Category Archives: Designers

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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Irene Lentz Early 1960s Dress

This Irene dress in my collection is a great example of beginner’s luck.  This was so long ago that clothes from the 1970s were not vintage, and people were just beginning to see that maybe there were some things of interest from the late 1950s and early 60s.  Most of the few books that had been published about vintage clothing suggested that there was not much of value after the early 50s.

So with that mindset I was at a church rummage sale, looking for things from the 1930s and 40s, when I came across this dress.  I knew it was older, due to the construction and the very fine metal zipper, though not as old as I was seeking.  Because it was so beautifully embroidered, I plunked down my $2 and took it home.  From there it languished in a box with other miscellaneous bits for at least a decade.

After the internet came into my life I could see how it was going to be a great help in getting information about old clothes.  It was the early days of eBay, and I would come home every afternoon from teaching, sit down in front of the computer and go through all the new listings in the vintage clothing category.  It took me about thirty minutes. Before long eBay set up discussion rooms, and I gravitated toward the one for vintage clothing.

People there were great about sharing knowledge, and one thing that was popular was to post a label and everyone would sort of pool information.  One day someone posted an irene label.  I remembered my dress that I’d stuck away all those years ago.  Though I’d seen that it was a very nice dress, I had no idea of the wonderful history behind it.

It was a common practice for high end designers to do some designs that were exclusive for a particular store.  I’ve read that Adrian had agreements with twenty-five stores across the country.  The Halle Bros. Co. was located in Cleveland.

The embroidery is machine made, but still very beautiful.  It reminds me of an Oriental shawl.

The bust darts are on the outside of the dress.  What makes this so special is that the darts do not stop at the side seam, but continue around to the back where they form a little bustle effect.

The bodice front and back are cut as one piece.

It just makes me worry about the great things I saw in the 1980s but was too foolish to buy.

UPDATE:  The dress is not ombre shaded the way my photos look.  It is the light beige you see in the small photos.

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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: Halston & Warhol, Silver & Suede

When I visited the Mint Museum several weeks ago I picked up a card listing the upcoming exhibitions.  I was thrilled to see that Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede was to be traveling there next spring.   To celebrate I rushed home and ordered the companion book which was complied by the Andy Warhol Museum, the co-organizer (along with Halston’s niece, Leslie Frowick) of the show.

Halston and Warhol were, of course, contemporaries, but they were also friends and collaborators.   Warhol did his first flowers screen prints in the early Sixties, but he returned to the theme in 1970.  Two years later Halston had silk printed with the motif which was made into dresses.

Starting in 1979 Halston created a line of shoes for Garolini.  Warhol photographed a grouping of them in 1980 and created screen prints sprinkled with diamond dust.

In 1982 Halston commissioned Warhol to create art for his men’s wear line’s ad campaign.

The book is arranged in chronological order according to decades.  For each there is a handy timeline for Warhol at the top, and Halston at the bottom of the page.  It helps one see clearly how their lives and work connected.

Though Warhol was an artist, he was also a fashion illustrator, and he continued to be interested in fashion throughout his life.   His work for fashion companies and for fashion magazines spilled over into his non-commercial art.  Shoes was a prominent theme.  In the late Fifties he made stamps, as seen on the right, that he printed on paper and then hand colored.

The exhibition also shows examples of Halston’s signature looks, including the sarong dress.  Inspired by a friend and model who wrapped a towel around herself as she emerged from a swimming pool, Halston began working with the form.  The dress looks simple, but it is meticulously constructed on the bias.

This photograph was taken in 1974 at the famous Studio 54.  Halston is on the left and Warhol is on the right, with various other celebrities mingled in.

If you are a fan of the work of either Warhol or Halston, the book is a great resource to have whether you get to bee the exhibition or not.  It is currently showing in Pittsburgh at The Warhol until August 24, and then it travels to Des Moines.  It ends up in Charlotte next spring.

Hopefully that gives me time to do a little re-reading.  I’m currently in the middle of Popism: The Warhol 60s.  Next up is Simply Halston: A Scandalous Life by Steven Gaines which is a bit soapy and a lot gossipy.  I’ll finish with a marathon reading of The Andy Warhol Diaries, which Warhol narrated over the telephone to his friend Pat Hackett from late in 1976 until his death in 1987.

Talk about gossipy!  After the Diaries were published in 1989, Halston was reportedly so upset at the way he was portrayed that he sold his valuable collection of Warhol works.  But as my sister used to say, “If you don’t want to be portrayed in a bad light, then don’t do and say bad things.”  Unfortunately Halston didn’t have the benefit of my sister’s advice.

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Currently Reading: Charles James by Harold Koda and Jan Glier Reeder

Without a doubt the book that accompanies the Metropolitan’s current costume exhibition, Charles James: Beyond Fashion, is the most beautiful book in my library.  Reproduced on the front and back is the famous Cecil Beaton photo of eight models wearing James ballgowns.  It’s a stunning introduction to a book that is full of beautiful clothes, beautifully photographed.

Rather than showing James’s work in a chronological manner, the authors place his work into four categories – Spirals & Wraps, Drapes & Folds, Anatomical Cut & Platonic Form and Architectural Shaping.  It’s a very effective way of presenting his work because sometimes James would work on an idea for years.  It’s easy to see how he developed techniques and applied them in his garments.

To help make sense of Charles James’s life and career, there is a year by year chronology of the events of his life.  The dresses and techniques are cross-referenced with the photos throughout the book.  Because James was known to tell the same story several different ways, the authors and staff of the Met spent hours trying to figure out the truth behind the legends.    They did an amazing job of sorting it all out.

Besides the wonderful photos of the garments, there is quite a bit of supporting visuals, like the vintage photo seen in the layout above.  Many of the dresses were shown with period photos of the dress being worn.

Others were shown with drawings James did of the garment.  Some of the drawings were made at the time that the garment was designed and sewn, but most were done by him many years later.  James had a strong desire to document and preserve his legacy.  The collection of his work that was at the Brooklyn Museum (and which was transferred to the Met several years ago) was mainly donated by the owners who were urged to do so by James.  He even sold drawings to benefactors who then donated the items to the Brooklyn Museum.

The photo of the Clover Leaf Ball Gown was enhanced by two drawings by James, both done in 1970.  The bottom drawing was especially useful as it shows how the shirt was pieced.  If the book lacks anything, it is drawings of this type.  There were good descriptions of how each garment was constructed, but I was frequently not able to visualize the construction.  A few simple diagrams of pattern pieces would really have helped, especially in the Spirals & Wraps section.

This circa 1938 dressing gown was made from wide ribbons, the shape achieved solely through varying the width of the ribbons.

As amazing as the ball gowns are, I have to admit that I prefer the precise tailoring seen in the coats and suits of Charles James.  Ever since I saw the garments he made for Ann Bonfoey Taylor, I’ve been a huge fan of his coats.  Just look at the cut of that sleeve and bodice!

The last section of the book was written by Sarah Scaturro and Glenn Petersen, conservators at the Costume Institute.  They explained how James’s construction techniques were often “inherent vices” or that the very techniques and materials he used often have led to the garment’s deterioration.  He freely mixed materials, and he manipulated fabrics in a way that has led them to be unstable.

Try not to cry over this photo of a badly damaged bodice.  The chiffon has torn due to stress put on the bodice from the weight of the skirt and the operation of the zipper.  There is simply no way to fix the problem, so if this dress were to be displayed pretty much all they could do is overlay the damage with a piece of matching chiffon.

If you are planning to see the exhibition, I’d go ahead and get the book before you go, because you certainly do not want to be carrying that heavy thing around the museum and city.  And if you are not going, you might want to invest in this one anyway.  It is a real gem.

 

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