Earlier this week I happened on a little antique mall in an unpromising location, but I threw on the brakes, did a U-turn and entered hopefully. I was immediately rewarded by the presence of hats – many vintage hats stacked, hung and perched throughout the store. One of the most promising turned out to have a Dior label, and, a $250 price tag! But as I went through the inventory, I noticed that most of them were much more modestly priced, in the under $10 range.
And that’s when I came across this pretty green satin beret. I turned it over, and all I saw was Pierre Balmain. But my thumb caught on a turned under corner, and the words “Adaptation of” were exposed.
So what exactly is an adaptation? These labels go back at least to the 1920s when Paris fashion ruled supreme. A couture house like Chanel or Lanvin did only made-to-order clothing; there was no ready-to-wear. However, couture houses would sell styles to American businesses like Bergdorf Goodman and Hattie Carnegie, who would then make high quality reproductions of the styles they had purchased. But they were not the only purchasers. Even a mass merchandiser like Sears would buy a style or a “toile” which was basically a muslin pattern of a style.
This gave the makers the right to use an adaptation label. Sometimes the styles were adapted to meet the needs of American buyers, and sometimes they were faithfully reproduced. I’ve seen adaptation labels in dresses, and also in hats.
Why would a couturier agree to such an arrangement? Because then – as now – copying was a major problem. The great lengths that the copy houses would go to in order to steal the most popular designs is well chronicled in designer Elizabeth Hawes’ 1938 book, Fashion is Spinach. I suppose the designers realized it was better to sell the styles rather than to have them all stolen anyway. That way they did get partial compensation.
The latest adaptation labels I’ve seen are from the late 1950s, or early 60s. By then, the labels often read “Reproduction of”. So why did the system of selling toiles and styles to reproduce end? My guess is that it was the realization by couturiers that they could manufacture their own ready-to-wear and make more profits that way. By the 1960s, most couturiers were producing a boutique line of ready-to-wear. They might have licensing agreements in the manner of Pierre Cardin, but these were not in any way related to the designs produced by the couturier.
Here is another adaptation label. It is from the house of Mad Carpentier and was made in the late 1940s by American mass producer Puritan. The dress it came from is totally trashed, but I paid $5 for it anyway because in six years of collecting labels for the VFG Label Resource, it is the only label of any kind from Mad Carpentier that I’ve ever seen.