Category Archives: Designers

Alpine Fashion: From the 1940s to Chanel 2015

photo copyright Chanel.com

 

Once a year Chanel takes their show on the road with what they call the metiers d’art pre-fall show.  This year’s show took place in Salzburg, Austria and was a tribute to the Alpine look.  According to Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel got the idea for her 1950s jacket from the bell boy jackets at a Salzburg hotel in which she had stayed.

I’d wondered how Karl was going to make edelweiss chic, and you can see the how of it in the photo above.  By combining the trademark Chanel quilting pattern with the flowers at each point you can see how he took his bag of Chanel tricks, threw in the Alpine clichés, and came up with a collection that was uneven but interesting.  Some of the pieces were stunningly beautiful, as one would expect from Chanel.

As with all Chanel collections, the jackets and sweaters are my favorite pieces.  It has occurred to me that to replicate the look, it would be cheaper to fly to Munich for a week during Oktoberfest and do your shopping in one of the many trachten ( folkloric clothing) stores.  Or you could visit a button seller for edelweiss buttons to replace the buttons on a jacket you already have.  Either way, for less than the cost of a Chanel jacket you and a friend can enjoy one of the biggest parties in Europe.

Last week French television aired a program about Nazi collaborators who were artists and prominent people.  Coco Chanel was the star of the show.   The House of Chanel released a statement to the effect that there was nothing new in the program.  True, as Hal Vaughan published this information over two years ago.   Still, I find it a bit odd that the new collection has such a strong Germanic bent.  Perhaps Salzburg was chosen as the venue as Berlin or Munich would have made the connection clearer.

It will be interesting to see if this collection ends up sparking a trend in the way that Alpine inspired looks were a trend in the late 1930s and into the 40s.  To look at that trend, I’ve reprinted below a post I wrote four years ago about the Alpine trend during the 1940s.   I’m sorry the photos are not up to the standards here, but you can see how I’ve improved them over the years.

In the late 1930s and all during WWII, clothes with an Alpine (or Bavarian, or Tyrolean) flavor were very popular.  This has always struck me as being a bit odd, especially after it was clear that the US was going to war with Germany, and these clothes were so reminiscent of German folk dress.

In his book Forties Fashion, Jonathan Walford explains that in the 1930s, the Nazi German leadership actively encouraged the wearing of  Germanic Folk Costume, and the dirndl-wearing blonde German ideal commonly appeared in German propaganda images.  The use of Alpine-inspired details even appeared in Paris in 1936.

In looking at American fashion magazines, I’ve seen Alpine fashions featured as early as 1935.  Most often I’ve seen clothing from the Austrian firm, Lanz of Salzburg, used. Lanz was started as a maker of traditional Austrian folk costumes  in Austria in 1922 by Josef Lanz and Fritz Mahler.  By the mid 1930s they were exporting clothing to the  US, and in 1936 Josef Lanz opened a branch of Lanz, Lanz Originals, in New York.

As  the US moved toward war with Germany, these clothes continued to be popular.  Interesting, Lanz advertised in magazines such as Vogue and Glamour throughout the war, but in their ad copy, there is never any reference to the fact that the clothes are so similar to German folk dress.  From a 1943 ad:

Lanz faithful, classic suit of long-wearing, all-wool tweed, with warm boxy coat to match.  Colorful applique adds that gay spice for which Lanz is famous.

But why did this style continue to be so popular in the US?  I  have some theories.  First, “ethnic” fashions of all kinds were gaining in favor in the late 1930s.  Magazines did features on South American clothes, and Mexican and tropical prints were popular.  The dirndl skirt was used with lots of prints, not just with Alpine embroidery.

Also, these fashions were already in women’s and girl’s closets.  It stands to reason that in a time of shortages that a garment that would “go with” what the shopper already had would be desired.

If you want a deeper explanation, then you might consider the theory that enemies tend to copy their foes in dress, a form of cultural imperialism.

Whatever the reason, Lanz and other companies produced some really cute things.  I realized that I have a sort of mini-collection of these 1930s and 1940s Germanic fashions:

This label is from the dress at the top of the post.  Mid 1940s, made in the US

Early 1940s Jacket, with its label below

Made in Austria embroidered gloves

Unlabeled Jumper with embroidered trim.  This style jumper was very popular during the war.

Embroidered and appliqued belt, late 1930s

This vest was bought in a London department store, and is labeled Swiss Style.  Love the Edelweiss!

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Currently Reading: Rose Marie Reid, An Extraordinary Life

After seeing the Emilio Pucci in American exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, I was curious about the relationship between Pucci and swimwear maker Rose Marie Reid.   To my surprise I found that a biography of Reid had been published, so I promptly ordered a copy.

Unless the designer is Coco Chanel or maybe Yves Saint Laurent, designer biographies are actually quite rare.  Some are written as exhibition catalogs, such as the wonderful Claire McCardell: Redefining Modernism which was published in 1998 to go with an exhibition of McCardell’s work at the Museum at FIT.  There are quite a few autobiographies from twentieth century designers, some good, some bad.  But a biography of a ready-to-wear designer in a niche market is a rarity.

In reading about the life of a fashion designer – or any important person for that matter – the thing that interests me most is that person’s work and the influences on the work.  There are a few designers, again, Coco Chanel, whose work was so important and so entwined with the time in which she lived that her private life and political and religious views are an important part of the narrative.

Rose Marie Reid, An Extraordinary Life is actually more about Reid the mother, the Mormon, and the woman with whom people had difficult relationships.  Not that the details of her design career are not present, as they are, but the timeline  is fuzzy and confusing.  To a person like me who likes to examine the when of things, it was a bit frustrating.  For instance, the book tells a great story about how Rose Marie first started making bathing suits.  Her new husband, Jack Reid was a swimming instructor who hated his saggy wool trunks.  Rose Marie took a piece of cotton duck to which she added lacing on the sides to make for a good fit.

The design was so successful that Jack took a copy to the local Hudson’s Bay Company store, where the buyer there asked for a women’s design.  From that order the business was formed, and  within a year Rose Marie was overseeing a factory with thirty-two sewing machines.  But the book never says exactly when this all took place.

Of course I realize that history is not always measured in dates.  However, when you are studying design it helps to know when such innovations actually took place.  The best I can figure was sometime between November 1935, when Rose Marie and Jack were married, and 1937 when it is mentioned that Rose Marie’s suits were used in some 1937 games.

Interwoven into the story of the formation of the business are the details of the birth of their children, the disintegration of their marriage, and how Rose Marie prayed through it all.  The theme and the timeline constantly changed and at times I was left shaking my head.

I guess it is important to let you know that one of Rose Marie’s daughters, Carole Reid Burr, was the co-author.  There were endnotes that gave sources, and from that it is easy to see that this book is mainly a compilation of oral family stories.  Numerous interviews were listed as references, and from that I could begin to see why the telling seemed so disjointed.

There were actually sixteen different people interviewed for the book, and along with old letters and newspaper clippings, they seem to be the source for most of the information.  Company records did not seem to be used at all, but that is not surprising since Rose Marie sold the business and franchised her name starting in 1962.  Subsequently there are more details about the many lawsuits in which Rose Marie was involved than there were of the actual business of making swimsuits.

Near the end of the book I finally spotted the name of Emilio Pucci, and began to take notice.  Unfortunately the anecdote was about how he had bought some Rose Marie Reid swimsuits for his staff, and had given one to fashion journalist Ann Scott James.  And that was the end of Emilio, with no mention of the collaboration between him and Reid.

A great deal is made of Reid’s Mormon faith, and I suppose that is understandable considering that the book was published by a Mormon company.  In some ways her faith was important to her design story, as the dictates of modesty by the Mormon Church led her to strongly reject the bikini.   And it was probably this rejection that led Rose Marie to sell the company in 1962.

Besides the fuzzy storytelling, there were quite a few factual mistakes.  The book refers to, but does not explain a relationship with White Stag.  Unfortunately, it is consistently spelled “White Stagg.”  There was also a big discussion of the great success of rival  swimsuit maker Cole of California.  The authors refer to Cole’s Scandal Suit as a bikini, which it was not. (There was a version that resembled two pieces connected by mesh, but even it was not a true bikini.)

It’s such a shame that the story of a company that was the world’s largest producer of women’s swimwear in the late 1950s should be told in such an off-putting way.  Between the preaching of Mormon principles and the accolades of Reid’s mothering ability, I’ve found it hard to go back through and try to establish just the story of the swimsuit company.  Maybe someday I’ll be stranded on a desert island with just this book and a pencil and I can figure it all out.

 

 

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Meeting My First Fashion Love, Betsey Johnson

It’s often said that one should not try to seek out the heroes of her youth, as it usually leads to disappointment and disillusionment.  How many movies have been made about the adult who meets the idol of his youth only to find out he is a drunk and a jerk?  I’m happy to report that is not always the case.

I was taught to sew at a very early age, and by the time I was in high school I was making the majority of my clothes.  The early 1970s were a great time to be a kid who sewed because crafts were in.  Not only that, but Butterick patterns were continuing to expand their Young Designer series of patterns.  And starting in 1971 my favorites were the Betsey Johnson for Alley Cat patterns.

Betsey came to fashion prominence in the mid 1960s as a designer for Paraphernalia, but I was only ten and not exactly into fashion, so I have no memory of that famous boutique and clothing line.  But by  high school I was ready to join the crazy fashion parade of the early 70s.  I would go to the local textile factory outlets and buy the wackiest knits I could find, all destined to be made up Betsey-style.

I had plans to be in Charlotte yesterday due to the Vintage Charlotte market that is held twice a year.  When someone tweeted that Betsey Johnson was to be making an appearance at the Charlotte Belk store the same day I could not believe my luck.  I made plans to attend and to see if I could get in to meet her.

Despite a long line and a long wait, my desire to meet Betsey prevailed.  When she appeared, it was in a rain of rose petals.

Betsey then took a seat and began to meet her fans.  Before long it was my turn.  I’d had the presence of mind to bring along one of my vintage Betsey Johnson patterns for her to sign.

When I handed the pattern to her she said that she had not seen one of those in years.  She showed it around to her “entourage” telling them how she designed sewing patterns in the 70s.  Then she asked me if I was still sewing and we had a nice little conversation about home sewing and how much fun it was.  She said she wished she could get back into it herself.

Even though there was a huge crowd of people wanting to meet Betsey, she took the time to have a real conversation with me.  I’m sure that I’m not the only person who left feeling like this was a woman who genuinely cared about the people who came to see her.   She was open and enthusiastic, exactly the way I’d always known she would be.

 

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Emilio Pucci in America, Georgia Museum of Art

Emilio Pucci skiing at Reed College in the uniform he designed for the ski team there, 1937. Special Collections, Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library, Reed College.

Yesterday I took a museum day.  The Georgia Museum of Art in Athens had just opened a new fashion exhibition and I was anxious to see it.  The topic was Emilio Pucci, who needs no introduction from me.  What many might be surprised to know is that Pucci actually attended the University of Georgia in Athens after transferring from the University of Milan.  He then went on to Reed College in Oregon.

As the title tells us, the exhibition was not a comprehensive study of the career of Emilio Pucci, nor was it a history of the company.  It was about how the Italian Pucci had relationships with American institutions and companies.  The exhibition is quite small, and there are a few gaps in what was displayed, but overall it gives an excellent view of Pucci’s American relationships.  Photos were not allowed (although there was no sign stating such, and it took getting my hand slapped to find it out) and the photos supplied for press do not show any of the clothes as they are displayed, so I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to use your imagination somewhat.

Probably the best known collaboration between Pucci and an American company was that with the lingerie company, Formfit Rogers.  Throughout the 1960s and into the 70s Pucci designed undergarments and sleeping attire for Formfit.  On exhibit was a panty girdle, and four matching lingerie pieces in blue.

Braniff hostess modeling in a pink Pucci uniform holding an umbrella standing in the front part of a jet engine. Braniff Airways Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections Department, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.

Between 1965 and 1974, Pucci designed uniforms for the stewardesses of Braniff Airlines.  The ensembles included everything from head to toe: hats, scarves,dresses,tunics,pants, leggings, shoes, and boots.  Archival photos show that the stewardesses were allowed to mix and match the pieces, though the staff was provided with clothing that corresponded to various activities and which involved two in-air clothing changes.

Braniff hostess wearing a pink Pucci uniform and a bubble helmet standing in front of a Concorde airplane at the Paris Airshow, 1967. Braniff Airways Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections Department, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.

The exhibition had this tunic, and it also had the plastic bubble hood.  Archival photos show that the women often wore the tights with a solid dress.

Group photo of early Emilio Pucci hostesses uniforms for Braniff. Braniff Airways Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections Department, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas

Group photo of early Emilio Pucci hostesses uniforms for Braniff. Braniff Airways Collection, History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections Department, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas

The bubble hood was only used for a short period because of its tendency to malfunction.

My favorite outfit from the exhibition was a circa 1955 two-piece swimsuit and matching cape that Pucci designed for Canadian-American swimsuit designer Rose Marie Reid.  The print was a tiny Venice theme, and while I could not find a photo of it online, there is a similar Reid piece for sale.  That set just went to the very top of my wishlist.

I was really hoping that there would be some of the very rare pieces that Pucci did for White Stag in 1948.  They did have the copy of the Harper’s Bazaar in which the pieces were shown, but no actual garments.  And there was no mention of the mid 1950s collaboration between Pucci and the McCall’s Pattern Company, nor was there any mention of the patterns he did for Vogue in the 1960s and 70s.

Even though this exhibition was quite small, I’m glad I took the time to go see it.  The clothing was very well presented, and the lighting was good enough so that the details could be easily examined.  It is well worth a drive if you are in Georgia or the western Carolinas.

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Ad Campaign – Oscar de la Renta, 1972

Oscar de la Renta interprets the art of ikebana in georgette. Skirt-over-pants costume, $200

I’m sure that by now everyone has heard the news of the death of Oscar de la Renta on Monday.  From the time I was first aware of fashion designers in the early 1970s, Oscar has always been on the scene, so it is really hard imagining American fashion without him.

I’ve  said that if I had the money, I’d wear Oscar and nothing else.  A trip to his boutique in New York was always a treat.  It was the type of place where the clothes were always beautiful, but always very wearable by women of many ages.  He will be missed.

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Currently Reading – Mademoiselle: Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History

I think I’d made the comment here that one thing the world does not need is another book about Coco Chanel.  Between 2009 and 2012, at least twelve books on Chanel’s life were published.  What more was there to say?

As it happens, I was wrong.  The world does need Mademoiselle:Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History , a book that at over 600 pages (including notes and references) attempts to set the story of Chanel’s life straight, and to place it and her work into the historical framework of the Twentieth Century.  It was a huge task, especially considering the myths surrounding the woman and her namesake business.

Through meticulous research and the locating of some key new resources such as the diaries and private papers of some of Chanel’s lovers, Rhonda Garelick has painted the most authentic portrait of Chanel to date. It isn’t as though there is a lot of new material, because there is not.  What makes this book so good is that Garelick cuts to the heart of the many conflicting stories about Chanel, and through her research comes up with the most plausible versions.  To add to the narrative, she also relates the alternate versions when there is any question as to the truth.

Most people writing about Chanel point out how she appropriated the clothing of her lovers.  What Garelick adds to this is how she also  absorbed and reflected their ideological and political views as well. Unfortunately, Chanel seemed to be attracted to men who were openly anti-semitic and who leaned toward fascism.

With the exception of Hal Vaughan’s Sleeping with the Enemy, most books about Chanel have reduced her life during the years between 1939 and 1945 to that of an aging romantic woman becoming infatuated with a younger German army officer.  With Mademoiselle, there is no white-washing of history.  Drawing on the research of Hal Vaughan, Garelick clearly presents the truth that Chanel was a spy for Germany.  There is also proof that she exposed an acquaintance as being Jewish, and that she went into at least one apartment that had been abandoned by its fleeing Jewish occupant and helped herself to art and antiques.

Garelick points out in her introduction that Chanel has become a popular first name for baby girls.  I’ve got to assume that the parents of these babies know nothing about Chanel the woman. As much as we might acknowledge her talent, Chanel was not a nice person, and she certainly would not be a good role model for your kid.

It also brings up the disturbing question of how much are we willing to overlook in the admiration of Chanel’s design talent and in the pursuit of style. Should we be like the Jewish Wertheimer family who continued to do business with Chanel even though she tried to “aryanize” their business during WWII, and who continue to protect her image even today?

Almost 45% of the book consists of end notes and the bibliography.  Unfortunately I was reading a advance reviewer’s copy on my e-reader and the notes were not linked.  I finally gave up tying to flip back and forth and read the notes at the end of each chapter.  They added a lot to the narrative.

My thanks to NetGalley and Random House.

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We Love Vera (Neumann)

Last week I showed a newer fabric that was copied from a 1960s print that can be found on vinyl accessories from the German company, KEK.  It’s hard to know if these newer fabrics are complying with the original owner’s copyright, especially since the rules vary from country to country and often involve China, in which there are rules but few seem to follow them.

While some companies have long gone out of business and their former owners have little or no idea that their designs are being recycled, excellent planning prevented this from happening at at least one American company, Vera.  According to Vera’s nephew, Fred Salaff, all of Vera’s designs were registered in the Library of Congress, which made her copyright easier to defend.

Another thing that has protected Vera’s work is that someone has always clearly owned it.  Vera sold her business to Manhattan Industries in 1967, but she continued to work as the designer of the scarves that carried her name.  When Manhattan sold the Vera company in 1988, all her original work, samples and archives were put into storage.  In 2005, the Vera name and archives were bought by Susan Seid who worked with other companies to get products with Vera designs produced.

One company was Anthropologie which sold a line called “We Love Vera” starting in 2010.  I don’t shop at Anthropologie, as it is owned by the same man who owns Urban Outfitters, a company that is constantly releasing objectionable products just for the publicity, much like a three-year-old pitches a tantrum just to get mommy to notice.  But I did keep up with the Vera products, mainly because I think the whole issue of print copyright is so interesting.

Susan Seid sold the copyrights and licensing agreements last year, and it does not look like Anthropologie is still selling We Love Vera.  Other companies continue to produce products that feature Vera artwork, including Brighton handbags.

I was happy to pull this We Love Vera blouse from the Goodwill bins last week.  It’s interesting to see how her designs have been adapted to a young, modern consumer.

I’m not exactly sure what this design portrays, but it is definitely from Vera Neumann’s hand.  Any ideas on what these little designs are?

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