattan.
According to newspaper clippings, Christine Challenger became a mother in 1920. Typically, women did not have serious careers, especially if they were mothers, during this era. Based on what few records we can find, Challenger was indeed working as a highly regarded, professional illustrator during this time, all while tending to her tiny baby girl.
In fact, Christine was pregnant again when these words and illustrations were published. Soon after, she gave birth to a second child, a son.
As an adult, Challenger’s son, Elliott Reid, became an actor and is probably best known for having appeared with Marilyn Monroe in the famous movie “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
Although they continued to live in New York, Mrs. Christine Challenger Reid’s children and family took precedence over her work in the arts…or so it appears…because her illustrations soon disappeared from magazines after her second child.
Christine Challenger’s signature is found along with over 200 others on the door from The Greenwich Village Bookshop. The door, now part of a permanent exhibit, was signed by prominent writers, artists, poets and even publishers between the years of 1920 through 1925. This is now held in the collections at the Harry Ransom Center at University of Texas at Austin. http://norman.hrc.utexas.edu/bookshopdoor
Note: The embedded iTunes recording is by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra. Entitled “Whispering”, the tune was charted as “Number One Hit” during 1920.