Denim Couture by Magda Makkay

There are times in your  life when a simple action has a very unexpected effect.  When I first called handbag designer Magda Makkay last November I had no idea that I was really gaining a new and treasured friend.  But since that day we talk and write, and when I least expect it, a box shows up at my house with her return address.

My latest design from Magda is probably my favorite.  This is the Bella bag from her Denim Couture line.  It is so incredibly well made, and I love the “snake” trim.

Inside are pockets and a zippered pouch with a key ring.  You can tell from the attention to detail that Magda knows the features that are practical and functional.

There are lots of different styles in the Denim Couture line, including clutches and totes.  I really like the Carrie model…

And the Roxie as well.

If any reader would be interested in purchasing a Magda Makkay original, I’ll be happy to pass along her phone number, as Magda does not use the computer.

Magda also sent along some photos.  Above you have her with Oscar de la Renta at a cocktail party.

This is Magda’s daughter, modeling a Magda Makkay handbag sometime in the 1960s.

I want to again thank everyone who sent cards to Magda on her birthday back in June.  From her letter:

I had the most wonderful birthday in June thanks to you!  Getting all the attention and cards from all over! I never had so many birthday cards in my life!

So thanks for helping me give my new friend such a nice surprise.

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Currently Reading – An American Style: Global Sources for New York Textile and Fashion Design 1915 – 1928

We all hear about the big fashion shows at the Metropolitan and the Fashion Museum in Bath, UK, but there are lots of smaller institutions which work hard to present fashion and design history, often from a very narrow focus.  One such institution is the Bard Graduate Center in New York City.  Last year they presented a show based on the research of Ann Marguerite Tartsinis.

Tartsinis had been researching how starting in 1915 the American Museum of Natural History worked toward developing a distinctively American style, which would be based on Native American artifacts. World War I had broken out, and New York was deprived somewhat of the Parisian influences that were so much a part of American fashion.  Leaders at the museum saw this as a good time to interest designers in developing a uniquely American design language.

A design center was set up at the museum where designers could go and study artifacts, everything from Peruvian textiles to Navajo basketry, Inuit fur work to Arapaho beadwork.  The idea was not to copy the designs, nor to simply reproduce depictions of the objects.  Instead designers were to come up with their own interpretation of the original work.

The museum curators were successful in getting some designers to develop both fabric and garment designs.  In 1919 the museum put on the Exhibition of Industrial Art in Textiles and Costumes, which showcased these designs, along with the original artifacts which had inspired their making.

But by 1919 the war was over, and designers were casting a more global eye.  The design program lasted until 1928, but in a greatly reduced capacity. And while the program did not have the huge effect the curators had envisioned, it did show how museums and designers could work together to promote good design.

The 2013 exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center centered on the 1919 exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History.  One of the resources for the new exhibition were photos that had been taken of the original.  You can see these photographs and read more about the exhibition in an excellent feature on the Bard website.

I missed seeing the exhibition, so I was glad when Lynn of AmericanAgeFashion suggested this book to me.  She knew that I’d like the book because of my interest in the cultural influences of fashion.  It also gives a look at how appropriation was viewed one hundred years ago.  As you might imagine, the attitudes of 1915 are very different from our twentieth-first century ones.

A very important issue was brought up by Tartsinis in discussing the difficulty in locating artifacts for the 2013 exhibition.  While they were able to locate quite a bit of archival material, the artifacts themselves were extremely hard to locate.  As Tartsinis put it, “The scarcity of surviving examples from this period reflects not only the institutional preference for collecting couture and upmarket garments and textile samples, but also underscores the anonymity of individual designers in textile manufacturing and department stores at this time and the fleeting nature of this movement.”

I like a good label as much as the next collector, but what a shame that in some institutions a design is not deemed worthy unless it has that all-important designer label.  And as for the anonymity of the designers, I suspect that some of this material is actually in collections, but that it has not been identified as being part of the 1919 exhibition.  Hopefully as more and more small museums get their collections photographed and online, things of this manner will start to be identified.

 

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Ad Campaign – Lady Manhattan, 1958

The mood is excitement and now is the time for Lady Manhattan

Smoothest classic shirt in sight… in Reeves silky Supima cotton broadcloth.  And it boasts the distinctive virtues of all Lady Manhattan shirts…precision cut, collars and extra-long stay-in shirt tails.

Last week when I was looking for a Lady Manhattan ad I couldn’t find one, but better late than never, no?   The shirt in the ad is very similar to the two that I have with the open collar, French cuffs and French front.  I love that the model is wearing it with slacks, even though she’s all glammed up otherwise.  But how else would one present oneself when flying their jet fighter?

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Mitchell Company Rayon Piece Goods, 1949

When I was a kid in the 1960s, going to Spindale meant going to the numerous fabric mill outlets to buy bargain fabrics.  It was the heyday of North Carolina textiles, and Spindale was right in the center of the action.

From the name, you could guess that Spindale got its start as a spinning and textile center.  It was not a town at all until the 1920s when the company town around the textile mill incorporated.  By the mid century there were several large textile and sewing factories in and around Spindale.  Stonecutter, which was a vertical operation, which involved both spinning and weaving, Spindale Mills, and the factory that made Bon Worth clothing were all located in Spindale.

I could not find a reference to a Mitchell factory, so I’m guessing that the Mitchell Company was one of the many sellers of textiles in the area.  From what I can tell, it was in business until fairly recently, though I could not find a reference to its closing in the local newspaper.  But it probably happened after 1998, when the bottom fell out of Spindale industry.  That was the year Bon Worth moved their operation to Mexico.  From there it was like dominoes falling.

But in 1949 business was thriving, as textile companies switched from war production to making consumer goods for the new and fast growing families of America.

Click to enlarge

Inside this sales brochure are samples of the various rayons offered by Mitchell. Especially handy are the different samples along with the name of the colors.

I was amazed at how many of them were advertised as being washable, as 1940s rayon is notorious for shrinking and having color bleed.

I found several references to Mitchell Company on the internet, with an address and telephone number.  I called the number and was informed that it was no longer in service.

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Betty Bacall at Harper’s Bazaar

copyright Harper's Bazaar.  Do not copy

Photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe Copyright Harper’s Bazaar. Do not copy.

Years ago when I first started buying and loving vintage fashion magazines, I found the May, 1943 issue of Harper’s Bazaar.  Browsing through it I was stopped dead at this photo of eighteen year old Lauren Bacall.  I had no idea she had been a model, as this was during the pre-everything-on-the-internet days. I also wanted to know if that dress was still available (kidding, sort of).

So much has been written about Bacall in the past week that I wondered if I really had anything to add.  Everything from how Diana Vreeland put her on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar which led to Mrs. Hawks seeing her photo to Mr. Hawks casting her opposite Bogart… But then I realized what I’ve not seen.  Except for the famous March, 1943 Harper’s Bazaar cover,  no one – not even the Harper’s Bazaar site – has shown the modeling shots from the magazine.

I thought I had the March, 1943 issue, but I don’t, but I did find Bacall photos in three other issues.  According to wikipedia, she also modeled for Vogue, but I could not find her in any of the copies I own.

Photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Copyright Harper’s Bazaar. Do not copy.

This photo from February, 1943 is the earliest photo that I found of Bacall.  I’ve read several places where  Howard Hawks changed her name to Bacall, but actually, it was her mother’s maiden name, and she had been using it for years.  He did suggest changing the Betty to Lauren.  Perhaps he thought since Hollywood already had Bette Davis and Betty Grable there was no room for Betty Bacall.

Photo by Polcer, Copyright Harper’s Bazaar. Do not copy.

In the same issue, Betty’s photo appears several more times, and in this feature on blouses, she is even identified as “the young actress, Betty Bacall”.  She had already appeared on Broadway at that time.  Note the pose with the chin tilted downward, the eyes slightly upward.  Bacall always said she used this pose during the filming of To Have and Have Not because it helped her control her nervousness.  This was obviously a young woman who knew her good side, even before she met Bogart.

Photo by Louise Dahl-Wolfe, Copyright Harper’s Bazaar. Do not copy.

In 1943 women were wearing pants in their roles as war support workers, and Harper’s Bazaar showed them how to wear them fashionably.  And who better than Betty Bacall to show us how it’s done.

Photo by Engstead, Copyright Harper’s Bazaar. Do not copy.

These next photos are the last ones I found of Bacall, in the August, 1943 issue, show her modeling “winter cottons.”  The copy tells us that “Betty Bacall [was] plucked  by Hollywood straight out of our pages…”

Photo by Engstead Copyright Harper’s Bazaar. Do not copy.

I’m guessing this photo shoot took place before Bacall left New York in the spring of 1943.

To her friends, Lauren Bacall was always “Betty.”  I’ve been reading the Andy Warhol Diary, and when he encounters her, he too, a casual acquaintance,  calls her Betty.

Most of Betty Bacall’s clothing and accessories were donated to various institutions some time ago.  The Museum at FIT has a large portion, and before her death last week plans were already in the works for an exhibition for next year.

All photos are copyright Harper’s Bazaar.  DO NOT copy, put on Pinterest, Tumble, or otherwise use these photos.

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Vintage Miscellany – August 17, 2014

Click to enlarge

I really hate this time of year when people start thinking that summer is over. Yes, schools are starting and the days are noticeably shorter, but there’s no reason to go into hibernation just because there are Halloween decorations filling the aisles of your nearest discount store. Can you tell that I love summer?

And now for the news…

*  My favorite new find is Backstory with the American History Guys, a weekly podcast about American history, of course.  A recent show was about fashion, and included interviews with Ann Tartsinis (more from her later this week) and Linda Przybyszewski.

*   Just when I start to think fashion blogs are creating a giant homogenized  look for the world, I see this great video about street fashion in  Dakar, Senegal.

*   Art: coming to a billboard near you.

*   If you deal in vintage clothing, then it is likely you’ve encountered the Edith Flagg label.  It was a mid-priced line, produced in California.  To my surprise, I learned this week that Edith was a reality television star, appearing with her grandson on Million Dollar Listing on Bravo TV.  Who knew?  Edith died this past week at the age of 94.

*   I really, really, want to dislike Andre Leon Talley, but I just can’t.  He amuses me.  See why in this Q&A session with him and Isabel and Ruben Toledo.

*   Cathy Horyn is back with this essay on fashion friendship at Harper’s Bazaar.

*   Project Runway is back, and wackier than ever.

*  I may be confused by Project Runway, but I do love Tim Gunn.

 

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Vintage Sewing – Butterick 9612

I recently sewed another of the fabrics I bought when Waechter’s went out of business.  This one is an Italian linen, light blue and white tiny gingham check.  My idea was to make a tunic to wear over a bathing suit and shorts in order to be “dressed” for lunch or cocktails.

I had several patterns from which to choose but ended up using this one for a man’s  beach shirt.  I think I was seduced by the stripes.  Actually, there were a lot of things I liked about this one, from the straight collar to the side vents at the hem.

I also loved the pockets and how they sat right on the hem.  In the directions the pockets were attached as they were top-stitched, but I geve them a second line of stitching at the edge.

The side vents were a bit tricky, though they turned out well.  Actually they overlap incorrectly, but I really don’t think anyone will care that the front laps over the back.

I’m blaming the instructions.   They show the vent in the process of being sewn, and it says to finish the same as View A.  The problem is that View A did not have the vents!  So I just worked through it, and they look fine.

Inside, all the seams are flat felled.  The fabric was just too ravelly to leave unfinished.

Since I planned on only wearing this tunic over another garment, I was not too concerned with the length of the front opening.  If I had it to do over, I’d have made the opening several inches shorter.  On one recent chilly evening I grabbed this tunic to wear on a walk and realized that I loved the way it looked and felt.  I’ve since closed the opening a bit so as not to be over-exposed!

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