Linda Morand and Key West Hand Print Fabrics

You may not know the name Linda Morand, but if you are a child of the 1960s like me, you certainly have seen her face.  Starting in 1965 she was a model in New York, appearing in all the top magazines of the period. But what is interesting to me about Linda is how she got her start. I recently received an email from her in which she told her story.

 I worked at Key West Hand Print Fabrics from the summer of 1964 till the beginning of 1965.  Jim Russell discovered me at 18 when I had run away to Key West to become a painter.  I was waiting tables at a Cuban restaurant near the old Key West building (I think they called it Harbor House before)   He hired me on the spot.  I sold the fabric and he gave me several dresses to wear.  Jim and Peter encouraged me to appear as the lead in Under the Yum Yum Tree.  I wish I had the playbill.  They took pictures of me in Lilly’s fabrics and ran an ad in The New Yorker.  It was my first modeling job!  I left Key West with the encouragement of the wonderful artist community and went on to have a successful modeling career as a Ford model.  All thanks to Jim Russell and Peter Pell.

If you are a regular reader, then you read my interview with Jacq where he told the story of Key West Hand Prints.  This information from Linda gives us a bit more of the under-told story of Key West Hand Prints. Thanks so much, Linda!

UPDATE: Here’s even more from Linda.

 I thought it might interest your readers what happened to me when I went to New York with the pictures.  In the pictures I already sent you, Jim Russell took the color one in front of the screen in the shop. Peter Pell arranged the bolts of Hand Print Fabrics for me to lunge through, and Jim took the picture.  No hair and make-up…just Key West casual.  I met Suzie de Poo and Lilly Pulitzer.  I was so young, but I was trying to look like Veruschka.  Here are some of the first pictures taken when I went to New York.  I signed with the Ford agency. They put me in the teen-age category. 

I only worked in New York for a year.  The resemblance to Jackie [Kennedy] was awkward for me, even though the clients were clamoring for the Look, so I fled to Paris and lived in Europe for several years.  I am glad I did.  
1966, Linda in a Betsey Johnson dress in Mademoiselle magazine.

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Filed under First Person Stories, Rest of the Story, Textiles

Tammis Keefe for Marlboro Shirts

It may not be immediately obvious why I recently added this shirt to my collection. All will become clear when you see the closeup of the print.

If you have followed my writings for a while, you already know that I have a fondness for textile designs by Tammis Keefe. Today she is most remembered for her hankies and towels, but she also designed home decorator fabrics, and for a short time starting in 1957, she worked on textile design for the Marlboro Shirt Company.

If you are like me, the greatest association with Marlboro is with the cigarette brand. Marlboro Shirt Company was an entirely different company, though it does appear that at some point the company was acquired by Philip Morris, which also made the cigarettes. But my story dates to 1957 and 1958, long before that acquisition.

Marlboro Shirt Company had a long history, being formed in 1890. It was located in Baltimore, and for years men’s shirts were the only product. By the 1940s Marlboro had expanded into other men’s apparel, like bathing suits, pajamas, and jackets. In 1957 they entered the women’s shirt market with a new brand, Lady Marlboro.

At the same time, it was decided that the traditional man’s shirt could be made in sports styles, or rather, leisure styles to fit the increasingly casual American lifestyle. Tammis Keefe was brought in to design textiles that would fit into a more casual style. According to a paper written by FIT graduate student Suzanne Chee in 1990, many of the prints were (like mine) conversational in nature. She adapted antique motifs like vintage theater playbills and antique playing cards.  And the shirts were made for men and women in matching prints.

To me, the designs do not look as though they were actually drawn by Tammis Keefe. The style of the ones I have seen all have an antique print look. Or maybe I’m not giving Ms. Keefe enough credit. I’m sure she could draw in more than the midcentury style she is most known for.

The closeup views reveal why I had to have this one. There are tennis players…

picnickers…

hikers…

beach croquet…

and fishers.

I bought this even though it is badly faded. It must have been a favorite piece. The color is actually an olive green, but I can’t help but wonder if it was made in other colors as well. And if anyone has the matching man’s shirt, I’d love to add it to keep this one company.

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Filed under Collecting, Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Textiles

The Body Beautiful by Annette Kellermann

 

I’ve written about swimmer Annette Kellermann before, and you might know her as the subject of the 1952 film, Million Dollar Mermaid, staring Esther Williams. She was the woman who introduced the one-piece swimsuit for woman. but what she might have been best at was self-promotion.

In 1925 she promoted a health plan which was outlined in this booklet. She capitalized on a study conducted by Dr. Dudley A. Sargent of Harvard University which found her body to be the most perfectly formed female physique. She promised that in just five to fifteen minutes a day, any woman could “enjoy the priceless possessions of glorious health, radiant beauty, and a figure fashioned in Nature’s own wonderful mould.”

There are numerous photos of Kellermann’s perfect body in the booklet, most of which appear to have been altered to make her look thinner than she appears in other photos I’ve seen of her.

It just goes to show that  the pressure on women to strive for unrealistic body ideals have been with us a very long time.

I love that on this page Kellermann assures the reader that attaining world-wide fame for her figure has not in the least made her vain. That’s reassuring.

The 1920s was a time when youth and slimness were fashionable. It’s easy to see how this program might appeal to women who had been told their bodies were old-fashioned. Another part of the appeal might have been that in 1925 Kellermann was thirty-eight years old. Though she didn’t advertise that fact in the booklet, she had been in the public eye for about twenty years by this point. People knew she was approaching middle age.

I’d like to say that we’ve finally gotten to the point where we no longer put this type of “perfect body” pressure on women and on ourselves, but then that would be untruthful. Years of exposure to weight loss ads and magazines articles on losing weight, the “helpful” comments of others and subtle peer pressure are powerful influences.

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Filed under Advertisements, Curiosities, Summer Sports

Tina Leser

Quite a few years ago I wrote this profile on designer Tina Leser for my now inactive website. I thought I had shared it here, but a search for it turned up empty. I’ve been showing some of myLeser pieces on Instagram, so this is a good time to share an updated version here as well. I apologize for the tiny pictures, and for the poor quality. These were taken years ago. I’ll be replacing them, hopefully soon.

 

A rarely seen photograph of Tina Leser, made in 1950. She appears to be wearing a dress of her own design. The photo was taken at her farm on Long Island, and she is seen here with her Great Dane, Taxi. Photo copyright and courtesy of Andrejs Sinats.

Tina was born Christina Buffington in 1910. She was later adopted and her name changed to Christina Wetherill Shillard-Smith. She was the daughter of an affluent Philadelphia stockbroker and his artist wife. The family traveled widely, and as a young child, Tina visited Asia, Europe and Africa, and for a time, lived in India. When it came time to choose a career, she settled on art school, and attended first the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and then the Sorbonne, in Paris.

In 1931, at the age of 21, Tina married Curtin Leser, and the two of them moved to Honolulu, Hawaii. It was here that Tina Leser began her career in fashion. She opened a shop in 1935, in which she sold clothing that she designed. Leser used native Hawaiian, and imported filipino fabrics to construct sportswear, day wear and gowns. She then worked with a process to hand-block designs onto sailcloth. As an artist, she often handpainted a fabric to order. A customer might order a special skirt with the family pet hand painted on it.

Here is a great example of a 1940s Leser skirt. The fabric is a Guatemala woven design. Courtesy of listitcafe.com

In 1940, Tina Leser went to New York on a buying trip and to try and sell her designs. Partly through the influence of Harper’s Bazaar editor Carmel Snow, she placed an order with Saks for 500 garments.  She continued to live and work in Honolulu, but in 1941, decided to expand her business to New York. She closed her Honolulu store in 1942 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and moved to New York.  There she ran her company until the next year, when she became the designer at Edwin H. Foreman.  It was at Foreman that Tina Leser developed the international style for which she became famous.

It was wartime, and travel around the world was quite limited for the private citizen.  But Leser looked for, and found interesting cultural influences close to home – Mexico, Guatemala, Hawaii, and the USA countryside.  From Mexico she took the traditional appliqued flannel jackets and added sequins.  From Guatemala she took their handwoven cloth and made skirts and playsuits.  Their blanket fabric was turned into strapless dresses.

She utilized Hawaiian shapes – the sarong and the wrap skirt, and also used Hawaiian fabrics to make an innovative bathing suit that had just one strap.  And she referenced the United States by taking the coveralls adopted by so many American women factory workers, and making attractive versions in flannel and plaid.

photo courtesy of Lin Allen

In the postwar era, India was very much in the news, and in Tina Leser’s mind.  Having spent part of her childhood in that country, it was natural that India’s move toward independence would inspire her to base many of her designs on the country’s ethnic clothing.  She began the first of many designs based on the fabrics, colors and shapes of Indian traditional clothing. In 1947 she did a line of beachwear and sundresses made of traditional Indian madras plaid,

‘In the lines and colors of my beachwear,’ she said, ‘I try to capture the spirit of leisure and play in which it is worn. Successful design always reflects purpose…’

The Honeymoon collection was featured in the November, 1949 issue of Holiday magazine.

One of most remarkable events in Tina Leser’s career was her honeymoon, She was remarried in 1948 to James Howley (she and Leser had divorced in the late 1930s), and for their honeymoon the pair took a trip around the world.  Actually, it was an inspiration-finding expedition, and it led to her Fall 1949 multi-cultural collection.

The influences were gathered from what she would see on every step of her journey – kimonos from Japan, silk pajamas from China, a priest’s coat from Thailand, the colors and embroideries of Indian fabrics, peasant clothing from Italy, antique fashion plates from France and porcelains from England – all influenced her fall line.

In the photograph above, you can see how traditional Indian punjab pants were interpreted by Ms. Leser.  She continued to reinvent this basic ensemble throughout her career.

After 1949, Leser continued to reference a variety of ethnic influences, often mixing them in a single garment or collection. For example, she might take a purely American fabric such as the red and white check commonly used in picnic tablecloths, and sew it into an item with an Oriental-influenced shape such as a sarong or kimono.

Leser also liked to take a “casual” fabric and use it for a “formal” function. An example would be the same gingham tablecloth cotton sewn into a party dress. Or she might take a formal fabric and use it for a casual function, as in the case of her elaborately printed and embroidered bathing suits.

She also liked to take a favorite fabric or trim and use it across her collection. I’ve seen embroidery very similar to what is on this bathing suit made into a hostess gown, trimming the edges of a cashmere sweater, and made into a pair of slacks.

A great example is this wrap dress made from cotton sateen. It was featured in the May 1956 issue of Good Housekeeping, and earned their seal of approval.

But so that you don’t start thinking that all Tina Leser could design was exotic and foreign-inspired, she also used fabrics from some of the very best fabric design firms.  Most notably, she had designs using the “Modern Master” series of fabric from Fuller. This was a series of fabrics commissioned by Fuller Fabrics by some of the world’s most prominent artists, such as Picasso and Miro.  She also used Wesley Simpson prints, Hope Skillman fabrics and Boussac florals. And she loved and used cashmere, both from the American firm Dalton, and the Scottish Pringle.

She designed lots of pretty dresses that today, would be considered to be quite dressy, but in the late 1940s and into the 1950s, were much more casual than what most people were accustomed to wearing.

Tina Leser left Foreman in 1953 to form her own company, Tina Leser Originals. In the 1950s, women needed clothes for an increasingly casual lifestyle, and Leser’s pieces were casual but sophisticated.  People were entertaining at home, and many of Leser’s ads during the 1950s show a relaxed hostess curled up in a pair of her slacks and a comfortable tunic.

She perfected (some references say “invented”) the slim toreador pants of the 1950s, which were often paired with exotic tunics or cashmere sweaters trimmed with embroidered edgings. And in 1957 she showed a cashmere sweater that was dress length, bringing about the inception of the “sweater dress.”

She entered into a design arrangement with Gabar Swimsuits, and she designed for them for many years.  She’s often thought of as a swimsuit designer, mainly because her work for Gabar was so wide-reaching.

But it was not just the swimsuit she was designing – it was a whole new way of wearing it.  The cover-ups and skirts and matching shorts and wraps incorporated the design of the swimsuit beneath into a complete ensemble.  The bathing suit became the foundation for streetwear.

In 1964, Leser closed her business, only to open it again in 1966.  Her first collection after her re-opening was a tribute to India, with the fabrics being made on traditional Indian looms. She continued to make clothing that was oriental in feel, but she concentrated less on sportswear, and more on clothing was was adaptable to many situations, be it evening, day or at home.  Her fabrics were still very much inspired by her travels.

Tina Leser Originals remained open until 1982. Leser died four years later in 1986.

April Calahan, “Tina Leser: Global Vision”, The Hidden History of American Fashion, 2018

Chambers, Bernice G., Fashion Fundamentals. New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1947.

Lambert, Eleanor, World of Fashion. New York: R.R.Bowker Company, 1976.

McDowell, Colin, McDowell’s Directory of Twentieth Century Fashion. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1985.

Stegemeyer, Anne, Who’s Who in Fashion. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1980, 1988.

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Vintage Miscellany – August 27, 2020

I still have beach pajamas on my mind, so here’s a beautiful example of how they were worn. I love how the maker took the time to match the print. This could have ended up looking like a mess, but instead there’s a lovely symmetry about it. I also love how the wearer is not a thin teenager. What’s interesting is that I have five pairs of 1930s beach pajamas in my collection, and three of them fit a figure like this woman’s. Fun fashion is truly for everyone.

And now for the news…

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1930s Collegiate Print Beach Pajamas

Beach pajamas are one of my favorite historic clothing items. They were in vogue for about fifteen years, during which time the concept went through several changes. Much of my interest stems from this garment’s role in making wearing pants in public by women acceptable. Much of my summer has been spent on gathering information, and then writing a paper on the evolution of pajamas on the beach. I’ll be sharing my paper in the future, first hopefully at my regional Costume Society of America symposium, and then here on my blog.

I already had several pairs of really great pajamas in my collection. I have told myself that I did not need any more, so I’ve not been tempted by any I have seen for sale in a while. But I had always wanted this particular pair, with the college pennant design. I felt like this design had been commercially produced because I had seen at least two examples of it.

When my friend Erika who posts as Cattybritches on Instagram posted a photo of this pair she spotted in an antique mall up her way, I was hoping she would be able to retrieve them for me. She was, and this week they arrived in my mailbox. In the collecting business, it really does pay to have friends!

The brand is Sas See Maids. As you can see on the label, they made dresses, smocks, and Hoovers (which was a wrap housedress) as well as pajamas. Note the line, “Made for the best retail trade”.

To put it into perspective, this ad shows these cost just 33 cents, and were found in the bargain basement. For those of you not old enough to have experienced a true bargain basement, my sympathies are with you. Even into the early 1970s the basement in Ivey’s in Asheville was a bargain hunter’s dream. I would spend hours there treasure hunting.

My exact pajamas are not in the ad, but it does mention the college pennant fabric. Best of all, it mentions a beach coat with trim. Dare I dream?

The ad and the newspaper clipping above came from Michelle of Wide Awake Vintage. Yet again, it pays to have friends with similar interests.

The low V neck in both front was back and the extra wide legs put this garment in the 1930 -1934 range. The low back developed about at the same time as low backed evening gowns and low backed bathing suits. The object was to acquire and then show off a suntan.

I hope you noticed the hat, because it is partly why I wanted this set so much. After examining it, I don’t believe it was commercially made. The seams are a bit too irregular, and the finishing is poor. The pajamas fit a person about five feet tall, so it’s possible these were shortened, and the excess used to make the hat. Or I could be wrong. Maybe another hat will materialize and prove me wrong.

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1920s Silk Bathing Shoes

In pandemic times, what would we do without the internet?  I’ll be completely honest – I find shopping in a real store or antiques market and spotting something wonderful for my collection much more satisfying than online shopping. This is especially true of ebay auctions where there’s little immediate gratification. But some things are worth the wait, and here’s my latest example of that.

I spotted these silk 1920s bathing shoes on @1860-1960’s Instagram page, and my poor heart stood still.  Bathing shoes of any kind are getting harder and harder to find, and here was a pair that I’d never seen before. A week later, they were mne, and a week after that, they showed up in my mailbox. I was not disappointed.

These are actually a silk print placed over a canvas base. I have several canvas pairs of bathing shoes. They had to be made of a sturdy fabric in order to survive their hard use on sand and rocks, and in salt water.

Almost all bathing shoes had canvas soles. I do know that Keds made a bathing shoes with a rubber sole, and by the 1930s, rubber bathing shoes had pretty much replaced canvas ones.  I have seen canvas shoes with leather soles advertised as bathing shoes or boots, but no.

My new shoes have a two-button closure. Some have one button, like Mary Jane shoes, some tie, and others, mainly boots, have laces.

I looked for an image in my resources that showed a printed fabric made into a bathing shoe, but was not successful. So I decided to show some  of the history of bathing shoes from photos in my collection. Please note that bathing shoes go back to Victorian times, and some are very fancy.These are rarely seen on the market.

These bathing boots date to the 1910s, and I can’t quite figure them out. I think they lace and the wearer tied them on the back of the leg.

Bathing boots continued to be popular into the early 1920s. Note that the dark stockings have been replaced by rolled white ones.

These could be black, but I’ve seen these in red and dark green as well as black.

A few years later, this woman wore bathing boots which were cut out in the front.

They are not quite a shoe, and not quite a boot.  These date to the mid 1920s.

My new bathing shoes were probably made in the mid to late 1920s, at the end of the canvas bathing shoe’s popularity. In the  1930s, women turned to rubber shoes, or bare feet in the water, with sandals on the shore.

This photo dates from 1929 or 1930. Her fantastic shoes are made from rubber.

I really do want to thank all the online sellers who have persevered during such a trying time. Thank you for keeping collectors like me from going insane!

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