Category Archives: Designers

High Style at the Cincinnati Art Museum, Part II

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High Style is one of those exhibitions that has a surprise at every turn.  The black (actually dark green, but it looks black)  dress is by Elizabeth Hawes, and it was dubbed “The Tarts” dress by its creator.  Dating from 1937, it was thought to be suggestive, with that arrow pointing toward the breasts.  On the back of the dress there is a purple arrow that points downward to the butt.

The white and black dress was designed by Madame Eta Hentz.  Lynn at American Age Fashion recent wrote about visiting the Madame Eta archive at the FIT library.  Interestingly, one of the garments Lynn showed was the dress above, so I really enjoyed seeing it.  One thing I’d not noticed in the photos I had seen of this dress  is that the over-lapping “wings” were semi-detached, and so there would have been a bit of movement in the design.


The exhibition was not just about dresses; accessories were well represented.  All the hats above are from milliner Sally Victor.  The hat in the middle looks like an elaborate braided hairstyle and dates from 1937.  The red and green hat at the right had the green jersey forming a turban in the back.


Even sportswear can be high style, especially in the hands of Bonnie Cashin and Carolyn Schnurer.  The plaid ensemble is from Cashin, and looks as if it could be from the late 1960s.  The date is actually 1943, which shows how Cashin remained true to her design aesthetic throughout her career.  Note the little matching spats.

Carolyn Schnurer designed resortwear based on textiles she found in her international travels.  The two garments above were from her “Flight to India” collection of 1950.  You can see the Indian influence in the sari-like draping and in the textile.


I hate that this photo is so blurry, as this ensemble from Claire McCardell is so wonderful.  The striped hooded top is made from jersey, while the skirt is cotton poplin.  The hooded coat is reversible, with one side being jersey, and the other brown poplin.  No wonder her designs were so popular.


All three dresses above were designed by Gilbert Adrian.  The two on the left show how Adrian worked with unusual colors combinations, much in the way an artist would.  The tiger striped dress reveals Adrian’s roots as a Hollywood designer in a design that would have been right at home on an actress.  Actually, all three dresses belonged to an actress, Adrian’s wife, Janet Gaynor.


Here are more hats from Sally Victor.  On the left is one of the hats Victor made based on the art of Mondrian, and next to it is one with Matisse-like cutouts.  The hat that looks a bit like an upside down pie crust was actually called the “Airwave” and was designed for First Lady Mamie Eisenhower in 1952.  The First Lady had the hat in several color combinations (the lining being in a contrasting color) and it was available to the public as well.


Most of the designers represented so far in my tour have been women, but men designers were featured as well.  The dress on the left was designed by Geoffrey Beene around 1965.  Would it be too matchy-matchy to have worn that Sally Victor Matisse hat with this dress?  Look carefully at the hem to see that it was scalloped, and that it was lined in bright pink.

The dotted bubble hemmed dress with the red coat was designed by Arnold Scaasi in 1961.  Next to it is a 1955 silk evening dress from James Galanos.  That dress looked to be so light that it would be blown away in a slight breeze.  And finally, there is a pants for evening ensemble by Norman Norell, a revolutionary idea in 1970.


One of the highlights of this exhibition was the inclusion of quite a few garments from Charles James along with the digital deconstruction videos that were developed by the Met for the big Charles James show in 2014.  These videos incorporated x-rays of the dresses which showed the complex structure of the garments, as well as pattern pieces that magically formed the finished garment on display.  It was highly effective.

Two of the celebrated “Four Leaf Clover” gowns were on display.  As with some of the other dresses, this one had no visible means of support, and you could see the interior of the bodice.

I’m not much of a lace-wearer, but for some reason I love seeing techniques of lace application.  The way the lace was molded to the dress was truly amazing.


Another highlight of the James display was the inclusion of some of the original working  muslin patterns.  On the left is one of his ribbon dresses, a development of an idea he had gotten from a stash of wide antique ribbons he found in Paris.  On the right is his pattern in muslin.

The pieced “ribbons” on the right continue around to the back of the dress where they come to a point, with the back pieces fitting neatly under the front.  High style, indeed!

If you are planning to see High Style at the Cincinnati Art Museum, I suggest that you plan for the whole day.  To see High Style, taking your time and taking in all the information presented takes at least two hours (unless you were in the tour groups that breezed through in twenty minutes).  Plus, the rest of the museum is really great.  I was there four hours and could have stayed longer.

Admission to the Cincinnati Art Museum is, incredibly, free, though parking is $4.  They do have a nice gift store, and I’m sure they depend on it to help support the museum.  I bought the companion book  to the exhibition at the museum though I knew I could have gotten it cheaper through Amazon.  I consider the extra price to be a donation.



Filed under Designers, Museums, Road Trip

High Style at the Cincinnati Art Museum

I spent a lot of time this past spring and early summer looking at the Instagrams of people in San Francisco and being really jealous.  That’s because they were torturing me with their fantastic photos from a traveling exhibition from the Met’s Costume Institute, High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection.  So I was delighted to hear that the last showing was to be in Cincinnati, which is only a five hour drive from me.

We decided to wait for a good weekend weather-wise, and that gift came earlier than expected.  Last week we loaded the car and headed north to take in the exhibition, and to explore Cincinnati, a city we’d never before visited.  I’m not going to beat around the bush.  If you are anywhere near Cincinnati before January 24, 2016, when the show closes for good, you must see this exhibition.

This is especially true if you did not have the opportunity to see the Met’s Charles James: Beyond Fashion show last year.  Much of the James material, including some amazing computer deconstructions of the clothing on exhibit is included in this show.  I’ll tell more about that in part two of this review.

The exhibition covers the 20th century, and includes both fashion from Europe and the United States.  Above is the back of a Jeanne Lanvin silver lamé dress, summer 1923.  Many of the garments were arranged so that the front was on view, and then you turned a corner to see the back.  To me the back of this dress was the most interesting, with the obi-like train and its (barely visible) Lanvin blue lining.  The embroidery was made with very thin ribbons.

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Here are what are probably my favorites in the entire show.   The two capes or wraps are from Liberty & Co. of London, and they are effectively displayed over Fortuny dresses.  Both capes are silk brocade, woven in a peacock feather pattern, a design by Liberty textile designer Arthur Silver.

To the right you get a glimpse of two Callot Soeurs ensembles, both made for Rita de Costa Lydig circa 1913.  Lydig was a collector of antique lace which Callot Soeurs used in their work for her.  Note that the “dresses” under the lace vest and tunic are actually pants.

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In the center are two 1920s dresses.  The lace dress is from Jeanne Lanvin, 1925.  The red is from the lesser-known Suzanne Talbot, but it is a real stunner.  Also from 1925, it is made from one long length of silk.


The simple frock on the left is from Jean Patou.  Patou was known for his sports clothes, and was very influential in establishing the sporty look of the 1920s.  The middle evening dress was not attributed, but proves that a dress need not have a label in order to be fabulous.  The beaded and embroidered dress on the right is from designer Edward Molyneux, 1925.

And just in case you were wondering why I included a photo of the Patou, here’s a close-up of the details.  It is a not-so-simple, simple little frock.

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Both of these dresses are by Elsa Schiaparelli, who was well-represented in the exhibition.  That is a very good thing, as Schiaparelli garments are rarely seen, so it was a real treat to see not only the dresses, but also some of her surrealist jewelry.  The butterfly dress and parasol date from 1937. The blue dress is actually appliqued using cut-outs from a fabric printed with seed packets, one of which forms a pocket.  There is an exposed zipper in the back, a common Schiap treatment, one that  has been repeated in recent years.

One of the real stars of the show (no pun, seriously!) was this Schiaparelli jacket from her 1938 Zodiac collection.  The embroidery was by Lesage, the Rolls Royce of French embroiderers.  Simply amazing.


The lovely Grecian creation on the left is from Hungarian-American designer Eta Hentz.  Manufacturing under the name Ren-Eta Gowns, it’s a bit hard to imagine that this dress was ready-to-wear.  1944.

One the right is one of the many Elizabeth Hawes dresses that was in the Brooklyn Museum collection.  When the collection was taken to the Met in 2009, many of the Hawes pieces were deacquisitioned and sent to auction,a move I did not understand considering the rarity of Hawes pieces.  But it is obvious they kept the masterworks if this dress is an example.  Look closely to see that there is gold piping between the pieces that shape the waist, and the shaping continues to the back where the pieces seem to ripple like a waterfall to the hem.  It is a stunning dress.


The dark pink dress (and jacket)  is from Madeleine Vionnet, circa 1935.  It is, of course, made from a bias-cut silk.  The black dress is also by Vionnet.

The white evening dress is from Madame Alix Gres, 1937.  It’s construction is interesting, as each half (left and right) is actually just one long length of uncut fabric that goes from the hem in front, is folded to form the peplum, across the shoulder, folded again, and then to the hem.

The copper dress is also from Madame Gres, and is maybe the oddest Gres I’ve ever seen.  Still, there is plenty of her trademark pleating and volume.

I’ll continue my tour of High Style in my next post.  I want to finish this one by saying what a great job the Met and the Cincinnati Art Museum have done in making this exhibition such a great experience.  The exhibition space was spread out in such a way that one could view the clothes without feeling crowded or rushed.  Most of the clothes were not behind glass, and so it let the visitors get really close to examine the details.  It was simply a great fashion history experience.


Filed under Designers, Museums

What I Didn’t Buy – Chopped Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Dress

We laughingly call the Goodwill Clearance Center, “The Dig” for reasons that would be obvious if you have ever visited one of these centers.  Everything is piled high in huge bins, and one must dig for the treasure.  Sometimes I want to call the place “The Heartbreak” as was the instance this week when I pulled the above garment from a pile of Forever 21 and Kathie Lee.

This was a dress from Rive Gauche, which was Yves Saint Laurent’s boutique ready-to-wear line.  I say was a dress because someone had chopped off the bottom one third and left the unfinished “up-cycling” project to be put in their donate pile.  I was attracted to the fine wool plaid and was pleased to see the label.

I will say straight out that I am not an expert, or even a novice when it comes to knowing the various lines that Saint Laurent designed over his long career.  Something about the braid and the brass buttons were slightly reminiscent of his famous 1976 Russian Ballet collection, but the plaid was not.  Because of the damage, I decided not to buy the poor mutilated thing, but I was intrigued and wanted to find out more about how Saint Laurent developed his ready-to-wear collections as compared to his couture.

When it comes to a designer who does both couture and ready-to-wear, the relationship is often thought to be one of the couture being developed first, and then the next season’s ready-to-wear is often based on the ideas of the couture.  I had that in mind when looking at this piece.  But after reading about how Saint Laurent actually worked, I realized that he did it the other way around.  Rive Gauche was like an experimental workshop, and the clothes made for the boutique were often developed into the grand ideas of the couture.

Could some of the ideas seen on this dress gone on to be further developed as the Russian collection?  I’m sure I cannot say, but it points out a valuable lesson.  A garment does not have to be couture to be significant.  I think that was shown very well in the recent Museum at FIT exhibition, Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s where many of the garments on display were actually Rive Gauche, and not Yves Saint Laurent couture.

I like this photo because it shows the reverse side of the fabric.  Even though Rive Gauche was ready-to-wear, it was high-end and expensive.  This was a very nice, finely woven wool plaid.

I have said this before, but to to remind all the DIYers out there:  Think before you cut.


Filed under Designers, I Didn't Buy...

Currently Viewing: Yves Saint Laurent

Last year two competing movies about the life of designer Yves Saint Laurent were released.   One of them, Yves Saint Laurent was recently added to Netflix, and so I finally got to see it.  To be honest, I was not all that eager to see the film, as YSL – the man, not the designer – seriously depresses me.  After sitting through a documentary that was filmed before his death, I’d vowed to never sit through two hours of Yves ever again.

But I broke my promise,and I’ve got to say that this movie was a very mixed bag.  First, I’ll give you the good news.  Because Pierre Bergé, Saint Laurent’s longtime lover and business partner, and the  president of the Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent Foundation, was involved with this film, the makers had access to the YSL archive, including the actual clothing.  Much of what is shown in the fashion show sequences is thus the real deal, and it shows.

Unfortunately, there was just not much that could be done to make Saint Laurent a more sympathetic or likable character.  Not that he is shown as unlikable, it is just that all the drugs and poor choices combined with the poor, fragile persona that he projected make the depiction of him hard to watch.

It helps to know a bit about Saint Laurent’s life, as the movie is fast-paced, and it is in French with sub-titles.  It seemed to me that it would have been hard to follow had I not already known much of the story.

So, would I recommend Yves Saint Laurent?  Yes, but only for the look at those fabulous clothes in action.  Otherwise, unless you love watching a talented and creative man self-destruct, give it a pass.



Filed under Currently Viewing, Designers

A Matter of Proportion

I spotted this skirt recently at a nearby antique mall, and I really liked it, but for some reason it looked a little off. The mix of colors was so fresh and unexpected, so that wasn’t it.  Still, it left me a bit unsettled.

A check inside the skirt revealed one of my favorite sportswear labels from the 1950s and 60s, Bill Atkinson for Glen of Michigan.  I’ve sung the praises of this label in the past, and I know it to be of good quality and to have a sound design aesthetic.  So what about it bothered me?

I took the skirt from the rack and turned it inside out to examine it.  And there was the story.  The skirt had been shortened.

The bottom squares were originally true squares like the rest of the ones in the skirt.  Even better, there was a band of that same dark pink velveteen that is used in the waistband.  My faith in Mr. Atkinson was restored.

I was impressed that the person who turned this knee-length skirt into a mini did not take the scissors to it.  Instead she turned up the band and half of the bottom squares, which made for a very bulky hem.  I’m guessing it didn’t get a lot of wear as the condition of the skirt was so good.

As a short person, I’ve learned that there is often more to consider when putting up a hem than just length.  Proportion is very important in order for a dress or skirt to look “right.”  Several years ago before maxi-length dresses came back into fashion, it was common on ebay to see 1970s maxis that the seller had cut off to a mini length.  Because the scale of prints in the early 70s was often quite large, the prints were well suited to the maxi length.  But with three feet of fabric sliced from the bottom, the mini versions always ended up looking off kilter.

I’m glad that floor-length dresses made a reappearance in fashion, because it saved many vintage 1970s maxi dresses from the chopping block.

Correction: Spelling error


Filed under Curiosities, Designers, Sportswear, Vintage Clothing

Exhibition Journal: Pucci in America

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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.





Filed under Designers, Journal

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.




Filed under Designers, Viewpoint