Category Archives: Designers

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

Click to enlarge.

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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.



Filed under Designers, Shoes

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.


Filed under Designers, Sportswear, Summer Sports

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 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 .


Filed under Designers, Rest of the Story, Viewpoint