Category Archives: Currently Viewing

Currently Reading and Viewing: The Couture Cardigan Jacket by Claire Shaeffer

You might remember that when I last visited New York, I bought fabric with which to make a Chanel-type jacket.  Any really serious sewer would have the jacket finished by now, and to tell the truth, I’ve not even started.  Part of the reason I put this project off was because I was waiting for the publication of Claire Shaeffer’s latest project, The Couture Cardigan Jacket: Sewing secrets from a Chanel collector.

Claire has spent years examining Chanel garments, figuring out the special techniques that make the work of the house so distinctive.  Many of these techniques have been shared in her earlier work, Couture Sewing Techniques.  This latest book is more about the special assembly of the Chanel jacket.  Also included are an in depth chronology of the House of Chanel and a close look at the jackets in Claire’s collection.

When I got the book this week, I sat down and read it all the way through.  I wanted to know exactly what I’d gotten myself into.  Then, today I watched the video.  It is a great accompaniment to the book, as watching the sewing being done cleared up any questions I had after the reading.  I suggest that anyone who gets the book take it chapter by chapter, so as not to be overwhelmed as I was.

As with all of Claire’s books, you do not have to be a sewer to find the contents valuable.  But in this case, you do have to really want to know more about how the Chanel jacket is constructed.  Any lover of couture who has a special interest in construction needs to add this to his or her library.

What is it that makes couture so appealing and special?  This 1960s Chanel jacket is an example of the attention to detail that goes into couture.  The collar, cuffs and lower edge of the jacket appear to have been made from solid red fabric, but upon examination you find that the red areas were formed by stitching tucks  to conceal the beige stripe.  Even in the close-up photos it was hard to see where the tucks had been taken.  It would have been much easier to have cut these areas out of red fabric.



Filed under Currently Reading, Currently Viewing, Vintage Sewing

Currently Viewing: Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s

I do love a good fashion movie.  Unfortunately, Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s is not about fashion.  It is about money – lots of money.

Bergdorf Goodman is a department store.  They just celebrated 112 years in business, so there is a lot of retail history connected to the store.  They are considered to be one of the top, if not the top store in New York.  It seems that one of the main objectives of this film was to convince the viewer that Bergdorf Goodman is not only Number One, but that there are no close competitors.   And a big reason this is so is because the clientele is so special.  That’s because their clientele has money.

There was a steady stream of celebrities (Nicole Richie? Joan Rivers? Susan Lucci? Why?) and fashion people who essentially said the same thing –  that if you do not have your clothes in or if you do not shop at Bergdorf Goodman, then your life is not worth  living.  Okay, I exaggerated that a bit, but after hearing nothing but heaps of praise for the store and how it had changed so many lives, it made a trip to Saks Fifth Avenue sound like slumming.

I guess my expectations were just too high.  I thought there would be a lot about the history of the store and about how they became the best shopping experience in New York.  Instead, the skimpy history was woven through the film by the use of a timeline with tiny print.  And key elements of the story were omitted.   Not a single word was uttered about Bergdorf Goodman’s famous made-to-order salon and workrooms.

There were also inaccuracies.  From the time the store was built in the 1920s until the 1980s, the Goodman family lived in an apartment on the top floor of the building.   In the film one interviewee stated that the Goodmans were listed as the building’s janitors because building codes did not allow just anyone to live above the store.  What the film did not say was that is because the workrooms were classified as a factory, and that was why occupation was not permitted.  People were living above their stores all over the city.

But as tedious as it was at times, I can’t say it was all bad.  Quite a bit of it showed how the holiday windows at the store are developed and executed.  They began with the idea of the 2011 Christmas windows, the Carnival of the Animals, and how the design and the props were made and acquired.  Then we were treated to the installation of the five windows that fit the theme.  I can tell you, there is a lot of time and energy put into those wonderful windows.

But back to my original point, that the film is about money.  They talked about how much things cost.  They talked about how much money the best sales persons make.  They talked about John and Yoko saving Christmas one year by buying $400,000 worth of furs.

I realize that it is pretty difficult to talk about a store without talking about commerce, but the idea put forward over and over that the store is exclusive and aspirational combined with  stress being put on the cost of the merchandise makes one think that perhaps the filmmakers agree with  F. Scott Fitzgerald when he wrote that the very rich really are different from you and me.

Considering that there were over 100 persons interviewed for the film, it seems a bit odd that so many of them were saying pretty much the same thing about the store.  It gave a scripted feel to the work.  Maybe this can be better understood when you know that one of the backers of the film was Andrew Goodman’s grandson, Andrew Malloy.  The Goodman family no longer owns the store, but they do own the building.

And the lack of history can partly be attributed to the lack of an archive.  I read in an interview with the filmmaker that the only archive of the 112 year old business was a group of photographs.   In showing the apartment the film had to use photos that were used in a  1965 magazine article.

Since it is not the holiday season, the Bergdorf Goodman windows were pretty simple.  I loved this modern art angle.  Can you tell that is an Alexander Calder type mobile?  The Thom Browne dress on the left is just as much a piece of modern art.  This was the dress I was so taken with in Saks, and I can tell you that no photo that I can take would ever do it justice.  The folds of the skirt are carefully placed and are attached to an underdress, giving a floating look to the folds.  And you cannot really see the beautiful insets on the bodice that supplied the shape, but this was one special frock.  But, it is not exclusive, as Saks had the same dress on display on the sales floor where shoppers could see it in the round and study the structure. Click the photos to get a better view.


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Currently Viewing – Lagerfeld Confidential

photo copyright

After the news flash of a week ago that Karl Lagerfeld was lamenting that there was no marriage between people and animals because he is in love with his white kitty Choupette, I thought the time was right to rewatch a film I saw five years ago, Lagerfeld Confidential.

Released in 2007, the film is not so much a biography of Lagerfeld as it is an extended interview.  The filmmaker follows him around, filming him at home, at work, in the air, at parties.  Lots of questions are asked, but few are answered directly.  Instead, you get a better sense of who Lagerfeld is by looking at his surroundings and his way of working.   In one of his apartments (the one for sleeping, not the one for eating) he has a chest of drawers just for his collars.  On top of the chest are trays of his silver rings.  I’d estimate there were several hundred rings.

On top of one chest his ipods are lined up.  There were maybe twelve of them.  At the foot of his bed is a huge TV, and the walls are lined with books.  In fact, there are books everywhere.

Some of the best scenes are of Lagerfeld at work.  He freely admits to knowing nothing of clothing construction, and has no fashion training.  His work often, he says, starts with dreams, (but one can’t always count on them) and then proceeds to a sketch.  Then it is up to the atelier to  interpret the design and give it life.

Lagerfeld dreamed the entire concept of his fall 2005 couture show.  That must have been a fantastic dream, as it is one of his most memorable productions, with all the models going out onto a circular runway, all wearing black coats, capes and cloaks.    When all of the models were in place on the runway, they all removed the coats as one, revealing the colorful suits and dresses beneath.

The film is about an hour and a half, and a good deal of it is wasted time, with a blurry sequence of a young boy in the sea and other sequences set to music and looking all arty.  You can see it on youtube or netflix.  It is in French, and the English subtitles are rather bad.  Or perhaps it is Karl’s rambling but at any rate, through much of it one is left wondering what the heck he is talking about.



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Currently Viewing – Gidget Goes to Rome

I decided to watch Gidget Goes to Rome simply because I’d read somewhere that stuck in the middle of the film was a fashion show by the Sorelle Fontana, one of the great Roman fashion houses of the mid 20th century.  And I’ve got to say that the fashion show was a delight, with the sophisticated designs of the sisters being shown in a traditional fashion showroom presentation.

But was it worth sitting through the rest of it for five minutes of superb 1963 fashion?  Probably not.

This is the typical early 1960s teen movie:  Girl loves Boy, Girl and Boy fight and break up, Girl and Boy find other loves, Girl and Boy get back together.  It was all totally predictable, but the beautiful backdrop of Rome did give it an air of la dolce vita.

In the first part of the movie, actor Eddie Foy, Jr. is wearing the shirt of my dreams:

You can tell that shirt is printed with various cocktails, right?  Just knowing that shirt has existed makes me happy, and I’d be over the moon (to quote Gidget) if I ever found one.  And Gidget’s straw handbag is pretty nifty too!

Before returning the disc to Netflix, I decided to check out the flip-side, which was Gidget Goes Hawaiian.  The Gidget and the scenery were different, but the plot was exactly the same.  Again, Eddie Foy, Jr. was in the movie, and quite remarkably, he once again wore that shirt.

Movie poster and screenshots copyright Columbia Pictures.  I found the first screenshot here, and the second one is a photo I took of my TV.


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Currently Viewing – The Great British Sewing Bee

I had pretty much given up on “reality TV.”  I’ve been over Project Runway for a very long time, and all of the “old stuff” shopping shows I’ve seen are seriously flawed.  Vintage seller Doris Raymond’s L.A. Frock Stars was actually quite good, but it was on the Smithsonian Channel, which isn’t included in most cable packages, and each 20-something minute show costs $2 on pay-per-view or Amazon instant video.

But then I discovered the latest from BBC2 - The Great British Sewing Bee.  It is everything a reality contest type show ought to be.

There are eight contestants who were picked from over a thousand entrants.  All are experienced sewers (sew-ers)  who come from differing backgrounds in relation to the process of sewing.  How completely wonderful it is to have a show where being older is not a liability!  Unlike US shows where there is an age limit, or where producing something mature is the kiss of death, the older sewers actually have the advantage of experience.

The lack of catty drama is refreshing.  The contestants hang out with each other over a cup of tea when they are between challenges.  They seem to actually like each other, with a sense that they are each rooting for the other.  There are no instances of contestants throwing another “under the bus” on this show.

Another strength is the experience of the judges.  There are only two: May Martin, a sewing teacher with 40 years experience, and Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant.  There are no actresses here who were picked to judge clothing merely because they know how to wear pretty clothes.  No, these two really know their craft, and the comments they make while observing the contestants sew add a great deal to the program.

But what has been the deal maker for me is how the program weaves in bits of history.  In episode three we get a look at how Queen Elizabeth inspired a legion of women sewers to sew for the war effort.  And if it could not get any better, the oldest contestant related her own experience with make do and mend during the 1940s.

For those of you who have never sewn a stitch, this is a great introduction to the craft.  For each challenge, they require certain skills and construction techniques which are then explained to the viewer.  You can actually learn a great deal about how a garment is constructed.

And for people like me who already sew, it is fun to sort of play along in one’s mind, to think how I might attempt the challenges.

Usually we here in the States have to wait months to see new British programs, if we can see them at all, but the first three episodes of Great British Sewing Bee are on YouTube, and I imagine that next week the last installment will be posted. ( One  Two  Three)  For people in the UK, the show can be watched on the BBC2 site.  The finale will air next Tuesday.

Photo copyright BBC2


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Currently Viewing – Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel

This week I finally got to watch this documentary on Diana Vreeland, and it was worth the wait.  Because the film was produced by Vreeland’s granddaughter-in-law, I was afraid that it would be a bit of a sappy tribute.  But no,no,no!  It was carefully crafted from Vreeland’s 1984 memoir, DV, and from interviews she did at the time with Diane Sawyer, Dick Cavett and a smirking Jane Pauley.

In 1983 Vreeland asked George Plimpton to help her write the story of her life.  They conducted a series of interviews which were edited to form DV.  The film uses voice actors to recreate the interviews, along with the film interviews.  While the book gives one a glimpse into the life and character of Vreeland, the film brings what is essentially the same material to life.  Reading Vreeland’s words and seeing her speak them are two entirely different experiences.

The film also includes quite a few interviews with people who worked with her both at Vogue and at the Costume Institute.  It was really interesting how few of them could talk about Vreeland without gesturing with their arms or without exaggerating their voices.  They could not recall her without showing the grand manner in which she spoke.

Particularly interesting was the interview with Harold Koda, who at the time was an intern, and then an assistant curator at the Costume Institute.  He addressed the criticism that the Vreeland shows were long on theatrics  but short on scholarship.  He explained that it was more important to Vreeland that the museum visitors feel the era being represented, rather than merely learning about it.

For an exhibition of 18th clothing Koda carefully researched the high wigs worn at court.  After faithfully reproducing the hairstyle, Vreeland insisted that it was not high enough, so the wig was expanded.  Upon seeing the mannequins they were to use for the show she exclaimed, “They have no éclat! Haut! Haut! Haut!”

Also interesting were the interviews with photographer David Bailey and model Penelope Tree, especially when they were asked to recount the same episode.  Even though the interviews were conducted separately, it was like they were finishing one another’s sentences.

I was struck by who was not included – Grace Mirabella, Polly Mellon, and Si Newhouse, who worked with her at Vogue and Conde Nast.  Perhaps they were asked to interview and declined, but I think that their inclusion, even in a very small way, would have added another dimension to the film.

The film is now available on Netflix, or on pay-per-view via Youtube.  I got the dvd from Netflix, which includes a nice section of additional footage of the interviews.  I would rarely suggest this, but I really think that if you have not read the book, you should see the film first.  After watching The Eye Must Travel (twice!) I’m now reading the book with very fresh eyes.


Mrs. Vreeland in her living room.  This is from the back cover of DV.


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Thoughts on Downton

FAIR WARNING!  This post contains spoilers about Downton Abbey, season 3, so read no further if you are not wanting to know how the season ended.  And if you are not a Downton fan, I think you’ll want to sit this one out.

It’s the show we all either love, or love to hate.   For the most part, I enjoy watching the show, but I’ve become increasingly irritated by all the bad history.  I guess you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher.

There has been so much discussion about clothing along the lines of are they or are they not properly attired.  As in most costume dramas, there is a combination of the good, the bad, and the downright silly.   For the most part I think that costumers today are much more aware of the need to be historically accurate than they were in the past.  All you have to do is watch a few episodes of M*A*S*H* or Happy Days to see how bad TV costuming was in the 1970s.

Generally speaking, the clothing in Downton Abbey has been pretty much correct to the era, but it is in the details that it goes awry.  After the sinking of the Titanic, Lady Mary complained about being forced to go into mourning and wear black.  But then, even when released from it, she continued to wear black on many occasions.  Of course, black began its move toward chicness during the war, but it is unlikely that she, a young woman who was not in mourning, would have worn it out of choice.

Then there is the problem of the same clothes being seen over and over and over.  A family as rich as the Crawleys would never have been caught dead in last year’s clothing.

But I think that the worst case was this season when Cousin Rose sneaked away to meet her married boyfriend in a “jazz club”.  This was 1921, I believe, and all the pretty young things in the club were dressed like a bad version of 1926 flappers.  Dresses were to the knee and much too tight.  Yes, I know that people automatically associate the 1920s with a wild, frenzied party of flappers, but this is just bad history.

There are also problems with the characters exhibiting modern sensibilities.  Would Lord Crawley have discouraged a suitor for his 26-year-old daughter merely because he was a little old?  Would an older man actually have defended a homosexual saying it was not his fault as he was born that way?  It seems unlikely.

I’ll only touch on the speech anachronisms because there are entire websites and blogs devoted entirely to exposing the dozens of them found in each episode.  Some are pretty obvious, but in order to find them all, some people are using a function of google that isolates English expressions by date of usage.  We all can isolate phrases and expressions that have come into the language during our own lifetimes, but the ones that predate us are just a natural part of our language.  So I didn’t realize that the word “rematch” was not used until 1941, but the usage of “I’m just sayin'” and “steep learning curve” and “a lot on my plate” were more obvious, and frankly, distracting.

Which is the problem of bad history.  It irritates the people who know better and ill-informs those that do not.

But if it is so bad, then why do we keep watching.  My guess is because it is so pretty.  My favorite scenes continue to be the ones that really don’t have a lot to do with the overall story line, but that show the Crawleys engaged in the leisure pursuits of a wealthy family of the time.  They are at their best when shooting or playing cricket or just rambling about.  It helps that they pick spectacular backgrounds.  Anyone care to join me in a trip to the Scottish highlands?

There were rumors that the show would have only three seasons, but the overwhelming and unexpected popularity of the program shelved that idea.  I’m thinking that it just cannot go past four or five, as there is just not going to be anyone left to inhabit Downton Abbey.  I suppose they could move the venue to Heaven, where so many of the characters now reside.

Why is there so much death on this show?  I guess we should not be surprised considering that it was the deaths of the heir and his son that form the basis of the series.  There have been 24 episodes and at least 12 deaths, for an average of a death every other week.

Poor Matthew.  The moment I heard that Dan Stevens was leaving the show I knew that Mary was destined to be a widow, so I watched the entire finale peeking out from under a blanket that I used to shield my eyes from the impending doom!  I feel bad for the little heir, as he sure looks expendable to me.  With the succession secure, who cares about who Mary marries or how she and Edith spar?  Yep, that baby is toast.

All photos copyright Carnival Films for ITV


Filed under Currently Viewing, Proper Clothing, Viewpoint