Monthly Archives: April 2010

Interview with Juli Lynne Charlot



As promised, I want to share what I learned from my interview with designer Juli Lynne Charlot.  Most vintage collectors know Charlot as the designer of some of the very best and most clever skirts to come out of the 1950s.  But there’s more to Juli Lynne than just decorated skirts.

Juli Lynne didn’t set out to be a clothing designer; she had a beautiful voice and studied for the opera.  Along the way she sang with Xavier Cugat’s orchestra, was soprano with the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera Company, and played straight “man” to the Marx Brothers while performing at military bases during WWII.

As a performer, Juli Lynne had strong ideas about how she wanted to look.  She designed her stage wardrobe even though she could not sew.  She hired a professional dressmaker to bring her designs to life.

Harpo Marx and Juli in a dress of her own design.

As the war came to a close, Juli Lynne met and married Philip Charlot.  She gave up performing to be a post-war wife.  In 1947 two seemingly unrelated events came together to start her career in fashion.  First, fashion changed dramatically with the New Look.  WWII fabric restrictions were lifted and hemlines dropped and skirts got full.

About the same time, Philip Charlot lost his job.  Juli Lynne was a young woman who wanted to be in fashion but she had no money for the new styles.  So she decided to make her own skirt for Christmas that year.  Since she could not sew, she got some felt.  It was the only fabric wide enough to cut a full circle skirt without making seams.  Fortunately, her mother owned a factory which used felt, so she had a free source of it.  Juli Lynne added some Christmas motif appliques and the result was so attractive that she made three more which she took to a Beverly Hills boutique.  The store put them on the floor, and they quickly sold.  The store reordered.

Juli Lynne today with a replica of the first poodle skirt

After Christmas the store requested a non-holiday design.  They figured that dogs were popular so it was suggested that Juli Lynne make a dog-themed skirt.  She came up with the idea of three dachshunds: two females and a male.  The first dog was a flirty girl, the seconds one was a girl with her nose stuck in the air, and the third was the male who was trying to get to the flirty girl.  But all the leashes became intertwined so the boy dog could only get to the stuck up girl.

The boutique loved the skirt and then requested a similar one with poodles.   And so the iconic poodle skirt was born.  Within a short time the president of Bullocks Wilshire called Juli Lynne.  He had seen the dog skirts and he wanted her to do skirts for Bullocks.  Not only that, he gave her the windows on Wilshire Boulevard to decorate with her skirts.  She did a series of six designs for the windows.

Before long, Juli Lynne had orders from all over the country – Stanley Marcus at Neiman Marcus in Texas and Andrew Goodman at Bergdorf Goodman were early customers.  By the time Juli Lynne was 24, she had a clothing factory and 50 employees.  She decided it was time to learn to sew and so she started design school.  She was so busy that she didn’t have time for the classes, so she quit, and then hired her sewing teacher.  She learned how to sew on the job from this teacher turned employee.

One thing that made Juli Lynne Charlot skirts special was that, like the first dog skirts, they told a story.  Juli Lynne wanted her clothing to be conversation starters.  She made sure that the stores buying her clothes knew the stories behind the skirts so they could tell them to the customers.

Summer design from 1954

To go with her skirts, Juli Lynne made matching bustiers, stoles, boleros, halter tops and sweaters, and there were hats and handbags decorated to match the clothes (this was the 1950s, remember!)  The factory also did custom work, as it did for Madeleine Haskell, magician’s assistant.  In 1952, Leading Designer Patterns, a mail order pattern company, released one of her designs.

Photo copyright Madeleine Haskell

Although she is best known for her wonderful full skirts, Juli Lynne has had other clothing enterprises in her long life.  Her last design venture started with a trip to Mexico in 1980.  While there Juli Lynne fell in love with the classic Mexican wedding dress.  She decided to do up-dated variations on this dress, bought a manufacturing plant in Mexico City to produce them and began exporting the dresses around the world.  Everything was going well until the Mexico City Earthquake of 1985.  Her factory collapsed, and though she tried getting her dresses made in New York, it was too expensive and so the business was lost.

Today Juli Lynne still lives in Mexico and is working on her memoirs.  Now that’s a book I’ll gladly buy!

All the photos of Juli Lynne are copyright Juli Lynne Charlot

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Filed under Designers, First Person Stories, Vintage Clothing

Liberty Antiques Festival, Part II

As promised, here’s what went home with me:

A little gift for Tim.  He loves old matchbooks, and the Pioneer Club is one of our Vegas favorites.

A 1930 Sears catalog.  I love these for dating and for fabric identification:

I had to have these lawn chairs.  I’ve been looking for a pair for a while at a reasonable price:

Super seahorse fabric, soon to be a casual blouse for the beach:

A sports cap, probably late 40s.  You’d be surprised at how hard it is to find items like this:

A super pair of 1960s booties.  I love these so much:

And I rarely buy aprons, but this one I had to have.  The print is of postcards from around the USA.

Plus four 1950s The State magazines (a North Carolina travel and industry magazine)  and a black and lace early 1930s dress.  I spent a total of $106.  So, how did I do?

Comments:

Posted by KeLLy Ann:

Bravo!
I am totally into that catalog. 

Monday, April 26th 2010 @ 10:08 AM

Posted by Holly:

How’d you do? You done good! Really great finds, Lizzie. I’m having trouble choosing a favorite, but I think the boots are something else! 

Wednesday, April 28th 2010 @ 9:36 AM

Posted by Sarah:

That haul qualifies for a prize, I reckon, especially at that total expenditure! 

I agree with Holly – everything is a prize item, but those boots are super special. Are you going to wear them or are they destined for the collection?

Saturday, May 1st 2010 @ 10:21 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Sarah, They are for the collection, as they are too large for me. But I’d love to have a pair that fits! Small Earth Vintage had a similar pair on etsy a while back, and I’ve kicked myself a 1000 times for not snapping them up. 

Saturday, May 1st 2010 @ 5:42 PM


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Filed under Collecting, Novelty Prints, Shopping

Liberty Antiques Festival, Spring 2010 Edition

I do love a good flea market.  And that’s good, because that’s pretty much what we here in the central South have to settle for.  In otherwords, I’ve yet to find a great antiques market within a few hours driving distance.  As it is, Liberty, NC is 3.5 hours, but is well worth it.

So why is Liberty good, and not great?  It’s not the size; any larger and it’s just too tiring.  It’s not the quality of what is there; I’m usually thrilled with the selection.

My problem is with what IS there, namely, non-antiques and collectibles.  The ads read, “No crafts or reproductions,”  but unfortunately that is just not the case.  There are quite a few booths with just rustic-looking imported junk.  Of course, the ad does not say, “No rustic-looking imported junk,” but it does imply that the show is just antiques and collectibles.  Is this a problem in other places?

But no more complaining.  Here are the things I loved but that I left behind:

First, the lovely wallpaper covered hatbox above.  I really should have gotten it, but the price was a bit high for me, and the condition not so great, and I know if I were to buy one I’d be addicted. $275

At first I thought this was a skirt, but it was an apron.  Now I must have this print in a skirt, don’t you think?  $14

I fell in love with the beachy cutout, but what would one reasonably do with it?  One girl is missing part of her arm, and there was some repair to the back, but still, could this be any cuter?  $125

Okay, I’m sitting here asking why I did not buy these curtains.  There were four panels, and they were a bit faded, but still…  I guess I could just picture them in someone’s beach house, so I unselfishly left them to a more perfect owner. $68

Okay, that’s it for the passes.  Tomorrow, the buys.

Comments:

Posted by Mod Betty / Retro Roadmap:

If this is what you left behind I can’t wait to see what you bought! I’ve found it much easier to not buy things if I’ve snapped a photo of it, at least I’ve “collected” it that way ( and Retro Roadhusband and our bank account are much happier too!) 

Sunday, April 25th 2010 @ 8:05 AM

Posted by Karen/SmallEarthVintage:

No, Lizzie, it’s not just where you are! Our flea markets always have plenty of tables of cheap new tools, NASCAR collectibles, faux Fiestaware, etc. I don’t even know if the local fleas have any kind of restriction on what you can sell. They’re still kind of fun to troll sometimes, though. I love the bathing beauties cutout, and it’s the kind of thing I would have bought and brought home, only then to realize there’s not an inch of free wall space to lean it against! 

Sunday, April 25th 2010 @ 8:27 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Mod Betty, I’m learning to do that more and more!As someone said, you can’t always get what you want! 

Karen, we have smaller fleas like that as well. Sometimes a great find is to be made, but usually I leave empty handed.

Monday, April 26th 2010 @ 7:39 AM

Posted by Sarah:

I’ve been oohing and aahing over everything! That bathing beauties cutout is amazing, and worth throwing out the couch to make room for! 

But you’re right – its good to keep your ‘practical’ head on. This is something I’m trying to learn . . .

Saturday, May 1st 2010 @ 10:13 AM

Posted by Couture Allure:

Pam would have loved those curtains….I don’t think we should show her. 

Wednesday, May 5th 2010 @ 3:30 AM


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Filed under Road Trip, Shopping

Biltmore Industries, Asheville, NC

1919 ad from Vogue magazine

For years I’ve been looking for an item from Biltmore Industries, and last week it finally happened.  A little background about this enterprise:

Biltmore Industries got its start in Asheville when two women from New York moved there to start a craft school.  In 1901, they met the Vanderbilts – Edith and George – who funded the school, and who changed the name of the school to Biltmore Estate Industries.  Over the next few years Edith Vanderbilt worked hard to develop the weaving and woodworking aspects of the school, creating a  program known for the excellent weavers it produced.  A shop was opened in Biltmore Village where the finished cloth was sold.

In 1917 Mrs. Vanderbilt sold Biltmore Estate Industries to Fred Seely, son-in-law of the owner of the Grove Park Inn, a luxurious Craftsman style inn.  The name was shortened to Biltmore Industries, and the entire operation was moved to the Grove Park grounds.

In its heyday, Biltmore Industries ran ads in magazines such as Vogue, and its quality was renowned.  Asheville was a destination for rich tourists, who would buy the fabric and take it to the many local tailors to be made into fashions appropriate for “country wear.”  The business ran 45 hand operated looms in order to fill the demand for the cloth.

The Great Depression severely hurt Biltmore Industries, and the death of Fred Seely in 1942 almost did the business in.  But it was revived in 1953 by a new owner, who ran it until 1981 when production of the cloth ended.  Today, the buildings have been restored and are used as  a craft shop and small museum.  I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never visited the museum, but that will be remedied very soon.

So what did I find?  A jacket made in the late 60s or early 70s from a medium blue homespun.  The jacket itself is rather boring, but its not the garment that is important to me, it is the fabric.  The fabric would have been bought in the Homespun Shop at Grove Park, and then the buyer would either sew it into a garment, or have a tailor make it.  Interestingly, this has a lining of Oleg Cassini print acetate, which was available in fabric shops at the time.

And it answered a question that I’ve had:  Was there a Biltmore Industries label?

An ad from 1948.  Ads were no longer in Vogue, but rather, in tourist publications.

Comments:

Posted by patti shreeve:

I worked there, in the gift shop,about 26 years ago.The owner at the time also owned the Cadillac dealership. There were still weavers, though most of the equipment was in sad disrepair. But the place was great, encouraging quotes in craftsman lettering on the walls, beautiful brass coffee urns for the workers. I don’t know about a craft school, what I heard was that Mrs. Vanderbuilt was employing Scotch-Irish immigrants who came with a knowledge of making tweeds from their previous life in Great Britain. 

Saturday, December 5th 2009 @ 4:31 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Patti, that is so interesting. The building is still open and there is a museum. I’ve GOT to fit it into my schedule! 

There is some information on the Grovewood Galleries website: http://grovewood.com/history.php According to it, Mrs. Vanderbilt actually sent the founders of the school to Scotland to learn more about wearing from the experts there.

Sunday, December 6th 2009 @ 5:02 AM

Posted by Mod Betty / Retro Roadmap:

I knew my pal Patti would have some interesting info to share on this post, glad I forwarded it to her – I told her I always learn something reading The Vintage Traveler!:) 

Sunday, December 6th 2009 @ 6:23 PM

Posted by patti shreeve:

I told Mod Betty about the day the weavers unloaded a bunch of old raw wool and camel’s hair in my garage. I lived in Fairview at the time. The owner told the weavers to take it all to the dump and I thought I could do something with it(they didn’t want to just toss it out). I made some felt and used it for doll’s hair, I was making funky clay dolls while studying ceramics at UNC-A. Some was already spun and I could knit it.
Some was just too far gone. But I still have some. They were still taking orders for there famous tweeds. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the museum ‘tho they’ve kinda messed up the wonderful old Grove Park. 

Monday, December 7th 2009 @ 2:04 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

Oh my gosh! That is just unbelievable about the wool. I glad you were able to save it. I agree about the Grove Park. Looking at old photos of it makes me really sad. 

Mod Betty, thanks for bringing like-minded readers my way!

Monday, December 7th 2009 @ 5:34 PM


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Filed under Advertisements, North Carolina, Textiles

Biltmore Industries Handwoven Homespun

1924 ad for Biltmore Industries in Vogue magazine

In the late 1800s, some of the women who moved into Western North Carolina from outside the area were dismayed to discover that many of the “traditional” crafts, such as weaving, had died out in this area.  It’s rather puzzling that they would have expected people here to still be processing their own fabric when spinning wheels and looms were gathering dust all over the US.  Nevertheless, the prevailing thought at the time was that people in WNC were living in a sort of pioneer timewarp.

That, of course, was not the case, but popular literature had painted a picture of “mountain folk” that included Elizabethan speech, Old World Ballads, moonshine stills and spinning wheels.  Some of the newcomers were so upset by what they did not find, that they set about to make it happen.

In the case of Biltmore Industries, the woman in question was Edith Vanderbilt, wife of George Vanderbilt, multi-millionarie and builder of the Biltmore House.  In 1905 she formed Biltmore Estate Industries, a school of sorts that was to “reteach” the forgotten skills to area people.  Mrs. Vanderbilt went so far as to send the women running the school to Scotland so they could study Old World weaving techniques.

Wisely, the decision was made not to try and recreate rustic, traditional textiles, but instead to make fine woolens in fashionable colors.  This was, after all, a business, and the product had to be marketable.  So even though they were marketed as a  traditional product, the woolens were made for the modern consumer.

By 1916, there were 8 looms, and the enterprise was highly successful.  The next year, Mrs. Vanderbilt sold the operation to Fred Seely, the son-in-law of the owner of the Grove Park Inn.  The name was shortened to Biltmore Industries, and Mr. Seely built six English cottage style structures on the grounds of the hotel in which to house the operation.

Vintage postcard showing the inside of the weaving shed

Mr. Seely took the operation to a national audience by placing ads in magazines such as Vogue. As demand grew, looms were added.  In 1920 there were 45 looms in operation.  The fabric they produced was of excellent quality.  There was a retail store on the property in which the yardgoods were sold, the Homespun Shop.  Visitors to Asheville would often buy the fabric and then take it to one of the many tailors around Pack Square to have it made into a suit or coat.

Seely’s death in 1942 took a toil on Biltmore Industries.  The equipment fell into disrepair, and output dwindled.  But the buisness was revived in 1953 when it was bought by Asheville car dealer Harry Blomberg.  It remained open until 1981, when the last lengths of cloth were woven.

Today, the Homespun Shop is open as Grovewood Galleries, which sells crafts and art.  The old weaving shed holds Harry’s antique car collection, and one of the smaller buildings is now the excellent little Biltmore Industries Museum.

Biltmore Industries loom

A roll of labels.  The buyer was given a label to sew into the garment made from the handwoven woolen fabric.  The purple and white label below is from the 1940s.

A few samples of Biltmore Handwoven, which shows a large range of colors.

A few samples of Biltmore Handwoven, which shows a large range of colors.

This jacket was made as a sample in the late 1940s.

Antique cars inside the old weaving shed.

A few months ago I was lucky enough to find a 1960s or 70s jacket made from Biltmore Handwoven Homespum.  I posted about it then, and I’ve bumped up that entry and it follows this one. I’m also going to make it my mission to visit some of the other crafts cooperatives and schools that were started about the same time.  Many of them are still in operation, but not in the same manner as they were 100 years ago.

Comments:

Posted by Sarah:

Fascinating piece! I wonder if Edith Vanderbilt was at all influenced by the William Morris/Arts and Crafts ideas about returning to traditional craft skills and venerating the work of the skilled artisan? 

Not to mention a strong dose of romanticism and nostalgia for a lost age – in Morris’ case Medieval times (I expect Edith skipped the socialism part!)

Tuesday, April 20th 2010 @ 11:50 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

Sarah, yes, you are correct. Vanderbilt and the other founders of Southern Applachian craft schools were quite familiar with both Morris’s movement and that of American Arts and Crafts leaders like Gustav Stickley and Elbert Hubbert. 

Saturday, April 24th 2010 @ 4:36 PM

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Filed under North Carolina, Textiles

1915 Play Shoes from Vanderslice-Stahmer

I got this little catalog last week, and just had to share some of the illustrations.  I really tried to limit myself to just a few, but realized that I loved so many of them.  So this post is short on words, but long on wonderful illustrations from 1915.

Comments:

Posted by Em:

How charming and neat! Thanks for sharing… 

Wednesday, April 14th 2010 @ 8:30 PM

Posted by Vannie Ryanes:

Lovely, the soft colors are wonderful. 

Thursday, April 15th 2010 @ 4:26 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

I’m glad you like these. 

One reason I posted them was to show the huge difference in illustration style that took place throughout the 20th century. I’ll post more examples next week.

Friday, April 16th 2010 @ 6:54 PM

Posted by Sarah:

I don’t blame you for getting excited about these illustrations! They are so ‘of their time,’ and as Vannie Ryanes says, the soft colour palette is gorgeous. 

Tuesday, April 20th 2010 @ 11:58 PM

Posted by Garnet:

I was just at the Delaware Water Gap this past weekend! Boy has it changed! 

Garnet

Wednesday, May 5th 2010 @ 5:58 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

Garnet, That’s a shame, as the illustration is so idyllic! 

Wednesday, May 5th 2010 @ 6:11 PM

 

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Filed under Advertisements, Shoes

Your Trip Abroad

This little booklet of hints was published by Air France for its transcontinental customers sometime in the 1950s.  I love stuff like this because its always interesting to see how much things have changed.

“French cuisine aloft…hot, course-by-course French meals are served to you with vintage wines and chanpagne during the flight.  Naturally, there is no charge for food, or liquor served during meals.”

It’s hard to imagine that kind of thing even in First Class these days!

“Your arrival is at Orly Field, and after the Customs regulations have been completed, you will be taken to Paris in Air France’s own limousines.  There is no charge for this service.”

What luxury!  I’ve never flown into Orly, but in most airports its either the bus, the train, or a very expensive cab.

No copy from the booklet for this one, but who can miss the chic woman in a suit descending the stairs.  When was the last time you saw a woman wearing a suit on a long flight?

And one for the “The more things change, the more they stay the same” file:

Comments:

Posted by KeLLy Ann:

hahaha! that is wonderful. When we were traveling in the 70s, my brother and I were in the kids captain club, and you would get this book to carry with you and while in flight, the stewardess would bring you to meet the pilots and look out the cockpit, then they would sign it.
Good luck with something like that now.
Which is really sad…

Tuesday, April 13th 2010 @ 1:25 PM

Posted by Em:

Super cute! I love these sort of simple linedrawing brochures, etc., understated and elegant but with panache… Thank you for posting it.

Tuesday, April 13th 2010 @ 1:37 PM

Posted by L:

Brilliant. That penultimate one makes me think of the Eiffel Tower hopping around in the background so as to stay in shot wherever needed… (just like Big Ben in a host of movies!)

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Filed under Travel, Vintage Travel