Tag Archives: Givenchy

Givenchy For McCall’s Patterns, 1966

I don’t write a lot about haute couture here at The Vintage Traveler. The careers of most of the 20th century greats are so well documented that there’s just not a lot I can add. But I just could not let the recent death of Hubert de Givenchy pass by without mentioning one of my favorite ever sewing pattern lines. In 1966 the movie, How to Steal a Million staring Audrey Hepburn and a wide cast of Givenchy creations, led to four of the suits Audrey wore in the movie being adapted into sewing patterns by McCall’s.

The patterns rated three pages in McCall’s magazine, all with publicity stills of Audrey, rather than pictures of the patterns. In the McCall’s Home Catalog, however, there were sketches of the pattern designs. By comparing the two sets of images you can see that the patterns are very faithful to the original designs as worn in the movie. All four designs were either suits or coat and dress ensembles.

Over the years I’ve managed to find three of the four patterns. An interesting note is that neither Audrey Hepburn nor the movie were mentioned on the actual pattern envelopes. I find that a bit odd as the connection between the patterns and the movie were well publicized in the magazines.

This is the pattern that I do not own. I need this pattern in my life.

I’ve been telling myself for years to make this coat. Maybe now is the time.

I don’t even try to collect couture clothing, as my interests don’t really run in that direction. I have been known to pick up the rare (inexpensive) piece though when lucky enough to find it. In fact, one of the few pieces of couture I own is a Givenchy suit, which dates to 1967.

 

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Vintage Sewing – McCall’s 8348, Givenchy

In 1966 McCall’s patterns released four patterns of designs by Givenchy that he made for Audrey Hepburn to wear in How to Steal a Million.  I’ve written about these patterns in the past, and if you want to see all four of the designs you can follow the link.

I’ve been needing a few basic skirts, so I went in search of fabric.  At The House of Fabrics in Asheville I found a beautiful Donna Karan wool doublecloth, navy on one side and grey on the reverse.  It was just the thing to made a reversible wrap skirt.

If you are not familiar with the term doublecloth, it is a type of fabric in which two different sides are woven with a few threads that hold the entire thing together.  In my photo above you can see how if you pull the two fabrics apart, they are held together with some threads that are woven through both sides.

I did not have a pattern, but after looking through my collection of vintage patterns I knew I could easily adapt the Givenchy skirt into a wrap style.  I merely cut an extra front piece and left the front open.

Constructing the skirt was the easy part; concealing the seams and edges not so much so.  Actually, it was more time-consuming than hard, as I elected to do it all by hand.  There is a technique of doing this on the machine.  Ralph Rucci uses it, and it was illustrated in an old issue of Threads magazine.  But I wanted more control, and I knew that perfecting the machine technique would take practice.  Besides, I enjoy hand sewing.

Here you can see a close-up of a seam and the hem.  I’ve considered going back and top-stitching, and may still do so.

I’ve bought these buttons new in 1978.  I used them on a jacket that long ago went to the used clothing store, but I just could not let these buttons go.  Because the skirt is reversible, I used clips to secure the buttons so that they can easily be removed to reverse to the other side.

On one front piece I did hand worked buttonholes, and on the other I made eyelet holes for the button shank.

I’ve already gotten a lot of wear from this skirt.  It is a great layering piece, and is very comfortable, as it fits loosely around the waist and the fabric is quite soft.

 

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Fashion Independent: The Original Style of Ann Bonfoey Taylor

Ann Bonfoey Taylor wearing a Balenciaga evening coat (1962–63) at a personal photo shoot in 1971. Photo by Toni Frissell/Courtesy of the Taylor family.

Several weeks ago I mentioned that there was to be an exhibition of clothes belonging to Ann Bonfoey Taylor at the Georgia Museum of Art.  I’d planned on making the trip, and yesterday I made it down to Athens, GA to check it out.  The collection belongs to the Phoenix  Art Museum, which also organized the exhibition which first was shown there in 2011.

Having read the museum’s description of the exhibition, I knew that it included items from Charles James, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Madame Grès and Hermès.  That sounds pretty nice, but it’s been my experience that many times exhibitors tend to highlight the most famous names in press releases.  I was completely caught off guard when I walked into a room that contained not one, but  fourteen Charles James ensembles.

Charles James (American, b. England, 1906–1978) Ball gown, 1949 Silk taffeta and duchess satin Photo by Ken Howie

There were James suits and coats and evening gowns and the stunning ball gown shown above.  It’s is actually a dress and a jacket, and in the exhibition the two pieces are displayed separately with an explanation of how the two fit together.  She also had special foundation garments from Charles James, and the La Sirine gown in black and in eggplant.

Astounding as that was, I entered the next room and was met by Ann Bonfoey Taylor’s sportswear.  In this case, it was all pretty much from Hermès.  Yes, this woman went hunting and skiing wearing Hermès.

Cristóbal Balenciaga (Spanish 1895–1972) Evening dress and coat, 1962–63 Abraham silk Photo by Ken Howie

In the 1960s, Taylor turned to Balenciaga and Givenchy.  The gown and coat above was used as the introduction to the exhibition, and it is a real beauty.  But it was only one of thirteen Balenciaga ensembles in the show, and there were another twelve by Givenchy.  Mrs. Taylor was a serious couture shopper!

Hubert de Givenchy (French, b. 1927) Cocktail coat and dress, 1960s Silk Photo by Ken Howie

Most of the daywear was in dark colors – greys and black and dark blue. But her evening wardrobe was colorful and bright.  With the exception of wool plaids from  Hermès, there was a complete lack of patterned fabrics.  This woman knew what she liked and what looked good on her and she stuck with these things throughout her life.

Ann Bonfoey was born in 1910 to the family that manufactured Putnam Dyes.  She married early, at eighteen, and moved to Vermont where she took up the latest sports craze, snow skiing.  She discovered that she was quite good at it, and earned a spot on the 1940 Olympic team.  Unfortunately, WWII happened and the Olympics were never held.  After the US became involved in the war, Ann signed up as a flight instructor and she spent the war years training US Army air cadets.  By this time she was divorced from her first husband and needed to work to support her two children.  When the war ended, she turned to skiing and fashion in order to make a living.

She came up with the idea to make ski clothing, which her friend Diana Vreeland was able to get featured in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar.  She ran a shop in Stowe, Vermont, and the New York store Lord and Taylor carried her line, Ann Cooke.  The line was short-lived, as she remarried in 1946 and soon moved with her new husband, Moose Taylor, first to Texas, and then to Colorado.

Ann Bonfoey Taylor skiing. Photo by Toni Frissell/Courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photos Division, Toni Frissell Collection.

This new husband had the means for Ann to have her clothing custom made by the best in the business.  She continued to pursue skiing, and she had incredible costumes made to her specifications.  At one point she went for a military look, and collected vintage and antique military hats and bags to go with her bright red jackets, which were decorated with brass military buttons.  In 1965 photographer Toni Frissell shot photos of Taylor for Life magazine and the pictures ran in an article titled “An Inventive Skier’s Worldly Wardrobe.”  Over the next decade, she became known as one of the most stylish women in the world.  Interesting, because all this fashion attention came after she had reached the age of 55.

Note cards, available at the Georgia Museum of Art

The last grouping of clothes in the exhibition were by Madame Grès and were from the 1960s and 70s.  To me one of the big surprises of the show were the Grès day dresses (seen in left note card).  For someone so associated with draping and evening gowns, she sure knew how to put together a lovely dress for day.

The two coats on the right are by Charles James, early 1950s.

  As I entered the exhibition area I was given the card above which contains a listing of terms that non-fashion people might not be familiar with.  I thought it was a nice touch.  Click it if you want to read the list.

I was disappointed to see that photos were not allowed, but I soon forgot to care, and I realized that not being able to use the camera forced me to focus on and remember the details of the garments.  Most museums that do not allow photos are very gracious about letting writers have access to press photos, and the Georgia Museum of Art even has them available for download right on the website.

I loved how the clothing was arranged.  The mannequins were placed so that the visitors can get really close to look at the fabrics and the details.  Many are situated so that both the front and the back can be seen.  There were actual photos of Mrs. Taylor wearing the garments that were on display.  In short, it was a very effective, entertaining show.

There were quite a few visitors, but the space was large, and the exhibition was spread over six galleries.  I loved watching the other visitors.  One group was a pre-teen girl, her mother and grandmother.  They were having the best time, the grandmother explaining the fashions of the 1960s to the little girl.

If you are going to be anywhere near Athens, Georgia before September 16th, you must see this incredible show.  The video below was shot at the Phoenix Museum of Art in 2011, but the show is pretty much the same.  Note all the Hermès sportswear behind the news reporter and the curator, Dennita Sewell.

All photographs are courtesy of the Georgia Museum of Art.  Do not post to other sites, please, including pinterest and tumblr.

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Almost There…

It seems like forever that I’ve been trying to complete a set of four particular McCall’s patterns.  These were four designs that Givenchy designed for Audrey Hepburn to wear in How to Steal a Million.  Thanks to blog reader, Petite Main, I now have 3 of the four. Her sharp eyes spotted the pattern above on the Vintage Pattern Wiki.  If you love patterns you really ought to check out the Wiki.  I need to remember to add ones I have for sale that are not already pictured.

Ironically, the pattern was offered for sale by my friend Lisa at Miss Helenes and the Vintage Fashion Library! Lisa has a huge selection of patterns at both sites, and I have it on good authority that she’ll soon be adding some spectacular designs from the 50s!

But back to the Givenchy.  I first blogged about this two years ago.  Since then Birgit of Stitches and Loops has helped me locate two of these, although I was badly outbid on eBay on 8340.  I really didn’t think there would be much interest in the pattern.

Why?  Because McCall’s did such a poor job of marketing these.  There is no way to tell from the pattern envelope that these four designs were actually designed for Ms. Hepburn.  There is no mention of the movie.  And frankly, the illustrations are just not very exciting.  I mean, here is this pattern made up in that great check, modeled by Audrey:

photo from McCall’s, 1966

Or maybe it’s just the hat that makes the difference…

So how did I find the movie connection?  From one of life’s happy accidents!  I happened upon a July 1966 McCall’s magazine and bought it because of the pictures of Audrey.  When I really got to looking at the photos, it occurred to me that I had one of the patterns.  That set me on a quest for the others.

So, just one more.  Maybe I’ll actually make one of them!

Comments:

Posted by Shay:

My absolute favorite outfit from that film was the cocktail dress/half-veil/cigarette holder ensemble she donned to make herself look the role of femme fatale for a meeting with O’Toole. No, it’s not a great movie but it’s great fun.

Wednesday, April 1st 2009 @ 8:30 PM

Posted by Lisa:

Oh, what a difference Audrey makes! I really thought that it was a rather meh pattern when I was listing it, but 60s coats are pretty popular styles. Who’da thunk it was Givenchy? I’m tickled!

Wednesday, April 1st 2009 @ 9:07 PM

Posted by Lizzie:

I watched this movie again this morning just to see the 4 outfits featured. The tattersal check coat is the very last ensemble in the film, and oddly enough, Hepburn is not wearing the matching hat.Shay, I love that too. It is great how they glittered up her eyelids so they could be seen better beneath the veil.

Sunday, April 5th 2009 @ 1:09 PM

Posted by Shay:

I wonder what luck I would have finding this coat pattern in a size 40 or 42….it is so wearable.

Monday, April 6th 2009 @ 11:16 AM

Posted by Lizzie:

Shay, it was made up to a 40, so it is out there. The more I look at it, the more I love it.

Monday, April 6th 2009 @ 1:17 PM


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Talking Couture

This month’s American Vogue has a beautiful article on couture. Hamish Bowles goes behind the scenes at several of the top couture houses to see how the workrooms operate. What’s really special about the article is that is does not focus so much on the designer as it does on the relationship between the designer and his staff. And it all comes from the perspective of the directors and dressmakers.

In the workrooms there are two types of workrooms; the flou, or dressmaking, and the tailleur, or tailoring. Different sewers work in the two types, as it takes different skills to work with chiffon than it does tweed. Each workroom has a premiere, who is the head of that room.

There are basic skills needed for all couture work, but each house has different techiniques that set its work apart from the others. And each couturier works differently with his staff. Lagerfeld produces highly detailed sketches that are easy for his workrooms to translate into fabric. Lacroix produces less detailed sketches and invites the input of his staff.

The article is illustrated with photos of some of the staff for the houses. Especially interesting are the little pockets, or pochettes the sewers wear around their necks. The pouches are filled with their tools and around their necks are tape measures, and many have pincushion bracelets.

I don’t collect couture, as a general rule. It’s usually out of my price range, and frankly, not many couture clients come from the wilds of Western North Carolina. But I do have a few pieces; the Givenchy suit pictured here, a Chanel dress and coat ensemble, and a Jacques Griffe little black dress. I’ve been meaning to put together an article explaining what makes couture special, and the detail photos below will be a part of that future article.

The amount of handwork in this suit is amazing. It is practically all sewn by hand except for the actual seams.

The zipper is set in using a cross-stitch, which cannot be seen on the outside of the skirt.

It all matches up… perfectly.

The fabric is thick. Buttons are sewn on with a shank.

The wool is inner-lined in silk, and all the seams are finished by hand.

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The Most Over-used Word in Vintage Selling

Couture.

And it’s not just on eBay; the word is used all over the web to describe designer items.  So what is the difference, and why, all of a sudden, do I care?

For several years I’ve had exactly one couture item in my collection, a Chanel dress and coat ensemble from one of Mademoiselle’s last collections.   Where I live is not exactly a hotbed of expensive fashions, and it’s very unlikely that I’ll ever run across a couture item locally.  But at the first of the year, I just happened to stumble across a great Jacque Griffe couture dress.

Just like eating Lay’s potato chips, I found I wanted more.  So next I bought a mid 60s Givenchy suit on ebay.

In my quest to locate even more, I though I’d search using the term couture. It turned up a lot of stuff, but very little actual couture fashion.  It seems that many people have the wrong idea about what the term actually means.

couture is French forsewing ordressmaking,  but the wordcoutureas it is commonly used is short for Haute Couture, or High Dressmaking. The word as it is correctly  used means a garment that has been made to order for a specific person.  It also means that this garment was made using only top quality materials, and using techniques that require a great deal of skill to execute properly, much of it done by hand rather than by machine.  A couture gown requires multiple fittings, and fits the client like a glove,  Couture garments are very, very expensuve for these reasons.

The confusion comes because most couture designers, both of the present, and those in the past, also make ready-to-wear clothing.  Ready-to wear, or prêt-à-porter as the French say it, is designed by the designer and his staff, and is mass manufactured in a range of sizes.  You go to a store and buy it.  Quality varies from very high to just average, and so do prices. A designer might have 10 or more ready-to-wear lines in addition to doing couture work.

So, how do you tell the difference?  The best way is through looking at the techniques used to construct the item, and through the materials.

But, you can also tell a lot from the label.  As a general rule, couture labels have limited information on them.  Some have just the designer’s name.  Some also have the address of the House.  Sometimes you will see Made in France or Paris And Dior couture labels have the season and year printed on them.

A couture garment usually has a number, either printed on the label, or attached to the garment under the label.  If you suspect a garment is couture, turn the label over and see if either printed or hand written on a bit of cloth tape is this garment number.

What you do not see on a couture label can be as important as what is on the label.  You will not see the word boutique. You will not see creations or evolution. There will not be a size tag, and there will usually not be a department store label.

In the past few days I’ve seen everything from licensed Givenchy orlon sweaters to Nelly Don dresses described as couture.  But most commonly, the work of American designers such as Claire McCardell and Ceil Chapman is described as couture.  Even though these designers did lovely work that is highly regarded and quite desirable, it is not couture.

Some writers say there is no American couture.  You might stretch the definition a bit, and in doing so, businesses that did custom work such as Hattie Carnegie, Bergdorf Goodman, and Sophie at Saks 5th Avenue might be the closest you can come to American couture.  Or you might consider the Custom label by Adrian to be couture.  Certainly the ensembles made by Oleg Cassini for Mrs. Kennedy would be considered a type of couture.  And there were many designer-dressmakers such as Elizabeth Hawes who might be considered to be couturiers.
But Calvin Klein is not couture, and neither is Bonnie Cashin, but that does not mean that their work isn’t of value!

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