Category Archives: Fashion commentary

More on Dior

In re-reading my last two reviews of the Dior in Denver Exhibit, I realize how very little I was able to include, when there was so much to see and learn.  Well, these reviews cannot go on forever, but there are a few other aspects and components of the Exhibit that I still want to share.

In one of the narrower passageways between Exhibit “rooms,” there was a display of Dior scarves lining each side.  From the Dior Heritage Collection in Paris, these printed silk twill scarves were designed by Alexandre Sache between about 1958-1976.

The very bright graphic ones were so eye-catching:

And this engaging one with its impressionistic rose in the center was my favorite, I think:

You may have noticed in my first two reviews how many of the fashions, especially the early ones, were made in black.  Dior considered black “the most elegant of all colors.”  While they often do not photograph as well as other colors, these fashions made in luscious black fabrics commanded attention throughout the Exhibit.

I apologize for not having the attribution on this cocktail dress.

Also spread throughout the Exhibit were quotes from the various Creative Directors.  Two especially caught my eye.  The first, from Christian Dior himself, was one I had never read before.  “The Americans are, by essence, impeccable.”  Wow!  What a lovely tribute to his stylish American clients.

And then there is this one from the current Creative Director, Maria Grazia Chiuri:  “A dress can have some impact but a woman makes the difference with her attitude.” This quote needs no further commentary…

The Exhibit included so many supporting documents and written and printed materials, it was impossible to identify the most important.  But I want to share this copy of Time Magazine from March 4, 1957, with Christian Dior on its cover.

Dior died the same year, 1957, on October 24th.

As Exhibit goers departed the exhibition space, there were paper punch-out Dior “handbags” for the taking:

Here is the reverse of this small bag, with punch-out puzzle pieces of the coat included! So clever.

After four hours nonstop in the Exhibit, I reluctantly departed from the Denver Art Museum to get a very late lunch, with intentions to return to the museum shop for a little browsing.  Here I am upon my return, standing in front of one of the displays of books:

And here is the bag (I love bags!) which housed all those lovely purchases made at the Museum Shop:

Upon my return home to Pennsylvania, I was anxious to see what Christian Dior Vogue Designer Patterns I have in my collection of vintage patterns.  Two are actually ones I purchased in the early 1970s, another time in my life when I was  actively sewing for myself :

I made this coat when I was in my early twenties. I only wish I still had it!

I never made this pattern, but I may still do so.

And then there are these two, somewhat recent purchases:

These two patterns are earlier than the two above.

And yes, you do see a theme emerging if you consider these four patterns.  They are all coats!  (I am obsessed with coats…) Any guess what my current project is (after I make birthday dresses for my granddaughters)?

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Filed under Christian Dior, Coats, Fashion commentary, Fashion Exhibits, Fashion history, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

Dior: From Paris to the World in Denver, Colorado: Review of the Exhibition, Part 1

Some opportunities in life just beg to be taken advantage of.  Such was the case when I knew that Dior: From Paris to the World would be at the Denver Museum of Art from November, 2108 until March, 2019.  Denver is a four-hour plane trip from my home on the East Coast of the United States, but, really, that did not deter me.  My husband said he would join me on this expedition, and the icing on the cake was the fact that our son and his girlfriend, who live in California, would rendezvous with us in Denver to have a long weekend together.

Tickets to the Exhibition needed to be purchased in advance, as the Museum had timed entrance to view it.

I had read numerous professional reviews of the Exhibit before arriving in Denver, so I knew that the displays of the clothing did not have captions on them.  Instead, attendees each received a “little black book” in which were listed the numbered captions and a replica of the storyboards on display throughout the Exhibit.

I loved this method of captioning.  It allowed the clothing to appear uncluttered, reading the captions was easier than trying to share a small space with lots of other exhibition goers, and the little black book makes a wonderful reference to pair with the photos I took.  (The only confusing aspect was that many of the fashions on display were not in numerical order, so I had to pay close attention to the numbers on the platforms as I read my little black book.)  In addition, the Museum provided each attendee with an audio device, for intermittent descriptions and historical context throughout the Exhibit.  Most of the designated  audio stops in the Exhibit had not only an adult version, but also a “kids” version, which I thought was a brilliant idea.

The Exhibit was huge, incredibly comprehensive, and beautifully presented.  It is not only a retrospective of the Fashion House founded and “grounded” by Christian Dior, it is also a visual history of some of the most important influences on modern, post-war fashion. It reminds us in no uncertain terms of the importance of Christian Dior himself  in shaping our current interest and fascination with the world of haute couture – and for those of us who sew – the world of couture dressmaking and sewing.

In this Part I of my review, I will limit myself to the Artistic Directors/Fashion Designers – and their body of work – who have led the House from its beginning in 1947 up until the current day.

It was exactly 72 years ago today, February 12, 1947, when Christian Dior presented his first collection.  Although he named the two lines of his collection  Corolle (Flower) and En8 (Figure 8), the editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Carmel Snow, immediately gave a new name to this ground-breaking style, calling it the “New Look,” a designation which endures today. Of course, the most recognizable of this New Look is the Bar suit.

Other dresses from the reign of Dior himself include the following:

Wool afternoon dress, Fall-Winter, 1948.

Wool suit with high windbreaker collar, Fall-Winter 1949. I find this a rather remarkable look for 1949.

Taffeta evening dress, Fall-Winter 1952. Dior was known for punctuating his shows with a vibrant red dress at the halfway point.

Satin dress with Chinese motif, Fall-Winter 1956.

Short brocaded silk evening dress, Fall-Winter 1957. This was so gorgeous!

Here is a side view of the same dress.

After Dior’s untimely death of a heart attack in 1957, the House was led by Yves Saint Laurent, who had been 19 when Christian Dior hired him as an assistant in 1955. Only 21 at this pivotal time for the fashion house, Saint Laurent boldly presented a departure in silhouette in his first collection in 1958.  The Trapeze – or Triangle – collection was welcomed by fashionable women, and Saint Laurent was embraced as fashion’s new hero despite his young age.

Short evening dress with bobble fringe trim, Fall-Winter 1960.

Wool ensemble, Fall-Winter 1960. Notice the large pompom buttons.

This side view shows the size of the pompoms. This was really a fantastic look.

Short evening dress embellished with satin bows, part of Saint Laurent’s Trapeze line, Spring-Summer 1958.

By 1960, Saint Laurent veered again, presenting his “Beatnik” look, which was too radical at the time to be widely accepted.  He left the House of Dior that year and was succeeded by Marc Bohan in 1961.

Bohan had the longest tenure as Creative Director for the House of Dior, leading the firm from 1961-1989.  His first collection emphasized slim youthfulness, but with a classic nod to the founder of the House.  Elegance, beautiful fabrics, embroidery, restrained but noteworthy color, and exacting fit were his hallmarks.

This image is from a looping video in the Bohan section of the Exhibit. Classic coats with coordinating dresses is what I think of during the 1960s, and Bohan was a master of such.

And here the models show the dresses beneath the coats.

Long printed faille evening dress, Fall-Winter 1971. The placement of the stripes is so well executed, leaving the top of the shoulders in black.

And here is Bohan’s sketch of a similar dress.
The supporting documentary materials in the Exhibit gave another layer of interest to it.

In 1989, the Italian designer Gianfranco Ferre became the Artistic Director of the House of Dior.  After a rise in ready-to-wear in the world of fashion, Ferre was part of the revived interest in haute couture, and his designs are rich in color, ornamentation, and volume.  He stayed at the House until 1996.

Wool ensemble, Fall-Winter 1989. Doesn’t this look like the 1980s?

Long embroidered quilted lame dress and taffeta coat, Fall-Winter 1992.

Long printed organza satin dress, Spring-Summer 1995. The fabric in this dress is absolutely exquisite.

Printed chiffon dress embroidered with grass stalks, Spring-Summer, 1996.

John Galliano took over the helm in 1997.  Although still steeped in the precision and excellence of haute couture, Galliano became known for flamboyance, foreign influences in his designs, and his own rock-star status.  And oops!  I am lacking photos of examples of Galliano’s work.  Never a fan, I read about every one of his works on display, but failed to concentrate on photos.

After the sometimes rocky tenure of Galliano, Raf Simons was a breath of fresh air.  He became Artistic Director in 2012, and although known for his minimalism, he followed the heritage of the House of Dior. His designs showed a new romanticism, a love of color, and the influence of some of the world’s best modern art.

Three-quarter length duchess satin evening gown, Fall-Winter 2012.

Two-piece dress, Spring-Summer 2015.

And here is Simon’s notebook, detailing this dress.

Wool tuxedo jacket and wool cigarette pants, Fall-Winter 2012.

After Simons tenure ended in 2015, the House selected its first female Artistic Director. Maria Grazia Chiuri arrived in 2016.  She is a great student of Christian Dior and her designs are freshly reminiscent of his.  She features flowers, excellence in construction, with an occasional nod also to the modernist artists of the 20th century.

Wool crepe skirt suit, Fall-Winter 2017. More red – I love it.

Tulle ball gown, embroidered with poppies, Spring- Summer 2017.

Are you exhausted yet? There is still so much more to come, but that will be in Part II.  And – I have some sewing that needs attention, too.  Imagine that!  To be continued, both the Exhibit and my sewing.

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

Something Old is New Again – and Again – and Again . . .

Coco Chanel said it herself, “I am against fashion that doesn’t last.”  Could she possibly have known her Classic French Jacket would become such a lasting icon in the annals of fashion and style?  Would she be amazed at how often her jacket has been imitated and copied – for decades now?  And could she possibly have ever guessed the allure this style has for those of us who sew fashions for ourselves?

I really do not know the answers to these questions.  From what I do know of this enigmatic woman, I can only guess that privately she may have suspected her creation had staying power far beyond most fashions. And certainly, as I have said before, “only Chanel is Chanel,” but what a blueprint she gave to those of us, either as individuals or as fashion companies, to copy and to change and to make her classic jacket into our very own.

I have been thinking about Coco Chanel quite a bit these days as I work on my fifth Classic French Jacket.    Last Fall,  about the time when I was getting ready to cut out my #5, The Wall Street Journal had this feature article on “Chanel-ish” jackets.

This article appeared in the Weekend Section of The Wall Street Journal, October 27 – 28, 2018. The center caption states: “8 Chanel-ish jackets that aren’t by Chanel, demonstrating the pervasiveness of Mademoiselle Coco’s enduring – and constantly reimagined – tweed jacket design.”

The featured  jackets range in price from a “zara” version at $129 all the way up to a Gucci one at $13,500.  I suspect few, if any, of these jackets are channel quilted as a real Chanel would be, but they all have that familiar, yet varying look that is so recognizable – the tweed or boucle fabric; the embellishment in the form of fringe, trim, and buttons; the boxy or minimally shaped profile; the symmetrical, balanced demeanor; and the ability to be worn casually or dressily.

Just about any women’s fashion catalog you open has examples which relate to Coco Chanel’s jacket. For example, in the span of just three pages of a recent Gorsuch catalog, four jackets have that classic Coco look.

A longer version of the classic jacket, its roots are immediately recognizable.

Another longer jacket which would look equally at home with a lace dress or, as shown, with denims.

And a traditional shorter jacket, shown in two colors. All these examples are in the Gorsuch GETAWAY catalog, Winter of 2019, pages 30-32.

Those of us who make our own Classic French Jackets are privy to the reality of hours of hand-sewing and unusual construction techniques inherent in one of these jackets.   These are not fast projects.  However, the pleasure of taking this classic design and having the stylistic freedom to choose and decide on all the components, while adhering to the “rules” of the basic style, make all those hours worthwhile.

Or so I tell myself! Here is where I am with my #5: quilting completed, lining fell-stitched in place as much as possible, sleeves assembled and ready to sew onto the body of the jacket.

Here the right sleeve is just pinned at the shoulder.

It is always a relief when I am sure the sleeves are going to match the plaid of the body of the jacket.

There is something about the shaping of these three piece sleeves, with vent, that is just so lovely.

I am still deciding on trim for this jacket, although I believe there is going to be fringe on this one.  Perhaps a two-sided fringe with a pop of coordinating color between the edges.  It would be fascinating to know what would Coco suggest.  But then, it is such personal decisions which give these jackets their individuality.

I will be deciding on either Petersham ribbon or velvet ribbon as the underlay in the center trough of the fringe. It has been quite a search for the best color to use.

Coco Chanel was also known to have said, ”One cannot be forever innovating.  I want to create classics.”  Well, that she did with her classic jacket.  And we are all the beneficiaries of her genius.  Her idea, hatched in the 1920s, then defined to its current look in 1954, is an old idea which is continually reimagined and reformulated by those of us fortunate enough to sew.  Merci, Mademoiselle Chanel!

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Filed under Chanel-type jackets, classic French jacket, Coco Chanel, Fashion commentary, Uncategorized

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

Reflections on the Couture Legacy of Norman Norell

It was my distinct pleasure and good fortune to visit the current Exhibition on Norman Norell at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT) in New York City last week. For those of you not familiar with this mid-century American designer, you may be surprised to learn of his enduring influence on, and remarkable contributions to American fashion and glamour. He also, in his extensive and versatile body of work, employed the finest couture techniques, making his clothes still the envy of designers and those of us who strive for excellence in our fashion sewing.

Norell: Dean of American Fashion opened on February 9, 2018 and will close on April 14th. Guest Curator and designer Jeffrey Banks and Deputy Director of MFIT, Patricia Mears, collaborated on this Exhibition. Included are examples from his entire career; however, the Exhibition focuses for the most part on his final, spectacular 12 years, from 1960 – 1972. Norell (1900-1972) left his native Indiana to pursue his interest in illustration and fashion design in New York. He worked under Hattie Carnegie, and then at the beginning of World War II he began a partnership with Anthony Traina, the label for which is the well-known Traina-Norell designation. It was in 1960 that Norell started his own eponymous line of clothing, and it was during this period, up to his untimely death in 1972, that he set his real mark on American fashion.

To all of you I commend the MFIT Exhibition website for learning more about Norell’s life and the evolution of his body of work, including a fascinating video presentation by Exhibition Curator Jeffrey Banks. (Be sure to click on “explore the Exhibition website” which will lead you to some excellent content.) It was with this background knowledge that I entered the Exhibition, knowing I wanted to view it on two levels – 1) as a dazzling display of some of the most beautiful fashions ever assembled, and 2) as an opportunity to see up close some of the construction details, style lines, and elegant touches in his fashions, serving as inspiration for my own fashion sewing.

The Exhibit is physically divided into two areas, the first of which serves as a guide to his trademark themes, each with a small grouping of fashions. I was immediately smitten with this selection of LBDs:

All of these dresses have a timeless appearance, making them as stylish today as when they were designed. From left to right, #1 Label: Norman Norell New York. Black sleeveless bodice with skirt and satin sash, 1963. wool jersey, wool twill. Lent by Kenneth Pool [a major lender to the Exhibit.];
#2 Label: Traina-Norell New York. Black cocktail ensemble, 1950. silk chiffon, silk satin. MFIT, Gift in memory of Miriam Abrams; #3 Label: Norman Norell New York. Black dress with belt, 1962-1963. Wool, leather. MFIT, Gift of Mortimer Soloman.

As a way of illustrating the impeccable couture construction for which Norell fashions are known, this “inside-out” dress was displayed.

Click on the photo for a closer look.

It was all I could do to keep from reaching over to see more of it. Noted on the caption were ”the hand-picked zipper and extra wide seam allowance, the deep hem … edged with bias-cut silk so that it is softly defined yet sturdy. Furthermore, the neckline and armholes are minimally interfaced to give shape without impeding movement, and they are under-pressed in order to hide the seams.”

The larger gallery of the Exhibit practically took my breath away when I entered. The large center stage is resplendent with examples of his famous eveningwear, including his sequined “mermaid” dresses.

The low light in the Exhibition gallery only added to the ambience and allure of these creations.

Around the perimeter of the gallery were featured many, many of his glorious coats, capes and dress suits, as well as dresses. I snapped this photo of one of his trademark sailor dresses to show the hand-picked zipper and the large patch pockets applied by hand (note the provenance on this dress in the caption):

Label: Traina-Norell New York. Off-white sailor dress with navy collar and red tie, circa 1957. Linen. MFIT, Gift of Lauren Bacall.

There were so many terrific examples of Norell’s vibrant use of color, including this coral cape from 1962.

Label: Norell. Coral double breasted cape, 1962. Wool melton. Lent by Kenneth Pool.

And I could not take my eyes away from this combination of off-white evening gown with a red bolero jacket and peacock blue sash from 1968.

The beautiful shape of the jacket, with those amazing buttons and bound buttonholes, sets off the sash to perfection. Label: Norman Norell New York. Off-white evening gown with red bolero jacket and peacock blue sash, 1968. Cotton organdy, wool, silk taffeta. Lent by Kenneth Pool.

Another brilliantly hued ensemble is this pink evening coat with matching skirt and blouse from 1964. Note the rhinestone buttons, the beautiful bound buttonholes, the angled pockets, and the lovely seaming detail of the high yoke on the coat which descends into the sleeves.

Label: Norell, Norman Norell New York. Pink evening coat with matching skirt and blouse, 1964. Wool, rhinestone buttons. MFIT, Gift of Lauren Bacall.

Norell was known for his cone and wedge-shaped coats, of which this purple one is an excellent example.  Note the spread of the descending buttons on this coat:

Photography was permitted, although flash photography was not, so my pictures do not do justice to many of these fashions. Label: Norell. Purple cone shaped double breasted coat with Peter Pan collar, 1966. Wool melton. Lent by Kenneth Pool.

This coat and pants ensemble from 1970 is set off beautifully by its wide belt:

Label: Norell. Coat and pants ensemble, 1970. Wool herringbone, leather. Lent by Kenneth Pool.

The collar is absolutely stunning. And those bound buttonholes are a work of art in that heavy wool herringbone weave.

Norell used the talented stitchers of the garment worker’s union to make his clothing.

While I am writing about coats (one of my favorite subjects!), I want to show you details from two which help to illustrate the quality and finesse for which Norell’s fashions are known. First is this pocket detail from an off-white coat with black collar, 1962-1965.

Label: Norell. Off-white coat with black collar, 1962-1965. Wool and velvet. MFIT, Gift of Mrs. Jane Albert

The right edge of the flap is angled slightly to follow the side seam line, a subtle touch which gives it a graceful appearance.

Second is another pocket detail on a beige coat with pilgrim collar from 1968:

Label: Norell. Beige coat with pilgrim collar, 1968. Wool. MFIT, Gift from the collection of Margery J. Davidson, lovingly donated by her son Harold S. Graham.

The pocket is an extension of a princess seam, beautifully angled. And more shaping is apparent to the left of the full-length seam, giving this coat such elegant and refined lines.

Seeing this following grouping of dresses and jackets gave me a new appreciation of the concept of “less is more.” According to the caption, Norell “chose to trim his day and evening wear with mink, fox, and sable. The judicious use of this expensive and sensuous material elevated the glamour quotient of his restrained daywear.”

From left to right: #1 Label: Norell. Pale oatmeal midi dress and bolero jacket, 1967. Wool, crystal fox. Lent by Kenneth Pool. #2 Label: Norell. Pale peach jacket and black gown, 1966. Brushed wool, fox, sheer jersey. Lent by Kenneth Pool. #3 Label: Norell. Red and black check suit, 1962. Wool, black fox, leather. Lent by Kenneth Pool.

One more Little Black Dress has the most beautifully placed buttons:

Label: Norman Norell New York. Black dress with jeweled buttons, 1965. Wool crepe. Lent by Kenneth Pool.

I loved the caption which (partially) stated: “Deceptively simple, Norell’s dresses were visually quiet but strategically constructed… to enhance a woman’s body.”

I could go on and on as there is so much more to celebrate about this remarkably talented “Dean of American Fashion.” Fortunately, the Exhibition is accompanied by a book, titled: Norell: Master of American Fashion, by Jeffrey Banks and Doria de la Chapelle.   Published by Rizzoli, the book is lavishly illustrated and beautifully presented, both in content and inspiration. I commend it to you.

In closing, on a personal note, I cannot help but think back to 1972, the year I graduated from college and the year Norman Norell died. So much has changed in the world of fashion and fashion sewing since those heady years. Seeing an exhibition like this one is a lovely reminder of the true timelessness of quality and restrained elegance, providing endless inspiration to those of us who dream and sew.

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Capes, Coats, Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Day dresses, Dressmaker coats, Dressmaker suits, Fashion commentary, Fashion Exhibits, Little Black Dress, Mid-Century style, Suit dresses, Uncategorized

“Blazing Fashions”

Every once in a while, something unexpected and totally charming arrives in the mail. Such was the case when a Christmas card we received had something extra inside, besides a lovely greeting. The envelope was rather lumpy so I could not imagine what might be enclosed. The dear friend who sent the card has a generosity of spirit which is an inspiration to me. She is so thoughtful and ever mindful of the passions and interests of her friends. So when I opened the card and a very large size matchbook fell out, I knew she had once again given me something very special and very apropos.   (Thank you, Nancy C.!)

This was no ordinary matchbook!

This matchbook measures 4″ x 6″ so it definitely makes a statement!

“Blazing fashions” –“Larry’s world famous dresses! 10,000 dresses to tell your friends about…at cut prices.” If I had to assign a particular year to this little gem, I would say 1957, based on the styles, hem lengths, and hairdos on display in the drawing. Certainly it is from the final half of the decade of the 1950s.

The back of the matchbook gives a nostalgic glimpse into the constraints of shopping hours during that time in history. “Get here by 2:30 P. M. to be waited on” and “Closed Sunday.”

I can just imagine some of the dresses, coats and suits available for purchase. This is especially enticing when you look at the list of brands carried by Larry’s:

(Click on the image to see the partial list of designers and fashion houses.)

Many of these fashion houses/designers I recognize, others I do not. Some of the notable brands are: Nini Ricci, Adele Simpson, Donald Brooks, Nettie Rosenstein, McMullen, Davidow, Mr. Mort, Herbert Sondheim, Nantucket Naturals, Kasper, Norman Norell, Christian Dior (New York), Oleg Cassini’s, Teal Traina, H. B. Wragge, Ann Fogerty. Some of the names are hidden beneath the match sticks (which are a good 3“ in length). Also hidden is a coupon to cut out and mail in and request the following: “Please Notify Me When Your Private Sale Begins.” Also mentioned is the fact that Larry’s is “Air Conditioned for Comfort” and “All Sales Are Final.”

A number of the fashion houses/designers listed also designed for Vogue Patterns during that time period, such as Nini Ricci, Christian Dior, and Teal Traina. And I would suspect that many of Larry’s customers were also women who sewed for themselves, as so many fashionable ladies did. I also suspect that Larry’s did a booming business during the holiday season – Christmas and New Year’s – when dressing up was de rigueur. So many stories reside in this little vintage piece, to remind us all that, although much has changed, fashion and dressing well is timeless.

Also timeless is this beautiful and sacred Christmas season. It is a magical time, filled with wonder and awe, a time when the generosity of spirit is abundant and enhanced by kindness and love. May your holiday be filled with such beauties and with the love and companionship of dear friends and family. All the best to you from me!

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Filed under Fashion commentary, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized