Category Archives: Designers

Exhibition Journal: Pucci in America

Click to enlarge.

Last October I traveled to Athens, Georgia to the Georgia Museum of Art.  They were having a special exhibition on Emilio Pucci and the business relationships he had with firms in the United States.  Pucci had spent some time as a student at the University of Georgia, also located in Athens, and so an exhibition about his US relationships seemed appropriate.

While the museum did not allow photos for this show, they did provide a nice place to sit and sketch.  I’ve talked about sketching in museums before, and unfortunately,  it is not always possible to sit with a pencil and paper and draw.  Some museums don’t have benches, and others are so crowded that trying to sketch is impossible.

If I’m visiting a new-to-me museum, I will usually take my sketchbook and pencils, but I never know until I get inside if the place is drawer friendly.  I also take a small notebook, because sketchy notes are sometimes all that is possible.  From my notes and from photos (hopefully ones I was able to take) I then do my journal entry at home.  In this case I was able to do the main sketching onsite and then I finished it when I returned home.

There is an excellent article in the latest Dress journal from the Costume Society of America about fashion displays in museums and the problems associated with displaying on a static form clothing that was meant to be seen on a moving human body.  Author Ingrid Mida brings up some very interesting points about how different it is to see a garment on a mannequin than it is to see it on a human body.

In the not too distant past it was considered to be okay for museum garments to be worn by models, but today it is against museum and preservation standards.  Museums attempt to make the clothes more dynamic by showing video of the clothing in action, and even, as in the case of the recent John Paul Gautier exhibition, by using animated mannequins.  I can see why this would add to the understanding of a garment by people who are viewing it in a museum.

At this point I’ve been to dozens of fashion exhibitions, and to be honest, I just expect to see static forms displaying the clothing.  But then, I’m all about taking a close look at the garment and noting the details.  We all take something different from an exhibition, whether it be clothing or painting or furniture.  At this point I’m just glad that fashion is being seen as worthy of exhibition.  I can remember a time when clothing exhibitions were very rare indeed.

Click.

 

 

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Of Suntanning and Pantalets

Photo found on Wikipedia

I have a really short attention span.  I can’t blame my age because I’ve always been this way.  I’ll be interested in one thing and then in my pursuit of it notice another, and so off I go in that direction.  I think that is why I like writing this blog.  I can chase whatever rainbow crosses my sky.

I might have mentioned here that I’m working on a program about women’s camp and hiking attire.  Since I was doing the work anyway I decided to expand the research in order to write a paper for possible presentation or publication.  And the topic is so interesting to me that I thought I’d have little trouble staying on track.

Wrong.  Everywhere I turn there I see another route I want to take, another fascinating fact to share, another article to read and think about.  And it is funny how when a topic gets into the consciousness, related topics tend to pop up as well.

Last week I went to the Metrolina Marketplace for a bit of recreational treasure hunting.  A women had her half-grown puppy there, and she was really making a spectacle of herself – the dog, not the owner.  This was a dog who knew how to command a crowd, and she was working the flea market with a very skilled paw.

Turns out the dog is a Coton de Tulear by the name of Coco Chanel.  The Coton de Tulear is a fairly rare breed, and I’m sure the owner chose the name because it symbolized glamour and fashion to her.  Frankly, I’d never name an animal for a notorious Nazi-lover, and it occurred to me that people must either not care that Chanel was such an odious person (her words, not mine), or they don’t actually know much about her.

But the encounter with the sweet dog with the sadly inappropriate name must have put Chanel in the forefront of my thoughts, because I keep finding her in my reading.

One of my finds from the weekend was a 1909 issue of McCall’s Magazine.  I usually don’t buy McCall’s, but this one had an article I knew would be helpful in my research, What Summer Camps Are Doing for Society Girls.  But that’s not the only gem in this issue, as I also noted Fashions for the Seaside, Suggestions for the Fair Traveler, and Packing for the Vacation Trip.  It’s almost as if those editors back in 1909 had me in mind when planning this issue.

One of the things that Chanel is almost always credited with is the popularization of the suntan.  I’ve read that nobody but nobody sported a tan before Chanel.  But here I found in this 1909 magazine a reference to tanning:

Poets have sung the charms of the “nut-brown maid” and it is not to be denied that a good coat of tan is very becoming to many people. If our annual seaside jaunt has no worse effect upon our tender skins than the transforming for a while to one of rich olive tone we should have very little to complain of.

The writer does go on to warn the reader of the burning effects of the sun, but the paragraph makes very clear that intentional suntanning was already being practiced and was considered to be desirable quite a few  years before Chanel supposedly introduced the practice to the world.

And that is one thing that bugs me about Chanel.  The stories told and retold about her border on myth.  I don’t understand why we can’t be content to let the woman’s real accomplishments – and there were many – be enough.

A day later I was reminded of Chanel again.  I was looking through my collection of pre-1930 vintage magazines to see if I could spot any references to pants being worn by women.  I expected to see beach pyjamas and knickers for skiing and breeches for riding, but I was completely surprised to find the image above in a 1924 Vogue.

Chanel makes a suit-dress of light grey Oxford cloth with a slightly fitting coat, a grey crepe bodice, and a skirt that may be worn buttoned or unbuttoned, over the grey crepe pantalets.

By the time this suit was conceived by Chanel, women had been wearing skirts over pants for biking and hiking for several decades.   It was not a new idea, but what was new was that this was not an ensemble that was intended for active sports.  This was a fashion garment, and the pants were meant to be seen.

I found another, similar example in a 1925 Vogue, but this idea must have been too outre for the mid 1920s.  Pants for women were strictly for sports and the boudoir and Chanel’s idea did not catch on.  But it does show us just how modern Chanel was, and how her ideas for women’s wear were on the cutting edge.  It seems a shame that she be remembered more for the little black dress and for suntanning than she is for the ideas that were truly forward-thinking.

 

 

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Ferragamo, 1938 and 2015

I don’t do a lot of retail shopping, purely because these days I prefer to make my clothes, and because there is so little that I need.  Last weekend I found myself in Atlanta (great niece’s first communion; that was interesting) and staying across the street from a huge shopping mall.  I decided to take my morning walk in the mall and do a bit of window shopping.

I love shop windows, and while the ones in malls are seldom on par with the great ones seen on the street in the major shopping cities, I’m always interested to see what it is that brands think is newsworthy enough to feature in their windows.

The shoes above were in the windows of Ferragamo, Italian maker of shoes that dates back to the 1920s.  In 1928  Salvatore Ferragamo opened his shoe manufacturing business in Florence, Italy, after a time in Hollywood making shoes for the movies.  The business struggled through the depression, but by 1938 was making enough money for Salvatore to relocate the business to a grand palace.

World War II was looming, and Ferragamo was looking to alternative materials from which to fashion his shoes.  One idea was to build the soles and heels from cork.  From 1938 through the 1940s Ferragamo made fanciful wedge heels and platforms with the lightweight cork as a base.

The above shoe is quite well-known.  This particular example is in the Ferragamo Museum, which is still housed in the palace Salvatore bought in 1938.  You can see why I was attracted to the new platforms in the window.  It is a superb example of a company reaching back into their archives to bring out ideas and update them for modern taste.

On the Ferragamo website I found that there are several different styles in this line based on the 1938 cork sole and heel.  I also spotted some sandals and espadrilles  based on the famous Ferragamo Vara (the pump with the bow) which was first made in the 1970s and became the shoe of working women in the 1980s.  And they still make the Audrey, a flat ballet type shoe that was designed for Audrey Hepburn in 1954.

Ferragamo is proof that companies don’t have to reinvent the wheel every four months.  All they have to do is build on the greatness they have already created.

The book that contains the picture of the 1938 platforms is Shoes: A Celebration of Pumps, Sandals, Slippers & More, by Linda O’Keefe.  I bought it while on a school field trip with my fifth graders  to the Mint Museum in Charlotte in 1996, and I and the lucky little girls sitting near me on the bus ride home whiled away the trip with this great little book.  It’s still a favorite, partly because it reminds me so much of the fun we had analyzing the designs and picking out our favorites.

 

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Schiaparelli for Catalina Swimsuit, 1949

Some people might think that designer collaborations with mass market manufacturers is a new idea, but they actually go back at least to 1916 when Lucile’s – Lady Duff-Gordon – name began appearing the the Sears Roebuck catalog.  By the 1930s California swimsuit maker Catalina was calling on the designers of Hollywood films to do an occasional suit for them.

I haven’t been able to find any concrete information about the Schiaparelli for Catalina collection, except for the fact that it was in 1949.  The suits were widely advertised so there is a good record of the various suits designed by Schiaparelli.  It’s interesting that I’ve not found reference to this collaboration in any of my print sources, including Schiap’s autobiography, Shocking Life, and the catalog that accompanied the 2003 Shocking! exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In an ad in the Spokane Daily Chronicle, May 13, 1949, this suit was touted as the “Official Swim Suit of the Atlantic City Miss America Pageant.”

The best fitting swim suit in the county… and hailed by the nation’s prize-winning beauties!  It’s “Cable Mio,” designed by the world-famous Schiaparelli exclusively for Catalina!  White wool cables on Celanese and Lastex Knit.  It’s a convertible – can be worn with or without straps.

The design is achieved purely through the cutting of the fabric to form chevrons.  It’s amazing the effect that can be made through a bit of creative planning and stitching!

 

 

I’m sorry about of the quality of this 1949 ad.  It’s a scan of a scan…  I’m still trying to locate my original and I will post a better image when I find it.

Purchased from Ballyhoo Vintage, who always has a great selection of vintage swimwear.

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The Milliner and Her Hats

Sylvia on the right, 1920s

 

I received some more photos of  Sylvia Whitman Seigenfeld, the designer behind the Suzy label, from her daughter.  It seemed a bit odd that I wrote about this important milliner and she was wearing a hat in none of the photos!  Thanks to daughter Susan, we can now see that Sylvia knew how to sport a hat.

1930s

 

1930s or early 40s

 

Late 1940s or early 50s

 

In the last photo we see Sylvia wearing an uncharacteristically fussy hat.  I wonder what she thought about the hat of the woman sitting across the table from her.  Now that’s a hat!

I want to thank Susan Novenstern again for all the information about her mother and for the fantastic photos of her. Her generous sharing adds to the historical record and helps eliminate confusion about all the Suzy millinery labels.

This points out once again just how important the internet has become in doing historical research.  Susan found my original post on her mother’s label after someone posted a link on her facebook page.  Others have found my posts after doing a Google search on a family member who was in the fashion business.  It is just amazing the connections that are being made today that were impossible in the last century.

For those of us who blog and who post in other places on the internet, we just never know who might be reading.  It’s exciting that information can be so easily found and shared.

Sorry that there are no links today, but I only had a few to share so I decided to wait a week before doing the post.   If any of you run across an interesting story about clothing or textiles, I always appreciate an email with the link .

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Suzy USA Hats

Over three years ago I posted photos of a hat I’d found that I at first thought was made by Madame Suzy, a Parisian milliner.  I pretty quickly came to the realization that I was not correct, but until now I did not know who the Suzy who made my hat was.  The problem is there was not just one Suzy hatmaker in the mid twentieth century, there were actually quite a few.  Besides Madame Suzy, I’ve found Suzy Lee of California, Suzy Michelle, Suzi of California, Suzy et Paulette, and Suzy B.

Last week I had the good fortune of hearing from a woman named Suzy.  She is the daughter of the milliner who designed my hat, Sylvia Whitman Seigenfeld, who sometimes went by Midge.  It was she who formed Suzy hats sometime in the 1930s.  I’ve had several emails from Suzy in which she has told me about the hats that were designed by her mother.

Sylvia was born in 1909 in New Jersey.  When she was sixteen she went to work in the millinery business of her father, Nat Whitman.  When she was twenty she married Nathan Seigenfeld whose family was in the clothing business.  In fact, Nathan’s mother was a sister to Anna Miller and Maurice Rentner who owned the companies that gave  Bill Blass his start in the 1950s, and of which he became owner  in the 1960s.

With husband Nat Seigenfeld, son Alan, and daughter Suzy, 1944

 

Sylvia and Nathan’s daughter Suzy was born in 1938, and around the same time, they began the millinery, which was also named Suzy.  Suzy really didn’t know which came first, the daughter or the millinery, but she suspects that the business was born first.  The showroom was located at  417 Fifth Avenue, right across the street from Lord & Taylor.  There Sylvia gave showings of her hats to buyers from major department stores from across the country.  The workrooms and shipping departments were in the back of her showroom.

Sylvia and Family, Homecoming on the Queen Mary, 1950

 

Suzy can remember her mother going to Paris every year on the Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth.  She visited the Place Vendome and Rue de la Pais.  Paris inspired her designs.  Sylvia made all sorts of hats – hats with veils, straw hats,  pillboxes, snoods, and cloches.
Suzy has confirmed that my hat is one of her mother’s, as it does have the label that she used.  My hat is made from jersey, as was another Suzy hat that I found in an online listing.
I want to thank Suzy for sharing her mother’s story and photographs with me.  It is so important that we continue to find and document the stories of people from the past who played such a major role in the history of American fashion.

Sylvia in Florida, visiting her parents, 1940s

Vintage photos copyright Susan Novenstern.  Do not copy.

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Halston & Warhol: Silver & Suede, at the Mint Museum

Halston is having a bit of a moment in the fashion exhibition world.  I wrote earlier about Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70 at the Museum at FIT, and I’ve been looking forward to this show ever since seeing it.  The exhibition was organized by the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh where it was first shown, and over the past year it has traveled to several other cities.  It is currently in Charlotte, NC, at the Mint Uptown, where you can see it until June 14.

The exhibition came about due to the efforts of Halston’s niece, Lesley Frowick.  She approached the Andy Warhol Museum with her idea, and they enthusiastically agreed to co-curate the exhibition with her.  Halston had left much of his archive to Leslie in case she ever wanted to write a book about him, a task she has accomplished.  They were able to pull from her material and that of the museum to find objects to illustrate the relationship the two men shared, and how one’s art influenced that of the other.

I’ve been to the Mint numerous times, but simply put, this is the best exhibition I’ve ever seen there.  The variety of artifacts and the way it was all arranged led to a great learning experience.

The exhibition started with accessories, and how Warhol got his start illustrating shoes and Halston got his making hats.  Interspersed with the drawings, hats, and archival material were Warhol films and Halston fashion show videos.

Courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

 

Probably the one object that best shows the mutual influence is this silk jersey Halston dress.  The print was based on a series of flowers that Warhol had been silk-screening.  The exhibition had not only the dress, which belongs to the Warhol Museum, but also an assortment of the paintings which were hung nearby.

Collection of Lesley Frowick, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

 

The Halston clothing came from several sources.  Some of it came from Lesley Frowick’s collection, and those of other family members.  Much of it came from Halston Heritage, the company that owns the Halston label, and which has an archive of Halston clothing.  The evening set above was created in 1983.

In many cases the original Halston sketch, drawn on lined notebook paper would be hung near the actual garment.  Some of the garments were shown with publicity sketches drawn by artist Stephen Sprouse.  And all through the exhibition snippets from Warhol’s famous diary gave meaning to the art and added perspective to the clothing.

Collection of Lesley Frowick, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

 

I really appreciated the fact that the clothes were accessorized in the most proper way, with Elsa Peretti for Tiffany jewelry.  The blue cashmere pants, sweater, and cape have just the silver and leather Peretti belt to set off the outfit.

Halston for JC Penney Suit, 1983 Collection of Lesley Frowick, courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

 

Much has been made of how the Halston deal with JC Penney’s caused his downfall.  It’s such a shame really.  Some of the JC Penney clothes were on display, and I was surprised at how good they really were.

©The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image courtesy of The Andy Warhol Museum

 

There were a few Warhol paintings of the mutual friends of the two men.  There was Liza Minnelli, of course, but also Martha Graham.

To kick off the exhibition, Lesley Frowick was in Charlotte to gave a talk and show slides of Halston as a child.  I was lucky enough to attend, as listening to Halston’s niece really put a human face on the designer.  He was not just the famous Halston, he was Uncle Halston, and according to Leslie, he was a really good uncle to have.

As a young woman Leslie moved to New York and her uncle gave her a job and a place to live.  When she had a trip to Paris planned and did not know what to wear, Halston told her to simply send over her luggage and he would handle the rest.  He filled five suitcases with clothes for her, along with sketches showing what to wear with what.

For the talk, Lesley was wearing pieces of her vintage Halston collection, and she looked terrific.

I’ve not been able to find out if this exhibition will continue to travel, so if you are anywhere near Charlotte in the next three months, I strongly recommend this show.  Photos were not permitted due to ownership rights, but the Mint does allow use of photos from their website.

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