Tag Archives: 1970s

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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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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Bonnie Cashin for Russ Taylor Rain Coat

I really did not intend to write anything else about Bonnie Cashin, but when I opened today’s mail, this coat fell out of a package.  It was from April of NeatBikVintage, who really does know how to make someone’s day special.

Bonnie Cashin’s association with Philip Sills ended in 1977, and the next year she started designing for Russel Taylor, a maker of rainwear.  Until she retired in 1985, Cashin made coats under the Weatherwear for Russ Taylor label, most of which were two colors of water-resistant cotton.  The outer shell was often a tan or khaki, and the interior and trim was a bright color like orange, or a cool color like charcoal grey or marine blue.  Or a black coat might be paired with tan trim and lining.

Cashin continued to use the features that she loved so much, and which makes her garments uniquely hers – metal closures, large pockets, simple shapes, supreme comfort.

These snaps at the side might seem to be purely decorative, but this is car coat length, and undoing the snaps would make the coat roomier in the car seat.  They could then be snapped to help protect against the weather.

The bright orange lining adds a spark of warmth to a gloomy, rainy day!

Thanks so much April.  You are a dear!

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