Category Archives: Designers

Ballantyne Cashmere for 1965 at N. Peal

N. Peal was established in 1936 by Nat Peal, and was located at the prestigious address of the Burlington Arcade in London. It sold cashmere and other wool sweaters, all made in the UK. Today, N. Peal is still in business, having been bought and somewhat rebranded in 2010. A quick look on the net shows that the sweaters under the N. Peal name are sold in the N.Peal stores, but also on discount sites like Outnet. They also appear to be made in China.

At one time the name Ballantyne guaranteed a high-quality cashmere product. The factory that made Ballantyne sweaters closed in 2013, but you can still buy Ballantyne products – made in China, of course.  But in the 1960s cashmere sweaters were a true luxury, and Ballantyne was one of the best. Combine that quality with the design skills of Bonnie Cashin, and you have a collaboration made in cashmere heaven.

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I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the orange, or zinnia, version of this Bonnie Cashin for sale at some time in the past.

This sweater is so typical of the way Cashin mixed colors. I love that rounded collar.

A seller on etsy actually has this sweater and skirt set in two different colors. Note the pin in the neck opening. One of the sets that is for sale still has the pin and the original tags.

The skirt was a special design by Cashin which ensured a better fit. t was available in all the colors of the various sweaters.

Not all the items in my little catalog were designed by Cashin. Sweaters like the one above were probably available for several years both before and after 1965, being such a classic design.

By 1965, the collarless Chanel jacket had been made and sold by Mademoiselle for over ten years. If a brand labeled a jacket as “Chanel style” women who followed fashion knew exactly what was meant. Chanel herself found such references to be flattering.

Today though, Chanel, Inc. takes a hard line against any other company (and that includes re-sellers on eBay) using the Chanel name to sell a non-Chanel product.

This open letter to would-be abusers of the Chanel name was first published in 2009 in fashion magazines. This is an attempt to keep control of the Chanel name. They don’t want “Chanel” to become an adjective. The Fashion Law explains it well. 

It’s a bit like trying to close the barn door after the horse is already out, seeing as how “Chanel” has been used in a descriptive manner since at least 1965, and I suspect, even earlier. But those Chanel lawyers are, as they say, serious. I’ve known eBay auctions for “Chanel-like” suits to simply disappear.

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1960s Alfred Shaheen Pants Set

The Alfred Shaheen name is very familiar to vintage clothing collectors, especially those who love the sun dresses and bathing suits of the 1950s. The business was based in Hawaii, where Shaheen expanded his father’s clothing manufacturing business in the post WWII period, capitalizing on the new fad for Hawaiian shirts.

From my little history at the VFG Label Resource:

At first he used fabrics brought in from the US mainland, but he soon realized that profits would be greater if he printed the fabric in Hawaii. He set up Surf ‘n Sand Hand Prints to print the colorful Hawaiian fabrics. His handprinted textiles were based on the flora and fauna of the Hawaiian Islands, along with Hawaiian traditions and authentic tapa cloth designs.

Shaheen produced not only the fabric, but they also manufactured clothing made from it. Shaheen was known for their sexy sarong dresses and swim suits, Hawaiian shirts and halter dresses with full skirts. The company closed in 1988 when Alfred Shaheen retired.

Shaheen not only used Hawaiian themes; the design studio was also was inspired by the rich multicultural population of post war Hawaii. Even the label took on a decidedly “exotic” look.

The set looks, at first glance, to be from the 1950s. I think we can all see Lucy Ricardo wearing this for casual entertaining. But the label is one that is most commonly seen in the 1960s. To confirm the date, the pants have a nylon coil zipper, which was introduced to the American market in the early 1960s.

The pants legs are very interesting. In 1960 pants were still tapered to the ankle, but then they became straight before blooming into bell-shaped legs in the late 60s. Without the pleat my pants are very straight, but the presence of the pleat sure does hint of things to come.

The collar, too, seems to predict the short-lived fad for the Nehru collar in the late 60s. But in this case I’m guessing it was just the company’s love of the “exotic” that led them to use a collar that is more associated with India than Hawaii.

Even though permanently attached care instructions were not mandated by law in the USA until 1972, the presence of a label like the one above does not mean the garment was made after 1972. Many manufacturers were already sewing simple care labels like the one in my pants long before the law went into effect.

You may have noticed the wonderful condition of this set. I can only imagine that it was bought by a woman who was under the spell of her tropical surroundings, and that when she returned home to Tennessee, the set was just too, well, exotic.

 

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Making Mainbocher at the Chicago History Museum

One of the highlights of our recent trip to Chicago was a visit to the Chicago History Museum, and the highlight of the museum was a current exhibition, Making Mainbocher. You may know the name Mainbocher, as he was a major designer from 1930 through 1971. Though he got his start in fashion in Paris, Main Bocher (as he was originally named) was from Chicago, and the exhibition began with a look at his time in the city, and the influences the city had on his long career.

Bocher always loved the arts, and during his school days in Chicago he studied drama and music. He later started a course in illustration at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and to help make ends meet he worked at Sears, Roebuck, answering customer complaint letters, a job that later he credited with teaching him the value of good customer service.

At nineteen, Main Bocher left Chicago, and never again lived there. In the years before World War I he lived in New York, with long stretches in Europe. He had just had his first major commission as an illustrator (above) when the US entered the war. He enlisted, and remained in France until the outbreak of the next war. During the 1920s Bocher tried fashion illustration, and ended up at Harper’s Bazar as an artist. The exhibition had quite a few examples – typical 1920s illustration, all signed Main Bocher. His big break came in 1923 when he went to work for French Vogue. In 1927 he was made the editor.

But Bocher felt he had more to offer in fashion. He quit his Vogue position to open his own couture house. Unfortunately his timing was poor, as a few months after he quit, Wall Street crashed. He put the plan on hold while he scraped together the money to start the business. In 1930 he opened his salon, named it Mainbocher and Frenchied up the pronunciation. He was forty years old.

Things were slow at first, but his persistence paid off, and the business became a great success. Probably the biggest boost to Mainbocher came in 1937 when Wallis Simpson had him design her wedding dress and trousseau for her wedding to the Duke of Windsor.

The earliest clothes in the exhibition date from 1937. The dress on the left is actually two pieces, a tunic over a long dress. The coat in the middle is really beautiful. It is a wool tweedy plaid cut on the bias, and has a lovely drape. Mainbocher donated these two pieces to the Chicago History Museum in 1968.

This suit is also from 1937, and is quite special as it is one of the designs that originated with the Duchess of Windsor’s trousseau. Her version was grey with blue and white accessories.

This suit belonged to Mrs. Stephen Ingersoll of Chicago. I’m not sure it is possible for a suit to have a prettier neckline.

When it became obvious that Paris was going to fall to the Germans, Mainbocher and his partner (who was also his illustrator) Douglas Pollard, left France and settled in New York. To raise money to restart his business, Mainbocher partnered with Warner Corsets with a line of corsets. As far as I could tell, this is the only time Mainbocher did a line of any type of ready-to-wear.

The two evening dresses above (1945 and 1946) are good examples of Mainbocher’s philosophy toward embellishment. The dresses themselves had spare, elegant lines. Mainbocher added the decoration so to eliminate the need for jewelry.

This dress is from 1945, and was made for Mrs. Watson Armour III. The dress was originally designed in yellow, but Mrs. Watson requested it in grey.

One of the real strengths of the exhibition is the presence of a book of facsimiles of the original sketches and swatches. Here is the same dress in the original yellow.  Almost all the designs had the accompanying sketch, and it added so much to the show.

During WWII, the scarcity of materials forced designers to develop ways of stretching the wardrobes of their clients. Mainbocher made cocktail aprons that matched his gowns. He continued the idea with the 1947 gown on the right. He also came up with the idea of the embellished evening sweater, which went on to be a classic of the 1950s.

This 1951 ballgown rated  its own revolving pedestal. It was a good way to see how Mainbocher used four different colors of satin to make the skirt.

Mainbocher was a master of the strapless gown, which he first designed in 1934. By the late 1940s it was a big part of what he was best known for.

And while Mainbocher is best known for his ball gowns, I do believe that his suits are my favorites.  There were only a few suits in the exhibition, but they were all stunning. The original sketch shows that the applied motif on the jacket and the waist band is also in a matching off-white silk blouse. Details matter.

Possibly my favorite in the entire exhibition, this navy suit dates from 1948.

I love Mainbocher’s continued use of the self-applique. It adds detail without being obvious. This was another case where I really wanted to go up and unbutton the jacket so I could see the rest of it.

I need to see this dress as well. The bodice has an interesting criss-cross that tends to mirror the points of the lace decoration of the skirt.

In the 1960s when the fashion world was going mad, Mainbocher continued to do what he did best – making beautiful clothes for women who wanted to look sophisticated. 1964 and 1966.

In the 1940s Mainbocher did a bit of uniform design work. In 1942 he was contracted to design uniforms for the WAVES – Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.

I especially loved this grey and white seersucker work uniform.  It is actually a dress with jacket.

In 1948 Mainbocher redesigned uniforms for the Girl Scouts of America.

And in what is probably the chicest nurses’ uniform ever, he made this one for the student nurses at Passavant Memorial Hospital (which is now Northwestern Memorial in Chicago).

It was a beautiful exhibition, and I left feeling like I really knew what Mainbocher was about. Curator Petra Slinkard did an excellent job, and if you are in the Chicago area and have not seen this show, it is well-worth the time and effort to see it.  Closes August 20, 2017.

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Benjamin B. Green-Field, or Chicago’s Bes-Ben

One of the reasons I wanted to go to Chicago this spring was to see the Mainbocher exhibition (more about that later) at the Chicago History Museum. I had a feeling that there would be more of interest there than that exhibition, and I  was not disappointed. I was delighted to see that the fashion gallery was named for Chicago milliner Benjamin Green-Field, who worked under the label, Bes-Ben.

Benjamin and his sister Bessie, (get it? Bes, Ben.) opened a millinery shop in Chicago in 1919. The business was successful, and by the late 1920s there were five Bes-Ben shops in Chicago.  In 1939 Bessie got married and left the business. As WWII loomed, Benjamin had to get creative as materials began to get scarce and were eventually rationed. He began to incorporate non-traditional millinery materials into his designs. Everything from toy animals to playing cards became a part of a Bes-Ben hat.  Women loved them.

The Bes-Ben material is scattered around the galleries, but it’s not hard to recognize it when you see it.  This hat was designed in 1957 to celebrate the opening of an exhibition in Chicago of the work of Pablo Picasso.

In an area devoted to the industries and stores of Chicago, I found this display of five Bes-Ben hats.

“Women’s hat, black velvet with chenille bees, early 1960s”

Top: “Navy straw with applique butterflies, 1956”

Bottom: “Grey wool with floral embroidery, 1960s”

“Woman’s hat, black linen with embroidery and mirrors, 1958”

Bes-Ben hats did not come cheap, but at the end of each season all remaining hats were put on sale for five dollars each. The only catch was that you had to be outside the store at 2 am the day of the sale, when the hats were thrown out of the window.  Lucky catchers of hats paid their $5 and went home with a real prize!

Not only were his hats whimsical, Green-Field himself was a bit of a character. He wore this suit in the 1970s.

Today, Bes-Ben hats are highly collectible – the crazier the design, the higher the price tag.

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Reid’s Holiday Togs 1930s Playsuit

Many of you will recognize the name Rose Marie Reid, as her company produced women’s swimsuits for many years.  The Rose Marie Reid label began in 1946 when she moved her business from Canada to Los Angeles, a center of the swimwear industry.  But before that, she actually had a swimwear and sportswear company in Vancouver, Reid’s Holiday Togs.  The label dates roughly from 1936 to 1946 and is rarely seen today.

I felt pretty lucky when I spotted this sweet example in an etsy shop, Mystic Clutter Vintage.  According to the biography of Reid, the company produced only swimsuits, so finding a garment other than a bathing suit was pretty exciting.  When I received the playsuit, my enthusiasm for it was even greater.  There are so many great little details that add up to a perfect little garment.

One of my favorite features is how the pockets are built into the princess line.  Then note how just below the pocket, a pleat opens in the side seam.

The presence of pleats in a playsuit really adds to the functionality of the garment.  The legs are full without looking full, leading to greater range of movement by the wearer without sacrificing the fitted look of the suit.

The front is closed with a long metal zipper, which helps to date this to the very early years of  the label.  After Canada entered WWII, the Reid biography specifically pointed out that zippers were unavailable to the company.  I love the curved raglan shoulder, which gives the appearance of a bigger shoulder in accordance with the style of the time.  The little round collar is also a nice touch.

The back of the bodice has an inverted pleat which adds to the wearer’s mobility.

The fabric is a nice cotton twill.  The color is very reminiscent of that used in gymsuits during this time, but there is no evidence that I found that Reid made garments for gym classes.  It is my thinking that this a just a more stylish form of the gymsuit that was recognized as functional attire for girls participating in sports.  It is even possible that a matching skirt was made, as that is how playsuits were generally marketed and sold.

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The Trickle-down Effect

I don’t believe in trickle-down economics, but I do believe in trickle-down fashion.  In his fall, 1965 collection, Yves Saint Laurent included six dresses that were an hommage to artist Mondrian.  One of the dresses was on the cover of French Vogue in September 1965, and by February there was a sewing pattern available from Vogue patterns.  None of that is surprising, but what is a bit of a revelation is how quickly this dress made it to the mass market.

All of the items in today’s post are from the spring and summer 1966 JC Penney catalog.  This was a catalog that was in homes by the beginning of the season, and so was surely in the works before the end of 1965.  The decision to knock-off the idea must have been made soon after the styles were first shown.

Not only were the styles directly copied, they were also adapted to other garments like tops and skirts, and different colorways were used, apart from the primary colors plus black and white seen in the Yves Saint Laurent originals.

There were even styles for little girls, including accessories.  What about that handbag, and those sunglasses, and that triangle scarf?  A fifth grader was less than nine dollars away from a couture look costing thousands.

 

The Mondrian dress was available in sizes as small as a little girl’s three.

Some of the ad copy referenced Mondrian, while others did not.  Yves Saint Laurent was not mentioned, of course, but some of the copy did mention that this was a look straight from Paris.

It would be interesting to actually see one of these dresses and to examine how it was made.  The YSL originals were pieced, but I suspect these were made from fabric that was printed with the color-blocking, or maybe even with the color blocks and black stripes applied on top of the white base.  At $6 for a woman’s dress and $3.90 for the child’s, it does not seem possible that the time intensive process of piecing would have been feasible.

The trend was short lived.  There were no Mondrian/Saint Laurent designs in the fall winter 1966 JC Penney catalog, and none the following spring either.  If you were to find a vintage ready-to-wear dress of this style, I think it’s pretty safe to say it would be from 1966.

I’ve got to wonder if women wanted to continue wearing these dresses, seeing as how they were so connected to one specific season.  I’m pretty sure that anyone who made the Vogue version wouldn’t have easily given it up, as the pattern was pieced, and was quite difficult to make.  But at $6, I’m betting a lot of the mass market models went straight to the back of the closet.

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Nan Duskin, 1942

I recently ran across this little booklet from famed Philadelphia clothing store, Nan Duskin.  Duskin started in fashion retail at the Philadelphia branch of Bonwit Teller, and later moved to The Blum Store.  In 1926 she opened her namesake ladies’ store.  She sold the store in 1959, and it eventually closed in 1995.

Nan Duskin ran a very up-scale establishment, more like a salon actually.  There were regular fashion shows with customers picking their choices to have tailored to fit.  After the store was sold in 1959 the new owner changed the format to that of a regular ready-to-wear shop, a move that led Ms. Duskin to regret selling.

But still, it was a store that continued to sell all the best labels.  If you find a dress with a Nan Duskin label, it will probably have another label as well that could range from Chanel to Jean Muir to Oscar de la Renta.

My little booklet dates to 1942, and I greatly suspect it was designed and printed before the USA joined WWII.  There is no mention of the war, which would have been unusual, and the text refers to the Southern season, which would have been January and February.  These were clothes suitable for travel, and also light weight for a visit to Florida.

For a store that became known for selling the latest in designer labels, it seems interesting that not a single designer is mentioned in the booklet.  Of course, by late 1941 the flow of fashion from Paris had slowed to a trickle, and so stores like Nan Duskin had to rely on American manufacturers who even in the early Forties were not always crediting the designer.

Most of the clothes in the booklet were made from Celanese rayon.  It could be possible that this was a joint advertising booklet between Nan Duskin and Celanese.

Even though the war is not mentioned, there is a lot of red, white, and blue in these clothes.  And be sure to take notice of the hats as well.  Although not described in this book, Nan Duskin did sell hats.  And what hats these are! Definitely high fashion.

I’d love to hear any memories you might have of Nan Duskin.

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