Monthly Archives: November 2018

Fabulous Fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

A recent Thursday found two of my friends and me gazing with stars in our eyes at some of the fashions currently on display at The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Because I sew, I think I look at fashion exhibits differently from those who may not spend so many of their waking hours either thinking about dressmaking or actually engaged in the process.  The opening storyboard immediately spoke to me with these words:

“Feminine fashion is a forum for great creativity and superb craftsmanship.  A single garment can be appreciated as representing the aesthetics of its era, a designer’s vision, a workroom’s skills, or a wearer’s taste.”

I actually believe, at times, all four values can be inherent in one single garment. Actually, as a dressmaker using many vintage patterns, I know this to be true. But I digress!  The fashions on exhibit neatly displayed one or more of these characteristics, even as they were divided into general categories, such as “Shape and Volume,” “Drape” and “Color,” etc.  Included in the Exhibit were the famous designer names one would expect, such as Dior, Chanel, Balenciaga, and Saint Laurent; some of the more recent designers, such as de la Renta, Herrera, and Moschino; and some more obscure designers, such as Emilio Schuberth and Benjamin Green-Field.

As always, it is almost impossible to choose the designs about which to report, when so many deserve mention.  Following is a slightly biased look at some of  the fabulous fashions, in no particular order.

Ball gowns are always crowd pleasers, and this Exhibit had plenty to show.  This gown by Jean Desses from the late ‘50s is typical of his ability to sculpt and drape lace, in this instance, to great effect:

One of Cristobal Balenciaga’s famous silhouettes, from the Spring of 1951, displays his Spanish heritage in its “flamenco dancer’s” interpretation.  This $3,000 (a lot of money for 1951!) “haute couture creation, exquisitely … constructed, was purchased for a special showing at Wanamaker’s department store because it most dramatically illustrates the 1951 fashion trend of extravagant romanticism.’”  (You can read about a very special fashion show I attended at Wanamaker’s in one of my early posts, here.  Wanamaker’s was one of the country’s grand old department stores, and it was my distinct pleasure to shop there “back in the day.”)

I was delighted to see Jacqueline de Ribes included in the Exhibit.  This dress (below) had to be one of the crowd favorites.  From around 1990, the dress is described as “ streamlined, sculptural, timeless, and alluring.”  Her designs are known for their elegant demeanor, described by her as “the art of being astonishing without creating astonishment.”

I was also happy to see Anne Fogarty represented.  This romantic, youthful dress (below) from about 1953, was a gift of the designer to the Museum, where she had worn it to receive an award for her designs.

Having just seen the wonderful exhibit of Norman Norell last Spring at FIT in New York, this “mermaid” dress, circa 1967-70, caught my eye from across the room.  I hope you can see the rhinestones encircling the cuffs of this dress.  It was gorgeous!

And another American designer (from Philadelphia, no less), James Galanos, was represented with this “ready-to-wear” evening gown (below), each bead and sequin of it stitched on by hand.  This is a great example of the relevance of vintage fashion; this dress would look right at home at some swanky party given this holiday season.  Galanos graciously gifted this dress to the Museum in 1957.

Cocktail dresses were well represented, in splendid manner.  This dress by Emilio Schuberth (below), dating to about 1961, was an astounding display of three-dimensional decoration.  The simple silhouette of the dress is the perfect foil for the exquisite beading and fabric flowers.   (Note the hem of the dress, a good example of a “couture” hem which is typically not pressed flat, adding some dimension to the lower edge.)

Who does not love Oscar de la Renta?  And how could you not love this cocktail skirt and halter ensemble, from 1999?  This happens to be a ready-to-wear example which is anything but ordinary.  The skirt “sparkles with beads and sequins but is enlivened by three dimensional embroidered leaves and dangling strings of beads.” The green silk taffeta of the halter pairs perfectly with that luminescent skirt.

Palazzo pajamas, anyone?  Yes, please, if they can be this example designed by Irene Galitzine in 1962.  The boldly patterned silk taffeta of the top and pants of this ensemble is beaded, while the overskirt is not, creating an unusual and effective texture to the entirety.  They were a gift to the Museum from Princess Irene Galitzine, herself.

And here is the dramatic back view of the Galitzine pajamas.

Of course, daywear was also represented.  A classic example of a Chanel suit was this simple and elegant one, designed by Gaston Berthelet for Chanel, Fall/Winter 1972-73.  As the caption said, “ Chanel’s suit became a staple for sophisticated modern women.”  And it is still thus!

A very clever juxtaposition further showed the influence of vintage on current fashion.  This dress, surviving only in a photograph, was the result of fabric panels left over from an art installation by Ellsworth Kelly in 1952:

Here is the modern interpretation of it, in collaboration with Francisco Costa, and produced by Calvin Klein in 2013:

Conspicuously absent from this Exhibit were coats (jackets, yes, but no outerwear.)  As one who adores coats, this was a disappointment, but only a minor detraction.  The closest thing to a coat, believe it or not, was this wedding gown, designed by Philadelphia native Gustave Tassell in 1968.  There are no words to describe the luminosity of the silk/wool moiré in this “coat-dress.”  Along with its feather-trimmed hood, rather than a veil, this dress could have seen a second life as an evening coat after the wedding.  It was a remarkable look.

Adding to the enjoyment of the Exhibit were looping videos in the gallery viewing areas.  In the entrance, the video showed clips from runways, from the 1950s up through the 1990s.  The second video had a small seating area from which to watch it.  On view were ateliers of various designers, from the 1950s up to the current day.  The bustle of activity by the embroiderers and petit mains (dressmakers), as the designers directed affairs, gave a bit of a hint to the complexity and time-consuming process of haute couture.

This has been a whirlwind tour through Fabulous Fashion.  See it if you can.  For another review, go to the posts for October 30 and November 30, 2018 of  The Vintage Traveler.

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Filed under Fashion commentary, Fashion Exhibits, Fashion history, Uncategorized

A White Blouse

White blouses (or shirts, if you prefer) seem to occupy a niche all to themselves in the annals of fashion.  There is something both unpretentious and elegant about a white blouse.  A white blouse is almost always noticed and admired, and even the most tailored white blouse has an air of femininity to it.

Here is what Christian Dior had to say about the color white when he wrote The Dictionary of Fashion in 1954: “White is pure and simple and matches with everything. For daytime it has to be used with great care because it must always be really white and immaculate…  But nothing gives the impression of good grooming and being well dressed more quickly than spotless white…”  (Published again in 2007 by Abrams, New York, New York; page 120).

What could be a better example of being well dressed than this white blouse featured in the February/March 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine (page 28)?  With its tucks and French cuffs, it is both demure and sophisticated.

Now this is an elegant blouse!

Timeless is another description that could be given to the classic white blouse.  Here is one featured in the August/September 1962 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, page 49.  “In suburbia, nothing has as much unstudied elegance as a classic neat, white shirt…”

By the 1970s, collars look like they had overtaken the world, but even with its outsized points, the white blouse gives this velvet suit its focal point:

This is an advertisement for Crompton velvet, featuring a Vogue pattern (Yves St. Laurent evening suit), page XVI of the October/November 1971 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

The Wall Street Journal had a full-page feature on The White Shirt in the Weekend Section of March 26-27, 2016.  “Always timely and the quickest shortcut to chic,”  says the caption. Part of the feature is shown here:

Although the article fixated on RTW white shirts, a small section was absolutely apropos for those of us who make our white shirts. Finding your Match maintains that there is a certain chemistry involved in finding the perfect shirt for oneself, and it emphasized the importance of choosing the right fabric.  While cotton is usually the preferred fabric, even it is subject to an appropriate quality and weave.  Choosing a pure cotton fabric will necessitate a commitment to laundering and ironing.  Quoted from the article, “You can throw it in the machine, but for a finished look, Ms [Carolina] Herrera (who has made the white shirt her style signature) recommends hand-washing with a splash of starch for a crisp finish.  The white shirt, remember, is about contradictions – it may be easy, but it has good manners.”  (Oh, yes!)

Well, I can’t say I was thinking about chemistry and laundering and manners when I purchased this white cotton shirting fabric from Britex a few years ago.

I just thought it was so lovely with its woven stripe and scalloped detail.  I am happy to say it has been brought to fruition as a classic white blouse.

While the woven stripe IS lovely, it presented some definite considerations when I was laying out my pattern.  For example, what reveal of the stripe did I want to show on the collar and cuffs.  What about the back yoke?   How should the buttons line up on the design on the center front?  The following pictures detail my decisions as I worked through each component.

I chose to use the plain white band as the center portion of the cuffs.

I chose to position the stripe on the collar in the middle.

I decided to interface the yoke, as the cotton is lightweight, and the facing of the yoke would have shown through without it. I always use a woven, sew-in interfacing when I am making blouses. It works beautifully. I evenly balanced the placement of the stripe on the yoke, with just a slight plain reveal noticeable at the lower edge.

And then, what buttons should I use?   It is so easy – and often appropriate – to choose a simple white pearl, two-hole button to accompany this style of shirt. I was prepared to do that until I came across this card of vintage buttons in my collection:

My first thought was, “How perfect!  The incised stripes on the buttons mirror the stripe in the cotton.  And, to seal the deal, they were also the perfect size, at 3/8”.

I used the same 1970s’ Simplicity pattern (with my many alterations to it) that I used for the two gingham blouses I made over the summer.

It is always satisfying to use a fabric which had been purchased – in the past, shall we say? It reinforces my thought that there is a time for all those lovely pieces of silk, wool, cotton and linen still waiting for their destination.   Perhaps it really is about chemistry, after all.

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Filed under Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, Fashion commentary, Fashion history, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage buttons