Category Archives: Designers

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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Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s at the Museum at FIT

One of the highlights of any visit to New York is a visit to the Museum at FIT.  This past trip was no exception with the two shows they had going being not only beautiful, but thought-provoking.

Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the ’70s is the first exhibition that has ever focused just on these two giants of the 1970s.  I came of age in the 1970s, and I’ve been well-acquainted with the work of both designers for over 45 years.    But it was a revelation seeing their work side by side.  It seems that the clean modernist (Halston) and the romantic historian (YSL) had a lot more in common than is at first apparent.

Because the museum’s holding of both designers is extensive, there was a lot of material for the curators to work with.  They were able to look at the clothes with an eye for how each interpreted a certain theme.  This approach reveals not only how the two designers were different, it also points out some startling likenesses.

One of the games that people are playing with this exhibition is “Guess Who?”  Instead of immediately reading the notes on each garment, people were trying to guess which was the YSL and which the Halston.  It was a fun exercise, though in most cases there were little details that gave the answer away if one was fairly familiar with both designers’ work.  In the top photo, the ensemble on the left is by Halston, and the one on the right is Saint Laurent.

Can you guess which is the Halston and which is the YSL?  It probably would help to know that Halston worked mainly in solid colors, so the dress on the right is his.

Can you see the tiny hems on these layers of chiffon?  The workmanship that came out of Halston’s workrooms really astounded me.  Someone described Halston’s designs as simple clothes that were expensive.  Add to that description that they were made from top quality fabrics by highly skilled sewers.

One of the themes that the exhibition explored was how each designer was influenced by menswear.  Much has been written of Yves Saint Laurent’s appropriation of menswear, especially in the famous Le Smoking, or tuxedo suit for women.  He also did tailored suits in the style of 1930s or 40s men’s suits, seen above in blue pinstripes.

Halston’s use of menswear was much more subtle, but no less influential.  In his hands the man’s shirt was elongated and narrowed into a flattering shirtdress.

Another theme of the exhibition was how each designer used the “exotic” in their designs.  This was quite easy to see in the work of YSL, as he was known for using all kinds of cultural influences in his work.  Whole collections were designed around Russia or China.  In his hands the word “peasant” took on a whole new meaning.

Halston’s use of the exotic often was expressed in the form of caftans and pajama set with capes.  These great tie-dyed pajamas date from 1970, and the red caftan is from 1972.  The set on the left and the caftan are from the wardrobe of Lauren Bacall, who donated 700 items to FIT while she was still alive.

And finally, the exhibition looked at how both designers used historical references in their work.  Again, Saint Laurent was much more literal in his use of historic fashion.  His clothes often contain references to the work of Chanel, and he was especially fond of paying homage to the 1930s and early 40s.

Halston paid his respects to the past in his use of the bias cut in the manner of Vionnet.

And in his hands the cashmere twin set of the 1950s became luxurious (and warm) evening wear.

In taking in this exhibition, and I had to see it twice, I was struck at how my own sense of style was shaped by these two designers.  I was fifteen in 1970, and so these were the years that I was really into fashion.  Many of the shapes and designs in the exhibition have been in my own closet through the years, and I still love a fitted sweater over slacks and a good bomber jacket.

In the late 1970s I made a dress that was very similar to the Halston on the left (are those Warhol flowers?) to wear to work, and I would have worn the YSL on the right as well, given the chance.  I still have a shirtdress in my closet, and I’m seriously thinking of making one in gingham.  Hey, if it was good enough for Lauren Bacall, why not?

This exhibition is in the basement gallery, which I love.  The display space is large and is arranged in a non-linear way so that rambling and contemplation is encouraged.  The clothes are arranged so that most of them can be seen from more than one angle.  In the hallway there is a timeline of the careers of both designers.  It is very helpful in tying it all together, and as a special treat, it’s online.

And I want to say a special thanks to the museum for allowing photos.  This is the first time I’ve ever been to an exhibition there where photos were allowed.  I hope it leads to a loosening of the no-photo policy.

Yves Saint Laurent + Halston: Fashioning the 70s was organized and curated by Patricia Mears and Emma McClendon.  It is open until April 18, 2015.

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Does Lilly Pulitzer for Target Signal the End of the World?

Last week internet users were treated to the news that the next Target design collaboration is to be with Lilly Pulitzer.  I found the news to be a bit confusing.  As far as “designer” lines are concerned, Lilly Pulitzer is on the low end.  Their $198 shift dress seems expensive, but not so much so that a girl who really wants one can’t save up her dollars for a little pink and green splurge.

When the news broke, Mod Betty was quick to email, which led to a discussion about what wearing a brand like Lilly Pulitzer says about the wearer.  Funny, because we both admitted that we just could not bring ourselves to wear the various thrift store “Lillies” we had sourced over the years.

I’m not a big wearer of prints, so it’s not surprising that I’ve never been able to warm to the brand.  But Mod Betty loves a great print shift dress, yet she too can’t seem to love the line.  She brought up an interesting point – that wearing a brand like Lilly Pulitzer says certain things about the wearer.  There seems to be a certain code among wearers that says, “I’m rich enough to blow $200 on a shift dress.”

And it’s a code that is lost on those not in on the secret.  Someone could wear a Lilly Pulitzer shift down the street of my town and the dress might be noticed due to the bright print, but most people would be shocked to learn that the woman wearing it had spent $200 for it.

But in other places, like Charleston, SC, many preppy-leaning college towns, and certain places in Florida, the message would be transmitted loud and clear.  Most importantly, the others in on the secret would know the dress cost $200.  How long do you think it will take that tribe to detect a $50 Target Lilly?

My back and forth correspondence with Mod Betty had not ended before an interesting link came through to me by way of Twitter.  Seems like the Lilly Pulitzer fans had swiftly gone to Twitter to express their displeasure at the collaboration.  Refinery29 gathered the best of the worst and served it all up as “39 Girls Who Are Mad as Hell about Lilly Pulitzer for Target.”

It may distress you to know that Jackie (Kennedy) and Lilly herself are now rolling in their graves due to this horrendous event.  Even worse, there are predictions of the apocalypse and people’s retirement accounts being ruined.

But seriously, I was disturbed at so many of the posters referring to “basics.”  You might assume without reading the tweets that they were taking about basic wardrobe items, but it is alarming to realize that is how these women were referring to people who were not rich and “classy” enough to wear Lilly Pulitzer.  There was a real element of classism in most of the tweets.

I’m not happy about this Lilly for Target crap. Now everybody and their mother will own it and think they’re now preppy and classy.

Most ironically put, I’d say.

Actually this does not surprise me.  Several years ago while researching the resurgence of interest in “heritage” brands, I ran across several preppy style blogs.  I learned quickly that the truly preppy are different from you and me, and they want to keep it that way.  They can sniff out a faux prep at twenty paces, and they make sure the blogosphere knows it.  It would be silly if not for their sincerity.

The only non-vintage Lilly Pulitzer I have in my possession is this dress I bought for my grand-niece who lives in Florida and can hopefully wear it without getting side-eye from the other little girls.  This dress is several years old, but the level of quality is quite impressive.  The dress is made from nice poplin fabric and is fully lined in cotton.  There is signature Lilly lace hem tape.  Look carefully at the print to see “Lilly” hidden throughout.  I doubt very seriously that the Lilly for Target dresses will have the same attention to detail and finishing.

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