Tag Archives: 1970s

Currently Reading: The Mountain Artisans Quilting Book

Mountain Artisans shows just exactly how important timing is in business, and in life in general.  After President Johnson declared war on poverty in 1964, there were dozens of agencies set up to implement hundreds of programs that were meant to help the poor.  Mountain Artisans was started by a worker in the arts and crafts department of the Department of Commerce, Florette Angel.  Ms. Angel was in West Virginia to help a group of quilters figure out how to market the projects they were making using traditional quilting skills.

It was a good time to be starting a crafts cooperative.  Not only was there the Federal assistance that sent Ms. Angel to the quilters, it was 1968, and interest was increasing in alternative lifestyles such as the back-to-the-earth  movement.  The American Bi-centennial was coming up in 1976, and interest in history and heritage were growing.

Even so, the project got off to a rocky start.  Interestingly, there was money to spend on studies of impoverished people and how they could make money, but there was no money to pay for needed craft supplies.  All the young women who were working to start the business had no experience and they were working without pay.

Help arrived in the person of Sharon Rockefeller, whose famous name helped open doors.  She put the group in touch with the famous Parish-Hadley decorating firm, which arranged for meetings in New York, including one with Diana Vreeland at Vogue.   Through Vreeland, Oscar de la Renta ordered some of the fabric being pieced by the women in the co-op.  The group was on its way.

They also benefited from some excellent press coverage.  Whoever was in charge of public relations did a fantastic job, getting a feature in Life magazine, and mentions in Newsweek and New York Magazine.  The Associated Press and United Press International regularly distributed features on the co-op.

Dorothy Dembosky Weatherford, a local artist, donated her talents as a designer, and her work led to a distinctive Mountain Artisans style.  She liked big bold blocks of color, much in the style of the late 1960s and early 70s.

By 1972 the co-op was a success, and Weatherford won a special Coty award that year for “reviving native handicrafts.” According to an account from the AP in 1972, there were 160 full time quilters, with an additional 60 working part time.  Total sales for the previous year had been a half a million dollars.  A showroom was planned for New York.

Sharon Rockefeller wearing a Mountain Artisans skirt

The success of the group is nicely documented in this book by Alfred Allen Lewis.  Published in 1973, it is a book typical of the time, with the story of the co-op intertwined with directions for making projects based on those of the Mountain Artisans.  I’m not so sure how easy it would be to actually follow the directions, but there are lots of photos of the quilters sitting and sewing along with diagrams showing the design and construction process.

The clothes, which were mainly floor-length “hostess skirts”, were sold in high-end stores including Saks Fifth Avenue, Joseph Magnin, and Neiman Marcus.  The co-operative also made patchwork pillows and quilts.  These items occasionally come up for sale today, and they are easily identified because they are labeled.

Quilt made for the Rockefeller baby

In appreciation for all the support she had given them, the group made a quilt for Sharon Rockefeller’s first baby.  Designed by Weatherford, it was not the average baby quilt made from sweet pastels.  I’ve got to wonder if the Rockefellers still have it.

Dorothy Weatherford experimented with modern-looking variations of old quilt themes.

The early 1970s were an interesting time.  People were discovering traditional handicrafts such as quilting, knitting, and sewing, and there was a definite Little House on the Prairie vibe going on in fashion.  The women running Mountain Artisans were wise to capitalize on this interest.

But fashion changes, and the homespun look died with the passing of time.  After July, 1976, interest in “tradition” waned, as Americans discovered the pleasures of disco.  Mountain Artisans closed in 1978.

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Currently Reading – The Battle of Versailles

 

Can one fashion show have enough material for a writer to craft a book around?  The answer is yes, if the event was more than just a regular fashion show, and if the writer is willing to spend years in meticulous research and conduct numerous interviews.  In this case, Robin Givhan has not only done the background work, but has managed to put the events of one night in November of 1973 into their proper place in fashion history.

In the fall of 1973, fashion public relations representative Eleanor Lambert cooked up an idea to help raise funds for the restoration of the Palace of Versailles.  It involved a fashion show of five French fashion designers, and five from New York (all who were clients of Lambert, naturally).  The show would take place at Versailles and they would charge $235 per person to attend.

The show was never intended to be a competition, but people (and the press) being what they are, it soon turned into a matter of us against them.  The five French designers – Givenchy, Saint Laurent, Ungaro, Cardin, and Marc Bohn for Dior – were all masters of the haute couture, although by 1973 all were also producing ready-to-wear.  The Americans – Anne Klein, Halston, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, and Stephen Burrows – were strictly Seventh Avenue ready-to-wear designers at a time where it was still widely thought that “fashion” came from Paris and clothes came from New York.

Partly because of all the publicity surrounding the publication of this book, the events of November 28, 1973, are now fairly well known.  The French had a huge, overblown production that failed to wow the audience, but the American models with their free and easy modern dance style stole the show.  American fashion had arrived.

But it’s not the basic story that is so interesting.  Givhan sets the stage by recapping the events of the days, most of which have nothing to do with fashion.  The Vietnam War was finally grinding to a halt only to have the world embroiled in an “oil crisis.”  The French had their own problems with rioting and other unpleasantness.

In places Givhan seems to over-think the atmosphere of the early 1970s.  I remember it as a time of hope and progress, with the war ending and people becoming more aware of the effects of pollution and the lack of civil rights for Black Americans and women.  In describing what life was like for Americans in the early Seventies, it seems to me that Givhan was giving the lifestyle of certain big city groups, with their drugs, disco and sex, to Americans in general.  She comments in her endnotes that many of the people she interviewed for the book had trouble recalling details of their lives in the Seventies, echoing the saying that those who could remember the 60s or 70s were not really there.

One of the real strengths of the book is how Givhan gives an in-depth account of all the major players in the spectacle, including the models.  The Americans took thirty-six models to France, ten of which were Black. In doing the research for the book, Givhan interviewed many of the Black models, and gave an account of each, telling how they were able in the late 1960s and early 70s to find success in a field that had been closed to Black women just a few years before.

Givhan also interviewed some of the surviving designers, including Stephen Burrows, Donna Karan (Anne Klein’s) assistant, and Pierre Berge, who was Yves Saint Laurent’s partner.  Fortunately, she also talked with Oscar de la Renta, who died last year, before this book was published.

To me, the most interesting character was Stephen Burrows.  I was in high school and college in 1973, and I was in love with his designs, not that I could have bought them here in Western North Carolina.  But he also did a line of patterns for McCall’s which made his work accessible to me and other young women across the country.

Burrows is almost like an anti-hero, and if you read or view interviews with him today you can see the same traits that Givhan describes in her book.  He was the most non-competitive participant, as he was just thrilled to be there.  While de la Renta and Halston jockeyed for position and models, Burrows kept out of the pettiness and did his own thing.  He really was a child of the 60s.  And as Givhen puts it:

In 1973, Burrows represented a moment when fashion was connecting to women in ways that were both emotional and practical.  In one of Burrows’s dresses, a woman’s body was free.  And she was on her own, for better or worse.

Even though the “Battle of Versailles” brought American fashion into the spotlight, there seems to be little lasting effect of equality for minorities in the fashion business, especially where models are concerned.  In 2015 we are much less likely to see Black models in a runway show than we were in 1973.

I really enjoyed The Battle of Versailles, and I recommend it to those who like a good dose of history mixed in with your fashion.

 

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Ad Campaign – Oscar de la Renta, 1972

Oscar de la Renta interprets the art of ikebana in georgette. Skirt-over-pants costume, $200

I’m sure that by now everyone has heard the news of the death of Oscar de la Renta on Monday.  From the time I was first aware of fashion designers in the early 1970s, Oscar has always been on the scene, so it is really hard imagining American fashion without him.

I’ve  said that if I had the money, I’d wear Oscar and nothing else.  A trip to his boutique in New York was always a treat.  It was the type of place where the clothes were always beautiful, but always very wearable by women of many ages.  He will be missed.

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Ad Campaign – Blassport, 1971

We were discussing earlier this week the revivals of knickers that have taken place over the years.  One was in the early 1980s, reportedly triggered by a photo of Princess Diana taken while on her honeymoon.  A quick look through the vintage patterns at Etsy confirmed that knickers were big in 1982.

I remembered that knickers were a bit of a fad for a short while during my high school years, 1970 through 1973.  Again, I turned to etsy, did a search for “knickers pattern,” and quickly realized that 1971 was the year of the knickers.

I would have been a sophomore or junior during that year, and while I can remember some of the girls at my school wearing them, I was not tempted by the knickers.  At the time I was into really short skirts, and especially, short culottes.  It’s a bit strange that they were allowed due to our no pants rule in the dress code, but a blind eye was turned to culottes and knickers.  I think the attitude was that they were better than the short skirts we were wearing.

It was a good thing that I did not buy into the knickers fad because it came and went very quickly.  Had I acquired a pair I’d have been stuck having to wear them because clothes were expensive and we had to wear what was bought until we either outgrew them or wore them out.  I would have been a fashion has-been!

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Currently Reading: Halston & Warhol, Silver & Suede

When I visited the Mint Museum several weeks ago I picked up a card listing the upcoming exhibitions.  I was thrilled to see that Halston and Warhol: Silver and Suede was to be traveling there next spring.   To celebrate I rushed home and ordered the companion book which was complied by the Andy Warhol Museum, the co-organizer (along with Halston’s niece, Leslie Frowick) of the show.

Halston and Warhol were, of course, contemporaries, but they were also friends and collaborators.   Warhol did his first flowers screen prints in the early Sixties, but he returned to the theme in 1970.  Two years later Halston had silk printed with the motif which was made into dresses.

Starting in 1979 Halston created a line of shoes for Garolini.  Warhol photographed a grouping of them in 1980 and created screen prints sprinkled with diamond dust.

In 1982 Halston commissioned Warhol to create art for his men’s wear line’s ad campaign.

The book is arranged in chronological order according to decades.  For each there is a handy timeline for Warhol at the top, and Halston at the bottom of the page.  It helps one see clearly how their lives and work connected.

Though Warhol was an artist, he was also a fashion illustrator, and he continued to be interested in fashion throughout his life.   His work for fashion companies and for fashion magazines spilled over into his non-commercial art.  Shoes was a prominent theme.  In the late Fifties he made stamps, as seen on the right, that he printed on paper and then hand colored.

The exhibition also shows examples of Halston’s signature looks, including the sarong dress.  Inspired by a friend and model who wrapped a towel around herself as she emerged from a swimming pool, Halston began working with the form.  The dress looks simple, but it is meticulously constructed on the bias.

This photograph was taken in 1974 at the famous Studio 54.  Halston is on the left and Warhol is on the right, with various other celebrities mingled in.

If you are a fan of the work of either Warhol or Halston, the book is a great resource to have whether you get to bee the exhibition or not.  It is currently showing in Pittsburgh at The Warhol until August 24, and then it travels to Des Moines.  It ends up in Charlotte next spring.

Hopefully that gives me time to do a little re-reading.  I’m currently in the middle of Popism: The Warhol 60s.  Next up is Simply Halston: A Scandalous Life by Steven Gaines which is a bit soapy and a lot gossipy.  I’ll finish with a marathon reading of The Andy Warhol Diaries, which Warhol narrated over the telephone to his friend Pat Hackett from late in 1976 until his death in 1987.

Talk about gossipy!  After the Diaries were published in 1989, Halston was reportedly so upset at the way he was portrayed that he sold his valuable collection of Warhol works.  But as my sister used to say, “If you don’t want to be portrayed in a bad light, then don’t do and say bad things.”  Unfortunately Halston didn’t have the benefit of my sister’s advice.

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Beach Party Swimsuit, 1970

I really wonder sometimes where certain clothing styles and fads originate.  An example might be this bathing suit from around 1970.

This style showed up at my local swimming pool the summer I was fifteen.  I wanted no part of it, but there were girls who if they saw a style in Seventeen, then it had to be great, so there they were.  I thought we were there to show off in front of the boys, so why put an apron on to cover up?  Besides, the style was more than a little reminiscent of maternity smocks, and that was a seed of doubt no girl wanted to plant.

Anyway, the fashion came and went, by the next summer bikinis were smaller than ever, but it was still possible to buy or make the silly apron suit.

I spotted this suit from Beach Party at an antique mall in Burlington, NC several weeks ago.  At first I just snapped a photo of it as a reminder that I was never a fashion sheep, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted it.   It appears to be unworn, and in an old fashioned sort of way, was quite attractive.

I love the mix of prints and the red, white, and blue color scheme.  The gingham is right in keeping with the granny chic look that was so popular in the post-Woodstock world.

Little dotty pants.

The back view almost looks like the girls is wearing just a skirt.    Maybe this suit is a bit sexier than I thought.

And there is zero support on the top side, a big change from the highly structured suits teen girls and women were accustomed to.

This Bobbie Brooks ad is from 1970 and shows a similar style.  I think I was right to say no to this fad.

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Filed under Sportswear, Summer Sports, Vintage Clothing

Marimekko and Design Research

I’m a big fan of the Finnish textile company, Marimekko, and I recently was lucky enough to have this vintage shirt from the company appear in my mailbox.  It is a gift from one of the most generous persons I know, Beth Lennon, or Mod Betty at Retro Roadmap.

Marimekko became known to Americans through the efforts of Design Research, what many consider to be the first lifestyle store.  Design Research was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1953, and was primarily a store selling items for home decor.  After owner Ben Thompson saw Marimekko textiles at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels,  Marimekko clothing and fabrics were added to the store.

Design Research carried  Marimekko until the stores were closed in 1978.  Through the years Design Research had expanded into different markets, and by the late 60s the company was showing signs of trouble.  According to some accounts, their expansion was poorly thought out, with some of the markets not being suited for the store’s aesthetic.   And of course, times were changing.  What looked so modern and fresh in 1953 was looking dated by the mid 1970s.

All of the Marimekko designs are copyright protected, and because of that there is sometimes a copyright date on the tags from the 1960s and 70s.  Mine is missing the tag, but my guess is mid 1970s, based on the stores listed on the label and the fitted shape of the shirt.

I’ve looked, and I’ve not found this particular design.  All the designs were named, and there are records which record who the designer was of each.  If anyone can point me in the right direction to find that information for this shirt I’d be most grateful.

Again, I’d like to thank Beth for sending this great shirt my way.  I’ve actually been wearing it, paired with a black and white Marimekko striped knit that I bought last year.

Beth is presently working on a Kickstarter campaign.  She wants to do a series of videos that will highlight the wonderful vintage, and often endangered, places that make America unique.  If you’d like to help, contributions start at $10 and I know that Beth appreciates every dollar that is given to help record this history.

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