Category Archives: Currently Reading

Currently Reading – American Style and Spirit

American Style and Spirit: Fashion and Lives of the Roddis Family, 1850 – 1995 is the companion book to an exhibition currently showing at The Henry Ford Museum in Deerborn, Michigan.  Don’t be concerned that you’ve never heard of the Roddis family, as that is part of the point.  The clothing is that of an upper middle class family, and as such is not the couture clothing often featured in fashion exhibitions.

Instead, we are given a look at what many “average” Americans were wearing in the years the book and exhibition cover.  I love this very “slice of life” approach to fashion history.  Several exhibitions and books have been mounted on the wardrobes of the rich and famous (Isis Apfel, Heather Firbank, Anne Bonfoey Taylor) but this close look at the clothing of one extended family is a fresh approach to fashion history.

First, let me give you  a bit of Roddis background.  They lived in Marshfield, Wisconsin, where the family was in the wood veneer and plywood business.  The fortunes of the family mirror those of US history in general, with times being tight during the Great Depression, but booming during WWII and afterward. The family shopped a lot in Chicago, but some of the women were also accomplished dressmakers, and many of the clothes in the collection are home sewn.

The clothes were stored in the attic (actually a large closet) of the Roddis family home, and for years were preserved by Augusta Roddis.  When she died in 2011, the clothes passed to her niece, Jane Bradbury (co-author of the book).  In 2014, Bradbury donated most of the clothes to the Henry Ford Museum.

In addition to the clothing were all the family photographs and many family documents including letters.  Because this documentation still exists, Bradbury and co-author Edward Maeder were able to identify the original wearers of most of the items.  Many are shown in the photos, and some are even described in letters.  It’s a remarkable archive.

Silk chiffon dress with cotton lace, c.1910. From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Photo by Gillian Bostock Ewing. Courtesy of Jane Bradbury.

This dress was worn by Sara Roddis, Augusta’s grandmother.  There are two portraits showing Sara wearing this dress, one circa 1895, in which the dress has the large puffy sleeves of the day.  The sleeves were later altered to the shape you see in the photo.  Sara wore the altered version for a photo taken in 1910.  It’s the inclusion of these photos that makes the book so interesting.

“Cocktail”, a silk taffeta evening dress designed by the newly prominent designer, Gladys Parker, 1934. Photo by Gillian Bostock Ewing From the collections of The Henry Ford Museum. Courtesy of Jane Bradbury

This 1934 dress belonged to Augusta Roddis.  The authors found an advertisement for the dress in the March 10, 1934 New York Times.  It is possible she bought the dress at Best & co., the store in the ad, or she may have gotten it closer to home in another store.  Augusta mentioned in a letter to a sister that she was planning to wear the dress to a ball in 1936, as it was a first date and the young man had not seen the dress before.  Since it cost $36 – quite an extravagance – she wanted to get as much wear as possible from it.

Formal portrait of Augusta by Kay Carrington, 1937. Roddis Family Photo Archive. Courtesy of Jane Bradbury.

This 1937 portrait of Augusta shows her in another favorite gown.  Made in 1932, it originally belonged to an older sister and was handed down to Augusta when she went to Northwestern University.  The dress was made of a creme silk taffeta with a huge magenta velvet bow on the back.  The Roddis women seemed to have a knack for choosing clothing that would remain in style over a period of years.

Rear view (detail) of printed rayon/cotton day dress by Samuel Kass, designed for “Tuya” perfume. From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Photo by Gillian Bostock Ewing. Courtesy of Jane Bradbury

This is another dress belonging to Augusta Roddis.  There is a photograph of her on the Queen Mary in 1949 wearing this dress.

Still Life portraying the Roddis women’s shopping trips. Photo by Doug Mindell. Courtesy of Jane Bradbury.

The book is full of “still life” photographs that feature clothing, accessories, and ephemera from the Roddis collection.  This one shows items from the 1950s.

I am enjoying this book so much, and really wish a trip to Deerborn were in my plans as I’d love to see the exhibition.  I’m hoping it will travel, as this is such a great study of the fashions of one family.  Maybe some other families with similar attics will see this and take steps to keep their collection together for study.  We can hope!

I was sent a pdf copy of the book for review, but I love it so much that I will be purchasing a hard copy.

 

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Currently Reading, Textile Collections, Plus a Bit About Museums

In order to really understand the nature of this book, you have to pay close attention to the subtitle.  The words Preservation, Access, Curation and Interpretation in the Digital Age tell us that this book is not about textiles so much as it is about the ways that computers and other digital devices have opened up new possibilities in the world of textile collection management.

As such, Textile Collections by Amanda Grace Sikarskie, is not for everyone.  But I could not resist the title, and thought that at least part of it would be relevant to a private collector like me.  Not only was that thought correct, the book also contains a lot of food for thought in the area of fashion and textile exhibitions.  And if you are a regular reader, you know how that interests me.

Textile Collections has four major themes, as stated in the subtitle.  Of the four, I found the chapter on curation to be the most interesting.  The use of the word curate has, since the advent of social media, changed.  Traditionally, curators have been museum keepers who plan exhibitions and who determine what will be on view and what will be said about it.

But  Sikarskie points out that this idea – that museums dispense knowledge without taking anything back from the exhibition’s viewers – is quite old-fashioned.  In other words, it can be a passive activity, much like watching TV or listening to a recording, as opposed to enacting a play or creating music.  But the computer has made it easy to not just watch or read, but to interact with web content.  Blogs and Instagram and even newspaper articles allow the reader or viewer to voice his or her opinion, or even better, to add to the knowledge presented.

Silarskie argues that people on the web “curate” all the time.  We choose which photos to post on Instagram.  We create outfits on Polyvore.  We choose articles and images to reblog on Tumblr.  Of course, museum curators tend to dislike the appropriation of their job title.  But, the meanings of words are not static, and changes happen all the time.  And while I was a teacher, that term can be applied to anyone who teaches.  Might not the same be said of anyone who “curates”?

Much of the issue as laid out by Sikarskie centers around how a traditional museum that is used to having complete control of their collection and how it is displayed can adjust to a generation of young museum-goers who are used to interacting with things they see displayed on the internet.  In a way web users have moved past the old model of having information fed to us.  We have become used to posting replies on blogs, commenting on Instagram, liking on Facebook, and re-tweeting on Twitter.

As I’ve said many times, the comments here are often the very best part of The Vintage Traveler.  I’m praised for sharing my knowledge, but I can tell you I learn just as much from you readers.We interact and share and ask questions.  We find answers and go deeper.  I value every email and reply I get, as I know that is how we increase the body of information concerning clothing history.

So, how is this sort of interaction to be achieved in a museum setting?   Sikarskie used the example of how some museums are putting  i-pads or computer stations in exhibitions with which visitors can “interact.”  But the goal is not accomplished because the information on the device is also static.  I started thinking about how when I encounter an ipad in an exhibition, I tend to flip through the photos, and that is pretty much it.

Then I remembered how ipads are being used at SCADFASH.  Instead of having ipads stationed around the room, they are carried by docents who use them to engage visitors in a conversation about the objects on display.  This gives the visitor a chance to tell his or her stories, and I’m sure the students at SCADFASH have heard some great ones.

We are all historians.  Yes, some know more history than others, and have worked very hard to develop this knowledge.  But one does not need to have a history degree in order to share important stories about the past.

I’ll finish this up with a link to an interview with fashion curator Timothy Long.  Long tells about how he got into curation, and a bit about his job at the Museum of  London.  He works directly with the fashion collection at the museum, which he shares on social media.  His Instagram posts are like  treasure boxes being opened.   But what I found to be really interesting was that Long was not originally  in favor of using social media in his job, and that the museum actually had a policy forbidding it.  But things change, and now the Museum of London has a growing audience through Mr. Long’s creative posts.

 

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Currently Reading: Bonnie Cashin: Chic Is Where You Find It.

This newly released book on the life and work of designer Bonnie Cashin was a very long time in coming.  Writer Stephanie Lake got to know Cashin in the late 1990s while doing research in Cashin’s archive.  Their friendship led to discussions about a book, but Cashin died in 2000 before it could be written.  Lake found herself in the possession of the archive and of many of Cashin’s personal effects.  The professional archive went to to the UCLA Library, and Lake spent years cataloging it.

I can’t imaging a person more qualified to write this book than Lake.  She spent many days over the course of three years talking with Cashin.  She has thoroughly studied the archive and knows the content.  At times it feels like the writing is that of a daughter.

Cashin grew up drawing and sewing.  The beach costume on the left was drawn by her when she was about eighteen, and that’s her on the right at about the same age.  Her mother, Eunice, was a very accomplished dressmaker, and so Bonnie was around sewing and creating throughout her childhood.   Eunice worked with Bonnie as a sample maker until her death in the 1960s.

Over the years, Bonnie Cashin designed clothes and accessories for more than forty different companies.  She employed a novel business model in which she designed the clothes she wanted, and then found companies that would make them to her specifications (and put her name on the label, of course.)  That way she was in control of the items that had her name on them.  The only person who ever designed under a Bonnie Cashin label was Bonnie Cashin.

Contrast her model with the one that prevails today – that of a designer licensing her name to a company that uses a team of designers to create the designs.

One of Bonnie Cashin’s biggest ideas was that of layering.  She explained this philosophy toward dressing in a 1952 illustration, shown above.  We might think today that is just how we all get dressed, but that was not the case in 1952.

One thing that comes across clearly in this book is Cashin’s love of and use of color.  The above caption reads, “I’m a colorist. Matching everything is dull, dull, dull.” Her interesting color combinations were anything but dull.

You can also see in the two examples above how Cashin did not rely on the usual buttons and zippers.  Bits of metal were more her style.

One of the strengths of this book is the use of odds and ends of archival material.  There are color charts and advertising ephemera, sketches and journal entries, closeup looks at fabrics and personal photographs.  And, of course, there are lots of photos of stunning clothing.

In the mid 1960s Cashin designed a line of cashmere sweaters that were made for her by Ballantyne of Scotland.  Again, you can see how her sense of color created a look that was distinctly Cashin.

The items above are from a line Cashin started in the 1970s, The Knittery.  She wanted to do a more handmade, craft-based line of sweaters.  Her idea was to use hand knitters who were marginalized by society – the poor elderly, the imprisoned, the handicapped.

This is the type of dress that makes me think I could live in a Bonnie Cashin wardrobe.  Note that the neckline and the sleeve cuffs are edged in leather, and the belt is leather as well.

One of the best advertisements for her clothes was Cashin herself.  That’s her on the left, late 1960s.

I also enjoyed seeing so many photos of Cashin’s workspace and home.  The ones above show her country house, where she did a lot of her designing in the 1950s and 60s.  The colored blocks on the wall contain favorite poems and quotes which she hand inscribed.

There is a lot of information contained in this book, but it is not a scholarly study of Cashin.  The only source sited is the UCLA archive, which, along with her personal conversations with Cashin, were really all that were needed to properly tell the story.  For most readers, this is enough, but I can’t help but think that detailed notations of items used from the archive might really help consequent researchers.

Also, there is no index.  To me, this is the biggest shortcoming of the book.  Writers and publishers, non-fiction books need to be indexed.

If you are a fan of Bonnie Cashin’s work, this book will delight you.  And if you are not familiar with her, the book is sure to make you a fan as well.

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Currently Reading: High Style, by Jan Glier Reeder

This book is the companion to the exhibition of the same name which featured highlights from the Brooklyn Museum’s incredible clothing collection.  This exhibition was planned to show off the collection after it was transferred from Brooklyn to the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

By the late 1990s, it was becoming increasingly obvious that the costume collection at the Brooklyn Museum was in trouble.  Clothing and textiles are hard and expensive to maintain.  A lot of skill is necessary for preservation and conservation.  The museum had cut back on costume displays because they feared it was too damaging to the textiles. The solution was to transfer the collection to the Met where the financial situation was much better.

This transfer was not universally popular (but what is these days?), especially when it became known that many of the pieces never made their way from Brooklyn to the Met.  The entire collection had been recataloged, photographed, and assessed.  Many items, presumably those of which there were better examples already in the Costume Institute, were sent to auction.  Included was a large portion of a donation to the Brooklyn Museum by designer Elizabeth Hawes and several of her clients.

The costume collection at the Brooklyn Museum has an interesting history.  It was started in the early days of the twentieth century, not as an historical or artistic collection, but for design inspiration.  The earliest pieces collected were examples from other cultures, and one curator made yearly buying trips to Europe in order to collect traditional costumes and textiles.

The textile above was the type of object being collected in the early twentieth century.  It is a Russian wedding veil, and was added to the Brooklyn’s growing collection of textiles in 1931.  Textiles were shown in the Textile Study Room, which had opened in 1918.  After the outbreak of World War II, the museum sought out designers and textile manufacturers and offered their services in the field of design inspiration.  It was during this time that American designers such as  Bonnie Cashin and Carolyn Schnurer began their association with the museum. This ultimately led to contributions to the collection by these designers.

After the war ended, many American designers continued to look to the world for inspiration. Starting in 1946, Carolyn Schnurer traveled the world in search of inspiration and textiles.  Each year’s resort collection was based on her trip to a different country.  The photos above show part of 1950’s “Flight to India” collection, in which Schnurer had the fabrics she found in Europe adapted to her needs.  You can see how she took the idea of a sari and fit it into the current fashion.

Of course, today we’d be hearing all sorts of cries of cultural appropriation.  In reading this book, it struck me just how much of twentieth century fashion was somehow based on borrowing from other cultures.  It also struck me just how much more rich fashion history is because of these appropriations.

This 1944 dress from Madame Eta Hentz, was based on two Greek garments, the chiton and the himation.

In the mid 1920s, French designer Suzanne Talbot based this dress on the toga.

Jeanne Lanvin adapted the Japanese obi as the train of the 1923 dress.

Couturier Emile Pingat used motifs based on those of American Plains Indians in 1891.

Madame Gres produced Greek inspired dresses throughout her long career, this one in 1937.

Even Bonnie Cashin, who is generally not classified as the type to indulge in “ethnic” fantasies, took the poncho from South America and turned it into a fashion statement.

It’s hard to imagine our wardrobes were they to be stripped of all the cultural influences, but still the internet is quick to pounce on any trace of cultural appropriation.  Some, of course, would be considered by many to be justified, as in the using of sacred garment to create fashion.  But most might be looked on as part of the broader picture, of fashion as design sponge.

High Style by Jan Glier Reeder is the catalog that accompanied this exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum, the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, and the Cincinnati Art Museum.  I bought it at the Cincinnati museum when I saw the exhibition, as I like to do, especially when a museum is free.  It helps the museum, and it gives me a nice remembrance.  I like and enjoy it, but it’s not the sort of useful book that I would recommend for other to buy.

 

 

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Currently Reading – The Cotton Mills of South Carolina, 1907

Over the past several years I’ve read quite a few well-researched books about the conditions in Southern textile mills in the twentieth century, but nothing really compares to a good old book written during the period of study.  It gives you a feel for the attitudes of the period, at least through the writer’s eyes.  As such, this book gives only the thoughts of August Kohn, but it helps to know a bit about the author, and the times in which he lived.  We need to also realize that the situation in textile mills was constantly changing, so what was true in 1907, was no longer true in 1918.

Kohn was the son of immigrants; his father was German and his mother was Austrian.  He was born in South Carolina a few years after the Civil War, in which his father had fought for the Confederacy.  His father was a banker, and August Kohn had the advantages that can only be bought – a private school education and a university degree from South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina.  He went to work as a newspaper reporter, for the Charleston News and Courier, and became the head of the paper’s Columbia bureau.  He left the paper in 1906 to go into real estate, but he continued to write special articles for it.  This book is made up of a series of articles he wrote about the textile business in South Carolina.

The readers of the Charleston paper were far removed from textile production, which was clustered in the piedmont region.  Originally, this was due to the location of the water fall line, but even after steam power was developed, the mills still were located in the area northwest of Charleston.  This area was sparsely settled, and it was due to the cotton mills that the cities of Greenville and Spartanburg were developed.  Recruiters for the mills traveled through the countryside of the western Carolinas, promising good jobs that were easier than life on an Appalachian farm.

Many of the Southern mills existed because many Northern mills moved south in order to escape the growing labor movement.  People in the South would work for less money than Northern workers, and the mills were closer to the supply of the raw material – cotton.

In 1907 there were few child labor laws, but there was a growing movement calling for reform.  In the Southern textile mills, children were often forced into the mill by economic necessity.  The parents simply did not make enough money for the family to survive.  And the mill owners used child labor because they did not have to pay them the wages of an adult.

Of course, this meant that built into the system was the fact that many mill children had little chance of getting an education.  There were no mandatory education laws in South Carolina at the time, and even if there had been, there were many loopholes in the child labor law that allowed children as young as ten to legally work in the mills.

So, how does Kohn’s book fit in with the issue?  Much of the book is simply a justification of the actions of mill owners and operators. He knew there were many problems within the mill system, but he tended to put the blame on the mill workers themselves and on outside interests.

Many of those who have undertaken to present the conditions that exist here have been unfair, chiefly because they have not gotton facts but have used the distorted data of sensationalists.

His overall view was that the people who worked in the cotton mills were much better off than they had been on the farm.  Working in the cotton mill had actually improved the character of the former Appalachian farmer.

Descended from the early English, Scotch and Germans, they have been sleeping, as it were, while the procession of progress has been passing by.  Serious, independent, as all hill and mountain people are; sensitive, because of that independent spirit; for the most part sober, they are a people of untold possibilities, now that they are beginning to arouse themselves from the drowsiness of generations and to grapple earnestly with the duties of this active, work-a-day world.

As for the lack of jobs open to black people in the mills, he gave a very simple reason.

Experiment has been made on several occasions, notable in Charleston and in Columbia, with colored help, but it has proven a failure, largely because of the lack of ambition on the part on the part of the colored people as a race to accumulate money, and because of the disposition of the people to work two or three days in the week and rest for the remainder of that period.

In writing about the health of mill workers, Kohn acknowledged that many workers suffered ill health.

There are still to-day a great many… pallid people in the cotton mills.  I want to write in GREAT BIG LETTERS that the pallor found among cotton mill operatives is not due to the fact that they work in cotton mills.  

He goes on to say that the workers brought the pallor with them, in the form of hookworms.  There were, no doubt, many cases of hookworms in the mill population, but I found it odd that nothing was said of the dangerous dust and cotton lint that was ever-present in a cotton mill, and which caused breathing problems and even death in many of the workers.

As for child labor, he was at his most defensive.  The mill owners did not want child labor, but they were not able to fight it due to parents wanting their kids to work, and the state legislature not passing sufficient laws.  In some respects, Kohn is right.  In 1907 there was no legal system in South Carolina to record births, and so families often lied about a child’s age in order to put it in a mill.  The factory superintendent would just take the parent’s or even the child’s word for it.

Kohn insisted that the work was not hard, and that it was what the children wanted.

I want to say here in a great many instances the children themselves want to go into the cotton mill.  They seem to like the idea of working and of earning their own livelihood.

Today we can easily see the fallacies in Kohn’s writing, and are shocked that people could have been treated in such a manner.  But one thing I’ve learned from reading so much about the textile and clothing industry is that the abuses have never stopped, they’ve just been moved off-shore.  We now have child labor laws and minimum wages in the US, so the manufacturers leave the US and go to where people are more desperate for work and where there are few protections for workers.  It’s really very similar to what happened in the US in the early twentieth century.  Many historians will argue that the first “off-shoring” happened when factories were moved from Pennsylvania to South Carolina.

Today is the third anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh in which over 1100 people were killed.  It is being commemorated as Fashion Revolution Week, with thousands of people on social media asking, “Who made my clothes?”  In doing so, people are placing the responsibility of ensuring safe working conditions where it should be – with company officials.  I’ve found it interesting which companies have responded to people asking the question of them, and which ones chose to ignore it.

Next week I’ll be writing more about what we can do to make companies accountable for the deplorable working conditions in many of the factories around the world.  I’ll also share ideas about making your own closet more socially responsible.

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Currently Reading – Dressed for the Photographer by Joan Severa

I’d had this book on my wishlist for a very long time after reading Lynn at AmericanAgeFashion’s review of it.  I kept putting off buying it frankly, because the book, even second-hand, is expensive.  But as the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”  I did finally find this at a great price, but now that I have it in my hands and have read most of it, I realize this is one book I should have just gone ahead and purchased at any price.

Yes, it is that great.  I will be the first to admit that my knowledge of nineteenth century clothing is really lacking.  If it is not sports clothing, chances are I can’t tell an 1848 frock from an 1862 one.  But now, with the help of Joan Severa, I’m beginning to be able to look at antique photos and clothing with much more confidence.

I want you to pay attention to the subtitle: Ordinary Americans & Fashion, 1840-1900.  So many times we tend to look at nineteenth century fashion through the drawings of fashion plates in magazines.  One of the first lessons of this book is that while American women read and used the ideas and suggestions in women’s magazines of the time, the clothes they actually wore had practical adaptations to fit their lifestyles.

By “ordinary ” Severa means the bulk of Americans of all races, ages, and genders.  She purposely excludes the very rich who were more likely to wear clothes from Paris, and the very poor, who had little chance to follow fashion at all.  But what she reveals is that most people, even the working poor, were able to make fashionable adjustments to their clothing.

The book is divided into chapters that follow decade lines.  Severa is quick to mention the overlap of fashion across decade lines though.  She begins each decade with an overview of what was fashionable, and the changes that occurred.  This is followed up with photographs that illustrate all the trends she mentions in the text.  Each photo has a careful analysis of the clothing being worn.  I’m finding it fun to look at each photo before reading the accompanying analysis to see if I can see the things that reveal the age of the photo.

The photographs in the book were chosen from a large variety of sources.  Each is clearly labeled with the source institution or private collection, and the access number if there is one.  I can only imagine the work it took to actually find such a selection of photos, as the book was published in 1995, long before collections were digitized.

The earliest photographs are studio daguerreotypes.  Note that Severa uses not just the clothing Etta is wearing to place a date on her photo, but also her hairstyle.

Most of the later photographs were taken outside of a studio setting, many taken by a professional photographer.  This photo was taken in 1885-86 in California and while the setting is casual, the subjects are carefully posed for the camera.

I love this circa 1892 photo of Mrs. Van Schaick in her camp clothes.

As cameras became more portable, photos became more casually posed.

This photograph is part of the Atlanta History Center collection.  Taken in 1895, during the height of the bicycle craze.  I doubt that she actually wore this long skirted, tightly corseted dress while riding!

I love all the photos of workers that are in the book.  Many were taken on the job site, but this photograph of a textile mill worker was taken in a studio.

Dressed for the Photographer is a whopping 591 pages, including a wonderfully functional index, a glossary of clothing terms, and a comprehensive bibliography.  What more could one ask of a fashion history book?

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Currently Reading – Jean Patou: A Fashionable Life by Emmanuelle Poole

I’m not a collector of couture clothing, but that does not mean I can’t learn from the lives of the masters of it.  One French couturier whose work I have always loved is Jean Patou.  Patou’s rise in the fashion industry came about at the same time as that of Coco Chanel, and the two are often compared.  They had similar design aesthetics, and their clientele overlapped, leading to competition and mutual dislike of one another.

Of course today Chanel is a household name and Patou is barely remembered outside of the fashion history set.  If not for his famous fragrance, Joy, it is possible that the name Patou would be even more obscure.  And while volumes and volumes have been written about Chanel, little has been written about Jean Patou.  I was delighted to find this 2013 book by Emmanuelle Polle.

Patou’s work in fashion began around 1910.  By 1914 he had opened a couture house under his own name, but World War I intervened.  After serving in the war, Patou returned to Paris where his business was revived.  He soon became the darling of the modern woman.  Like Chanel, he realized life had changed for women, and they required easy to wear clothing that allowed them to move about their lives with freedom.  And he was an early designer of sportswear.

In 1925 Patou opened “Les Coin des Sports” on the ground floor of his couture house.  It was a place where women could go to shop for his sports clothes, which were then made to order.  He was popular with tennis stars Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills who often played against each other, both attired in Patou dresses.

Les Coin des Sports also made swimsuits, ski wear, and clothing for sports spectating.  The book is rich in photographs, not just of the clothing, but also of the original sketches and often with matching vintage photos.  The ski suit on the right can also be seen in the small sketch.

I had no idea that the Jean Patou archive still survives.  Patou unfortunately died in 1936 with his sister and brother-in-law continuing to run the business, which made clothing under a variety of designers until 1987.  Today Patou produces only perfumes.  But because the house never closed, the archive remains, and so there is a rich treasure of sketches, photos, documents, and even garments.

I was most amazed at these photos of Patou sweaters, which are folded across a rail.  They date from the 1920s.  The model on the left appears to be wearing the red and white sweater in the upper left.

Of course, Patou made more than sportswear.  He was also a master of beaded evening dresses, like the one above which is from 1927.

And here is the dress as worn by dancer Eleanora Ambrose.

I loved the close-up look that the reader is given of many of the garments featured.  This dress from 1926 is stunning, but the full length view does not tell the entire story.  It was only with the close-ups that I could see the beautiful textile and the intricate beadwork. In all, there were four photos of this one dress.

I’m really not a fan of huge, heavy books.  Measuring 12.5 by 9.75 inches, and weighing five pounds, it’s a bit hard to curl up in a cozy corner with this one.  However, the wonderful large photos of details more than make up for that bit of inconvenience.

The book is an English translation of the French original, and I must say that at times the writing seemed a bit odd to this American-English reader.  Added to that, the organization is also not what might be expected.  After an initial brief biographical sketch of Patou’s life, there was little adherence to any sort of timeline.

Some of the vintage photos in the book have been widely reproduced, especially those of his bathing suits, but most of the photos were new to me.  That is always a good thing.

Jean Patou: A Fashionable Life is a bit expensive, even at discount.  Even if you don’t buy this one, I do recommend tracking it down through your library.  It’s a fascinating look at a designer that you just don’t see every day.

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