Vintage Miscellany – March 15, 2015

It’s a beautiful and warm day here in the South.  It’s enough to make you go outdoors in search of a little athletic activity.  The 1920s tennis  girl on the left looks to be wearing a divided skirt, perhaps her gym uniform?

And now for the news:

*  Women’s Wear Daily is a daily no more.  The newspaper announced last week that they were going to a weekly format.  Interesting that this came so soon after the death of long-time WWD editor-in-chief and publisher John Fairchild.

*   John Fairchild retired to Switzerland in 1997, but he left a lasting legacy on the paper founded by his grandfather.  He was known as much for his feuds with designers as for the quality of the paper. His two books on the fashion industry, The Fashionable Savages and Chic Savages, are fashion history must-reads.

*  There was another death in the fashion world, that of French model Bettina.  Muse to Jacques Fath, and later to Givenchy, Bettina was a super-model before there were super-models.

*   It looks like Zac Posen will be the designer at the revived Charles James label.  Some critics are unhappy with the choice, but I’m having a hard time caring either way.

*   For those of you with really deep pockets, the couture collection of vintage dealer Didier Ludot will be sold at auction on July 8.

*   The season of Downton Abbey has ended for us here is the US, but I’ve found the best ever essay series on The Toast: Watching Downton Abbey with an Historian.

*   NPR reporter Jacki Lyden has been doing a series called The Seams, which is a look at fashion from a cultural and historical standpoint.

*   And the latest shoe craze is the LL Bean Maine Hunting Shoe.

*  Some American companies are coming around to the benefits of American manufacturing.

*  My friend Carrie has been doing a series on vintage swatch books on her blog, The Cur.io Cabinet.

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Mid 1960s Nautical Ensemble

It’s no secret that I love a nautical look, and I especially love a vintage nautical outfit.  The shirt and pants above are from the mid 1960s, and though they were not made together, the original wearer paired them for what I think is a perfect 1966 ensemble.

It’s certain that she could have not worn these to school because in North Carolina school dress codes did not generally allow the wearing of pants by girls until the early 1970s.  Instead, this was a fun time outfit, for a casual date or a picnic or just hanging out with friends.

The top is made of cotton poplin, white with blue sailboats and red directional abbreviations.  It has a band collar, a feature that was popular during the mid and late 1960s.

The shirt’s label is Shirt Tree, Designed by Lynn Stuart.  Lynn Stuart is little remembered today, but during the 1960s and 70s she was quite busy, designing and manufacturing both the Shirt Tree and Mister Pants labels.  Some of her designs can be found in McCall Patterns’ New York Designers series.  Present day designer Jill Stuart is her daughter.

I love the inverted pleat on the back.  It gives mobility without looking like a man’s shirt.

The pants were made to look like classic sailor’s pants with a double-button opening and drop front.  I somehow can’t see guys (other than sailors, of course)  going for this style, but it is possible these pants were made for young men.

McGregor primarily made sportswear for men, but for a very brief period, 1963 through 1968, they did have a line for women.  All the labels I’ve seen for that line read “Her McGregor”, but that really does not prove the point either way. Truth is, in the mid 1960s and into the 70s girls were appropriating their brothers and boyfriends clothing like mad.  Chances are the original wearer either stole them from her brother’s closet, or was shopping in the young men’s department.

It’s hard to tell from my photos, but the legs are very slightly belled.  Bell-bottoms were not quite the must-have pants that they would be just a few years later, but they were already being worn by the fashionable set.  Lynn at AmericanAgeFashion posted a great page showing the pants of 1964, and in it bell-bottoms were classified as a novelty look.

Nautical, right down to the anchor buttons!

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Lombardy Frocks Sign

I know that looking up while visiting a big city labels one as a country bumpkin, but when looking for traces of the past, it pays to risk one’s sophisticated image.  The Lombardy Frocks building was located in the heart of New York City’s Garment District, on West 37th Street.  Lombardy was the maker of both Suzy Perette and Gigi Young dresses.  The sign is a reminder of the important activity that was taking place all over this area of Manhattan.

The garment-making industry in New York goes back to the 19th century, but the Garment District as we know it today was built primarily in the first three decades of the 20th century.  The area had been a poor residential area, but in the early years of the 20th century garment makers  began buying up the old apartments, tearing them down, and replacing them with high-rise factory buildings.

The building that came to house Lombardy Frocks in 1949 was originally the Noxall Waist & Dress Company.  You can see what is left of that sign below the Lombardy Dresses one.

It’s a bit hard to imagine this building housing workers at cutting tables and sewing machines, but the large windows that let in the natural light must have seemed very modern to workers, many of whom had worked in sweatshop conditions in older buildings downtown.

Lombardy Dresses and Suzy Perette were owned by the  Blauner family.  The “Perette Silhoutte” was based on the New Look of Christian Dior.  The Blauners would travel to Paris to buy the right to reproduce Dior models each season.

The Suzy Perette matchbook was a lucky find from my friend Tiffany of Pinkyagogo Vintage.  You can see the same logo that is on the sign, and if you look carefully and squint a bit, you can see the words the “perette” silhouette under the dress on the sign.

“the perette silhouette”… The shape that’s sweeping the country…Created with a revolutionary new method of construction, employing intricate gores and clever detailing which moulds your body into a flattering long torso line with a billowing skirt below.

And here is an example of a Suzy Perette dress, on the cover of the December, 1953 issue of Glamour magazine.

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Exhibition Journal – Katherine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen

This exhibition was at the Kent State University Museum in 2010 ans 2011 after receiving a gift of Katherine Hepburn’s clothing from her estate.  Since then the exhibition has traveled, and it is currently showing at the Durham Museum in Omaha, Nebraska.

In 2007 the Kent State Museum contacted the estate of Katherine Hepburn as they were interested in acquiring her collection of her performance clothes.  The estate administrators agreed that the collection should go to Kent State.  There were almost 700 pieces, most of which were identified, but others that needed research in order to identify in which film or play Hepburn had worn the item.  Many hours were spent watching films and looking through publicity photographs.

There were also items from her personal wardrobe including thirty-one pairs of slacks, many of which were beige or tan.  Many of the clothes were so small that special mannequins had to be carved of foam.  In order to get a clear picture of how the costumes looked, photos of Katherine Hepburn wearing the costumes were shown as posters behind the displays.  The pieces that were on display were the most important and the ones that had, at the time, been identified.

I often take my journal on museum visits if I think the atmosphere might be right for sketching.  Kent State is rarely crowded, but they do not provide a place to sit, so I only did a few drawings.  I know the dress and jodphurs look too long and skinny, but Hepburn was tall, and the waist of her pants measured 20 inches.

I did a review on this exhibition soon after I saw it in 2011.  I don’t know if it will continue to travel, but if it comes to a museum near you, it is well worth a visit.

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Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits, at the Museum at FIT

Faking It: Originals, Copies, and Counterfeits, a current exhibition at the Museum at FIT, tells the long history of fashion fakes.  Interestingly, faking started as soon as designer names became known in the 19th century.  Over the past 150 years many attempts have been made to stop fashion fakes, but few of them have been effective.

I did a double-take when I came to the Paul Poiret brown cloak above, sure that I’d seen it before.  Then I remembered; LivedInVintage had posted photos of it on Instagram after finding it.  After people went crazy over it on Instagram, she was able to be in touch with the people at FIT, who purchased and restored it.

You can’t tell from my photo, but the words, “Authorized Reproduction” are on the label at the very top.  In an effort to eliminate the faking of his clothes, Poiret had his label copyrighted.  The rights to legally reproduce designs were sold, but that did not stop the practice of copying.

One thing I loved about this exhibition was how the labels were reproduced for visitors to see.  I’m always wanting to see the labels of things, so this was a real treat.

The dress on the left is an adapted copy of a Madeleine Vionnet dress called the Little Horses.  Vionnet tried to stop counterfeiting by putting her thumbprint on every label, but that was only partially effective.  You can see a photo of the original dress on the screen.  Note how only the top of the dress has the fancy horse design.

The two dresses on the right are by Jeanne Lanvin.  The complicated design of the petaled and scalloped tiers made the dresses hard to copy.

The black evening dress in the center has a Fashion Originator’s Guild of America label.  The guild was formed to fight fakes by registering each member’s designs.  If a design was found that copied a registered design, the guild members would no longer do business with a firm found dealing in the fake.  Unfortunately, the guild had to be disbanded in 1941 when it was found by the FTC to be in violation of trade laws.

And here is what makes an exhibition like this one so great.  They also had the original registration sketch of the black dress on display.

The red dress on the right is a reproduction of a Claire McCardell “Nada” dress.  According to an ad for the original dress, it was “the dress that created a fashion.”  That means that everyone was copying it.

The dress on the left was by American designer Carrie Munn.  While not a fake or a pure copy, Munn’s work was derivative of that of Dior and Balenciaga.

Couturiers often licensed designs to American manufacturers, which created lower cost clothes with designer cache.  I suppose they figured that Americans would buy the fakes anyway, and so they ought to compete with them.  The green and rust gown is by French designer Jean Desses for Raymodes Negligees, circa 1950.

The dress on the right is a Charles James for Samuel Winston dress.  In the early 1950s James licensed designs to Samuel Winston, but he ended up suing the company for using his work and not putting his label in the dresses.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s French designer Jacques Fath did special designs for American manufacturer Joseph Halpert.  The red dress is a beautiful example.  These were not fakes, but were actually designed in the US by Fath.

This Jean Desses coat has an adaptation label.  That means it was inspired by a Desses original, but that changes were made to the design.

The dress on the left is a licensed copy of a Dior dress.  It was made by Mignon, an American company that often made legal copies.  The red coat is a line-for-line copy of a Balenciaga coat.  It was made for Macy’s Little Shops, using the actual Balenciaga as a pattern.

In 1965 Yves Saint Laurent designed his famous Mondrian dresses, which shows that designers not only copy from each other, they also “borrow” from art.  So, which is the Saint Laurent, and which two are copies?

(The one in the center is the Yves Saint Laurent.)

You might think that this Lilly Dache Sally Victor hat was “inspired” by the Yves Saint Laurent dress, but it was actually made in 1962, three years prior to the famous dress.

Today, copying often takes the form of a company “copying”  itself.   Companies like Missoni do this by collaborating with cheaper retailers like Target.  It might be a bit difficult to tell that the “real” Missoni is the one on the left, but seeing these two in person leaves no doubt that there is a huge difference in quality.

There were quite a few Chanel suits, and Chanel-inspired suits in the exhibition, but the most informative display was this authentic Chanel along side an authorized copy.  The Chanel is on the left, and the suit on the right was made by Ohrbach’s Department Store.  The suits seem to be almost identical, with the exception of the extra set of pockets on the Chanel.

Behind the two suit was a slide show that examined the two suits very closely, and then pointed out the differences in construction.  In fifteen slides, one gets an excellent Chanel education.

Of course I loved this exhibition.  The research at FIT is so through, and the presentation is always beautiful.  I do wish that the lighting in this gallery was more like that of the one downstairs.  It is so dark that details cannot be seen in many cases, especially in black and dark garments.  And it would be great to see the backs of the clothes.  The arrangement of the gallery is linear, so there is more of a flat view.  Perhaps mirrors could be employed.

At The Museum at FIT in New York, through April 25, 2015

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New York City Window Shopping

I didn’t do a lot of shopping while in New York City, but I did do quite a bit of window shopping.  It’s a real pleasure just seeing what the talented window designers come up with.  Though some are pretty predictable, I always see something new.

I was in the city the week of Chinese New Year, and it was obvious just from the windows.  The decorated tree above was not in a window, but was in Macy’s as you entered the store.

Saks Fifth Avenue took a similar approach.  All the gold cats’ little arms wave at you as you pass by.

The best Chinese windows through are in Chinatown.  Compare the Chinese shop above to the “Chinese” window at Saks.  Saks may have drama, but this little shop had authenticity on its side.

I love Chinatown, and it was especially interesting with flower vendors and deliveries all over the streets.

But my favorite Chinese New Year windows were those at Gucci, whose dressers kept to a Chinese theme, but went in a completely different direction.  At first glance I didn’t see the Chinese theme, but a closer look at the disks revealed it.

The disks were samples or facsimiles of Asian textiles.  Stunning!

At the Derek Lam Boutique, they were looking forward to spring.  The shop attendant told me that an artist friend of Derek’s made the birds and trees.

Probably the most interesting windows were the Fifth Avenue windows of Bergdorf Goodman.  All the dresses were made of lace, and they came up with an interesting lace background.

Can you tell what makes up the backdrop?

It is vintage crocheted doilies and pieces sewn together!

 

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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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