Category Archives: Designers

Kirness Sisters, Jerusalem, Jacket

I haven’t bought a lot of things lately due to first one thing and then another, but I did get this pretty cross-stitched rayon jacket about a month ago. I spotted it on Instagram, where it was love at first sight. After it came I put it on a hanger and put it where I could just admire it for a while.

Today I finally took a closer look, and did a bit of searching for the makers, the Kirness Sisters. I knew about this shop, but I really didn’t know much about the sisters. A general search brought up a few garments, all hand embroidered with a Middle Eastern look. There were caftans and robes and dresses. Most of the sellers listed them as being from the 1910s or 1920s.

In the July 12, 1934 Palestine Gazette I found a notice where the business had registered as a partnership. The two owners were Esher and Lida Kirness. Their business was the manufacture and selling of the arts and crafts of Palestine.  I found no other mention of Esher, but Lida married Alexander Avraham in 1937. All the other sources were written in Hebrew, so this is pretty much it, for now.

Photo form the Tim Gidel Collection, The Israel Museum in Jerusalem

Luckily, this photo of the exterior of the shop survives. It was taken in 1936 during the time Palestine was under British administration.

The earliest reference I found to the Kirness Sisters was the 1934 partnership registration, but that does not necessarily mean that the business actually began in 1934. Most of the clothing I have seen with the label do look to be from the 1920s, especially the dresses. I suspect that my jacket is from the late 1920s or the early 1930s.

Here is the jacket again, this time taken before I took a close look at the interior. Compare it to the photo at the top. Can you see where an alteration was made?

If you guessed “sleeves” then you are correct. The sleeves had been shortened and made more narrow.  The person who made the adaptation, possibly the original owner, went about it in a way so that the changes were not obvious. It was not until I turned it inside-out that I saw that the sleeves had been shortened about two inches. Not only that, the sleeve seams were taken in to make the sleeves more narrow. Could this have been to update the sleeves to a more narrow 1930s look?

But this is the outside.  The alternations can barely be detected. My scissors are pointing to the seam there the sleeve was shortened. Also look just below the tip of the scissors t see one of the places where the sleeve was  narrowed.

Because the alteration was made without cutting the fabric, reversing the change was easy.  Only a crease was left to indicate the alteration.

I know that many people wear old clothes, and that in order to make them fit sometimes alterations are needed. If this is you, then please do like the alterer of this jacket did. Make any changes so that they can be reversed. That means to not use scissors.  I’d also say that reversing alterations is easier when the stitching is in a slightly different color thread than the garment. I almost went blind removing black thread from a black garment.

Here’s the label in case you are ever lucky enough to run across a Kirness Sister garment. I’m thinking that would be more likely if you are in the UK, as most of the examples I located online were from sellers in the UK.  There’s good reason for this, of course, as the British were still operating under the idea that they had the right to be in Palestine. There was a large British presence in Jerusalem.

The crossstitch is so beautiful, and it shows the marks of a skilled embroiderer. Today people might sound the cry of cultural appropriation concerning garments like this one, but you have to remember this was made by a person in Palestine for the tourist trade. It’s similar to buying Native American jewelry from the maker. It helps the local economy and supports craftsmanship.

This came from the beautiful shop of Madame E Vintage at etsy.

 

 

25 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Designers, Uncategorized

Two Early 1960s Blouses – Emilio Pucci and Haymaker

Several years ago I wrote about a ski themed blouse by Emilio Pucci. This is not it.

This is the Pucci blouse, as it was photographed by the seller, Erawear Vintage. I had always regretted not buying it, so when the similar blouse at the top of this post was put up for sale, I decided to add it to my sports-themed collection, even though it was not the real thing.

Actually, the blouse has a pretty good label, Haymaker.  Those of us who were around in the 1960s might remember Haymaker. It was a label owned by the David Crystal company, the company that also owned Izod, and which held the American license for Lacoste crocodile shirts. Haymaker made mainly sportswear and business attire for women. I’ve looked all over, and I can’t find a connection between Haymaker and Pucci, but the Haymaker blouse can’t be an accident.  The two shirts are just too similar.

The Haymaker blouse has Sestriere in script as part of the border.  The Pucci blouse has various Alpine ski resorts in script as part of the design.

There are no actual skiers on my Haymaker blouse. It’s made of a very nice rayon, while the Pucci is silk.

I was happy to find a different Pucci blouse with a ski print. It’s a bit plain to be a typical Pucci, but not all his early work was bold and geometric.

It also has the name of, I presume, a ski resort, but I can’t quite figure it out.  I do love how the script forms the tree.

The back really is fun, with a variety of crazy skiers working their way to the hem.

One of the best skiers is this mermaid. What’s really interesting is that Pucci also made a sports themed dress that used a mermaid. You can see it on the old post.  In fact, the design of the dress fabric is very similar to my Pucci blouse in that both have a small overall scale.

If I remember correctly, the Pucci sold by Erawear did not have the Emilio name in the print. Mine, does, as you can see above.

Pucci is so representative of the late 1960s and the 70s aesthetic, but I love these early examples more. I love how he showed one of his passions – skiing – in the print. I may not be typical of what we today envision as “Pucci”, but how clever are these print?

 

 

 

17 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Designers, Novelty Prints, Sportswear, Winter Sports

Currently Reading – Theatre de la Mode

The story of the Théâtre de la Mode is quite well-known. Briefly, it was a project undertaken after the liberation of Paris in 1944 to show that the Haute Couture had survived the war, and to raise money for war recovery. Dolls, sculptures actually, were designed by young artist Jean Saint-Martin, and members of the  Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne designed fashions for the dolls to wear. Scene sets were designed by famous artists like Christian Bérard.

Lots of money was raised. The show toured Europe, and then went to New York, with the show ending in San Francisco. When the show ended, the dolls somehow ended up at the Maryhill Museum of Art in Oregon.

There is, of course, so much more to this story. When I spotted this book in an antique mall last fall, I picked it up and then put in my to-read pile. Well, that pile has been shrinking, and I finally got around to reading Théâtre de la Mode. My timing could not have been better, because this is not just the story of some beautifully dressed sculptures; it’s the story of how beauty can survive in the midst of the most terrible of circumstances.

As an American Baby Boomer, I grew up with my family’s tales of the depravitations of World War II. There were stories of cars with no gasoline, of cakes with no chocolate, and of new clothes being remade from old. To my middle class 1960s life, it all sounded so dreadful. In recent years the sufferings of life in Britain during and after the war have been well documented in movies and television. But what about life in Paris after the liberation from Nazi control?

The writers of Théâtre de la Mode did an exceptional job of painting a picture of post-liberation Paris. What was pointed out was that after the cheering was over, one of the harshest winters in known history set in, with shortages of everything from coal to milk. The infant mortality rate soared to 10.9 percent. Electricity was turned on only at meal times and at night. New, warm clothing was not to be had.

But in spite of all the misery and hardships, the couture had survived. Paris had lost its position of the world’s fashion leader, but plans were made in 1944 for the city to regain what it had lost. Part of the plan was the Théâtre de la Mode.

Couture houses, milliners, and shoemakers worked through the winter of 1944-1945 on their contributions to the project. Sets were built, dolls constructed, and tiny garments constructed. In March, 1945, the Théâtre de la Mode opened at the Pavillon Marsan. It was a smashing success. Paris was ready for some beauty and fantasy.

Above you see Eliane Bonabel, who was instrumental in the development of the dolls.

When the show closed in Paris, it traveled to other cities across Europe. Late in 1945 new clothes in what couturiers imagined to be the latest fashions were made before the dolls were sent to New York, accompanied by Bonabel. The show opened there in May of 1946, and then traveled to San Francisco where it was shown at the De Young Museum. When it closed, the dolls were stored at the City of Paris department store in the city.

There the dolls stayed until 1951 when Paul Verdier, president of the store, arranged for the dolls to be sent to Maryhill. There they resided until they were “rediscovered” in 1984 by Stanley Garfinkel of Kent State University.  A plan was hatched to send the dolls back to Paris where they would be restored, and put on display again at the Pavillon Marsan. All the original sets had been lost so reproductions were made of nine sets.

This book came about as a result of the restoration and the Paris exhibition. There are essays by people involved in the project, and by historians. All are interesting. The photos by David Seidner are really special.

Today the Maryhill Museum of Art displays the dolls and sets on a rotating basis. I have definitely put Maryhill on my long range plan list. And now, a little taste of the lovely photos of the dolls.

Coat and dress by Martial & Armand, hat by Blanche & Simone, shoes by Bertili

Left: Suit by Lucile Manguin, accessories by Vedrennes

Right: Suit by Dupouy-Magnin, hat by Jane Blanchot, shoes by Gelé.

The only slacks that I spotted: Sport ensemble by Freddy Sport

Beachwear ensemble by Maggie Rouff, hat by Gilbert Orcel, sandals by Casale

Beachwear ensemble and hat by Jacques Heim, sandals by Hellstern

Dress by Madame Grés, veil by Caroline Reboux

Left: Dress by Henriette Beaujeu, hat by Rose Valois, gloves by Hermés, shoes by Grezy

Right: Dress and hat by Schiaparelli, gloves by Faré, shoes by Casale

In all there were over 235 dolls, though some are now missing. Many of the accessories are also missing. For the 1991 exhibition, Massaro made some reproduction shoes.

Essays by  Edmonde Charles-Roux, Herbert R. Lottman, Stanley Garfinkel, Nadine Gasc, Katell le Bourhis, and photographs by  David Seidner 

27 Comments

Filed under Currently Reading, Designers, Museums, World War II

Derrick Adams: Patrick Kelly, The Journey at SCADFASH

Sometimes a reminder cames to us to not put things off. With the majority of the world in self survival mode, there won’t be any museum going for a while. That makes my recent trip to Atlanta, taken just as the coronavirus was reaching the US, even more special. It may be the last museum jaunt for a long while.

If you were around in the 1980s, you probably remember Patrick Kelly, a young Black designer from Mississippi who took Paris by storm in 1985. His clothes were body-hugging, often in black accented with bright colors. He was known for his joyous approach to life and his loyalty to his friends. Unfortunately, Kelly died of AIDS in 1990.

Since his death, not much has been written about Kelly, though a book is now in the works. He did leave a large archive which is housed at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. Artist Derrick Adams took a deep dive into the archive, which inspired a body of work celebrating Kelly’s legacy.

The exhibition at SCADFASH incorporates these works from Adams, surrounded by clothing designed by Kelly, and memorabilia from his life. Many of these items were loaned to the museum by friends in Atlanta, where Kelly lived during the 1970s.

In my top photo you can see one of Adams’s works. It incorporates pattern pieces from designs Kelly licensed to Vogue Patterns, along with the brights + black scheme that so typifies many of Kelly’s dresses.

This Patrick Kelly dress seems to be to be a collage in dress form.

And here is a work by Adams using the same theme.

This Kelly dress was one that was made into a commercial pattern. The large dots of color are actually buttons.

And here is the pattern. Finding buttons that large must have been a real task for anyone not living in a place like New York with all its fashion resources. The large buttons in the photograph were specially-made buttons for Kelly’s line. He would keep a supply of them in his pocket to hand out to visitors to his boutique and workshop.

This work by Adams incorporates the button theme.

Here’s one of Kelly’s trademark caps. They often just spelled out Paris in sequins.  And there’s another of his pattern designs in the background.

One thing I neglected to photograph was a couple of little plastic baby dolls. About two inches long, each was made of molded brown plastic, representing Black babies. I remember these from my 1960s childhood, and was quite surprised that he had them in the 1980s. They were another of the little gifts Kelly passed out to friends and visitors. The Black babies were just one of the ways that Kelly stressed his Blackness, as he also appropriated Black images that were meant to be racist and demeaning. He even used a Golliwog as a motif in some of his collections.

There have been two major retrospectives of Kelly’s work, one at the Brooklyn Museum in 2004, and one at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2014 after they received eighty garments from his estate. There have been two podcasts about Kelly in recent months, both featuring interviews with Dr. Eric Darnell Pritchard, who has been researching Kelly’s story for an upcoming book. Listen to them at Dressed and at the FIT Podcast.

Derrick Adams: Patrick Kelly, The Journey will be on exhibit at SCADFASH in Atlanta until July 19, 2020, Hopefully the museum will reopen with plenty of time for people to see this thought provoking exhibition.

And to show how Patrick Kelly influenced fashion, here’s a dress from Better Dresses Vintage. No, it’s not a Patrick Kelly, but you sure can see the influence.

13 Comments

Filed under Designers, Museums, Uncategorized

Tom Brigance Waterclothes 1970s Bathing Set

Having lived through the 1970s doesn’t make collecting the clothing from that decade easier. If anything, the waters are muddied by memories, some of which are not representative of the era. I once went to an exhibition that showed handbags from different eras, along with what women might have carried in each. I was loving the show until I got to the 1970s bags, and for some reason, the contents the curator had chosen seemed all wrong to me. After all, I was there, and I know what I carried in my bag.

But in some ways the more recent decades are easier to collect. For one thing, there’s more choice. And often the choices include high quality items at a reasonable price which in earlier decades would be priced out of sight. This set from sportswear designer Tom Brigance is a great example.

Brigance’s name isn’t as well known as some of his peers, like  Claire McCardell, Tina Leser, and Rose Marie Reid. But when it comes to beachwear, Mr. Brigance was hard to beat. He started out designing in Europe in the 1930s, but went to New York in 1939 where he designed at Lord & Taylor. Like so many others, his career was interrupted by World War II, but when the war ended, he returned to Lord & Taylor. In 1949 he opened his own design business, designing sportswear and swimsuits for various companies.

I have a Tom Brigance halter dress from the 1950s, but I’d had a Brigance bathing suit on my wishlist for some time. I was thinking that I wanted one from the 1950s, but when this set showed up on eBay, I changed my mind. I see this as a great representation of the type of things Brigance designed. He often used interesting necklines, and bare but covered lines.  The seller described this as being from the 1960s, and I didn’t disagree until I looked at the close-up photos. After all, it does that the mid 1960s Cole of California Scandal Suit vibe.

The soft interior of the bra section tells me this is not likely to be a 1960s suit. Until the early 1970s, most makers were designing bathing suits with rigid bras, and many even had boning. Things began to soften at the end of the 1960s with bras made of a bonded fabric that was soft but that held its shape. Many of these have deteriorated into dust. This suit simply has a shelf bra made of thick nylon.

The guessing game ended when I spotted this label.  The ILGWU switched to this label in 1974, using the colors of the American flag. Was this part of their campaign to get Americans to “Always look for the union label, it says we’re able to make it in the U.S.A.!”

Someone paid a lot for this set, though I don’t know exactly how much because the prices have been removed. And as you can see, it was never worn as the paper tags are still attached. I have detached the tags and have stored them, as the garments do not need any more exposure to the acidic paper.

As a buyer, I don’t expect sellers to always know everything about what they are selling. But the best sellers put in enough photos so people like me can make a determination on our own. That means lots of label shots. In  this case, I knew exactly what I was buying because of the union label.

5 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut at SCAD FASH – Part 2

When I went to Atlanta to see Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut at SCAD FASH, I made the trip primarily to see the Adrian suits. I did not expect to be so enchanted with the work of Azzedine Alaïa, so I was so happy to see what I’d been missing.

As I pointed out before, don’t expect a history lesson from SCAD FASH. The docents do a good job of showing additional photos and answering questions, but the truth is, you need to do your own research before visiting.  I knew Alaïa as a designer of formfitting dresses and gowns for the rich and famous, but I’d never really thought of him as a tailor. Was I wrong!

I did know of Alaïa as a collector, having had the experience of bidding against him at auction. I didn’t know it at the time, but in an auction of clothing and textiles held just before his death in 2017, Alaïa outbid me on several items of sportswear. It was not until the auction company sent out a notice explaining that because Alaïa had died, the items he had bid on were to be for sale to the first claimant. Seems like there were some Claire McCardell items in the list.

He was quite the collector. I read somewhere that the Association Azzedine Alaïa now manages over 20,000 objects that he had collected.

But today I’ll be talking about his work. This dress and jacket are from 2007. I have always been a fan of pleats, and so this one was a favorite. The pleats are not just in the skirt, but also on the back of the jacket.

It’s hard to tell on such a thick, black fabric, but it looks to be that the pleats are one long piece of fabric, pleated and then attached like godets. Amazing construction!

And yes, all these suits are black. I have them looking like charcoal gray, but that’s so you can appreciate the details.

This superb suit is from 2010, but the dates of these suits really are not the point. Alaïa did not conform to a fashion calendar, and he was more interested in his own sense of style than he was of fashion. Sounds just like Adrian.

This was another favorite, and the reality of this suit is much better than my sorry photo of it. Taking his cues from the traditional man’s cut away coat (and how about that velvet collar?), Alaïa mixes it up by combining it with that hyper-feminine lace skirt. This suit was made in 1989. Do you see what I mean by his own vision of style?

I have no idea how the lace was made, but it could not have been easy.

Alaïa, like Adrian, was fond of fringe. This jacket from 1986 is paired with his leggings. I love my American Giant leggings, but I could sure use a pair of these.

There are no boring backs on an Alaïa jacket.

Same collar, same 1986 collection. This also came in a rich dark blue, but it was not on display here.

That motif is embroidered. There in the background are the Adrian suits.

Okay, I’ll admit the jury is still out on this 2007 dress and capelet. I love the skirt so much, and wanted to just remove the capelet to see if the dress met with my satisfaction.  You can see the back of this one in the previous photo.

I’ll finish up the suits with this one from 2012 because it is pretty much perfect.

There was also a stunning selection of Alaïa’s gowns and dresses in the exhibition. As pretty as they are, I just did not find them to be as interesting as the suits. He used a lot of knits, as in both of the dresses above.

Here’s Oscar night along with a refugee from the Grammys. The Grammy worthy leather gown was mind blowing in its construction.

If you have ever sewn leather, you know there are no second chances, that every stitch leaves a hole in the leather. Remarkable!

The long industrial strength zipper circles the body three times. 1981.

Yes, you can get this close, but do not touch.

This gown is actually a beautiful blue that I simply could not capture with my camera. It’s also knit.  Alaïa also was a great admirer and collector of Charles James garments, and the influence of James’s “La Sirène” in this gown is unmistakable.

The exhibition also shows how Alaïa referenced the 1930s. If you didn’t know better, you could mistake this confection for a 1930s gown…

right down to the snap closures. Take a moment to notice how this (and all the others) dress was mounted. A clear plastic form was molded to custom fit each dress.

There were also some celebrity worn dresses. Here one of the docents is showing me photos of Tina Turner wearing her Alaïa performance dresses.

Again, this exhibition is well worth a trip to Atlanta, and to make it even better, there was another smaller show featuring designer Patrick Kelly. And thanks so much to Liza at Better Dresses Vintage for sharing the day and her photographs.

 

 

 

8 Comments

Filed under Designers, Museums

Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut at SCAD FASH

Having SCAD FASH in Atlanta makes me happy. I mean, really, really, happy. Who wouldn’t be happy standing in front of a line of suits by Gilbert Adrian? And this new exhibition, Alaïa – Adrian: Masters of Cut, gave me a chance to actually wear the jacket from my Adrian suit and to spend time with my friend Liza.

Because I’m such a chronologically minded person, I’ll show off the Adrian garments first.  After years of designing costumes at M-G-M Studios in Hollywood, in 1942 Adrian went into business for himself, making the types of clothes he had been designing for the stars – glamorous gowns and structured suits. Because of poor health, Adrian was in business for only ten years.

And while fashion changed dramatically after 1947, Adrian pretty much kept making the clothes he knew made women look beautiful, softening the strong shoulder of the 1940s only slightly. Because of this, unless a garment was pictured in period advertising or magazine copy, Adrian’s clothes can be difficult to date.  The exhibition side-stepped this problem by dating all the Adrian garments 1942 – 1952.

All the clothes in this exhibition come from Association Azzedine Alaïa, the organization that holds Alaïa’s archive.  Not only does the archive have many of Alaïa’s garments, but also thousands of items that Alaïa collected, including vintage clothing. The Association holds more than three hundred Adrian garments that had been collected by Alaïa.

An interesting side note to the story comes from California Couture, by Maureen Reilly. In writing about Adrian for her book, Reilly interviewed former high school teacher Joe Simms. In his teaching job in Philadelphia in the 1970s, Simms used the example of Adrian (and his unwillingness to conform to the New Look) to illustrate to the kids how fashion was always a subject of debate. The class took the topic a step further, and soon the school had a collection of donated Adrian garments, sketches, and fabrics. When Simms retired he had to find homes for the garments, and they ended up in various museums. In 1988 Simms was approached by Alaïa who purchased most of the Simms collection. I can’t help but wonder how many of the suits on display at SCAD FASH were once studied by Simm’s students.

The Adrian suits illustrated perfectly the title of the exhibition, as Adrian was truly a master of cut and tailoring.

These two jackets show one of the techniques for which Adrian was known – the making and shaping of jackets though piecework.

One indication of the era of manufacture was that Adrian had to stick to the wartime L-85 regulations. This includes that there could be no patch pockets, no sleeve cuffs, and the jackets could not be longer than 25″ long. I’ve read that during the war years Adrian used a lot of tie closures because metal findings were scarce.

Another collection has this same suit, but I can’t recall where. I do, however, remember the suit. Who could forget it?

Adrian also made coats, though they are not as common as his suits. At first glance this coat looks new, but the worn condition of the velvet collar shows it was well-loved by a former owner.

Adrian did make some concessions to fashion, as can be seen in the slightly softer shoulders and longer skirt length of this postwar jacket.

I had never realized that Adrian was such a user of buttons until seeing all these examples together. These are little money bags. Was he influenced by Schiaparelli’s use of whimsical buttons?

This suit is a good example of a postwar design. Both the jacket and skirt are longer, and the drape on the shoulder extends into a flowing scarf on the back. There are metal buttons and a patch pocket.

And speaking of buttons, these are little mice!

I found the suit on the right to be interesting because my friends at Style and Salvage have a coat with a red slash across the top of the bodice in the manner of the white slash on this jacket. Could they be from the same collection?

I can imagine that working in the tailoring department of Adrian was a bit like working jigsaw puzzles all day long.

Notice how the diagonal slash on the sleeve is repeated on the body of the coat. You see this repetition a lot in Adrian’s designs.

Adrian also liked self fringe, and he was fond of textiles from designer Pola Stout.  There was no indication this is a Stout fabric, but my guess is that it is.

You may have noticed the lack of bright colors. Even on his evening gowns, Adrian preferred to use muted colors.

Even when the buttons were plain plastic, Adrian made them important to the design.

I actually found this jacket  in a 1950 The Californian magazine. The curve of the collar is repeated on the pocket, the sleeve trim, and the bottom of the jacket.

As sort of an afterthought, three Adrian gowns were also on display in the gift shop.

I especially liked the print example, as it shows the other side of Adrian. He was known for designing his own fabrics, though I don’t think this is one of them. He went in for big, graphic motifs.

It was a real treat seeing so much of Adrian’s work together, and especially in conjunction with the work of Azzedine Alaïa, which I’ll show and talk about in my next post. As always, I have a few other words to say about the exhibition.

First, most of the Azzedine Alaïa pieces were positioned so that one could get a look at the back of each garment, but the Adrian pieces were lined up in a row against the wall. There was no way to see the backs of the suits. Mirrors would have been nice, but even better, the garments could be pulled away from the wall so visitors could walk behind them. The SCAD FASH exhibition area had plenty of room to do this, so it’s puzzling why they chose to limit the view of the backs of the suits.

Second, (and I know that I am bringing my own agenda into play here) I would have liked more historic context. SCAD FASH is a design museum, not a fashion history one, but there was little information about Adrian available except through the student docents and the website. In order to know about the clothes on display, you must use the provided tablets or the website on your cell phone. And the docents are there to show more  and to engage in conversation about the exhibition.

I have found the student docents always to be charming, enthusiastic, and engaged, and this visit was no exception.

This exhibition in on view through September 13, 2020, and I highly recommend it. Just do a little homework first, as they are not going to spoon feed the biography of Adrian nor that of Azzedine Alaïa. But you will get an excellent look at how the designs of Adrian influenced those of Alaïa. It’s a lesson you do not want to miss.

Next post: Azzedine Alaïa.

20 Comments

Filed under Designers, Museums