Category Archives: Fashion Exhibits

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

Seeing Dots

Who doesn’t love a polka dotted motif?  The term “polka dot,” dating from 1880-85, is of American derivation, and of course it immediately conjures up a mental picture of a field of spots forming a pattern on a textile.

Here is what Christian Dior had to say about Dots in his Little Dictionary of Fashion, first published in 1954:  “I would say the same about dots as about checks.  They are lovely, elegant, easy, and always in fashion.  I never get tired of dots…  Dots are lovely for holiday clothes … and for accessories.  According to their color, so they can be versatile…  Black and white for elegance; soft pinks and blues for prettiness; emerald, scarlet, and yellow for gaiety; beige and gray for dignity.”  (The Little Dictionary of Fashion, by Christian Dior; Abrams, New York, New York, 2007, page 34.)

“Lovely, elegant, easy and always in fashion.”  That is quite an endorsement, and one with which I completely agree.  I also have to agree with these quotes, the first one  from Marc Jacobs: “There is never a wrong time for a polka dot,”  and this one from the American actress, Anna Kendrick, “You can’t have a bad day in polka dots.”

While images of polka-dotted dresses, blouses, ensembles, and sportswear are in abundant supply from many sources, it’s always inspiring to look at a few select examples, many from the 1950s.  The following two images were part of a feature in the February/March 1955 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.  Although pictured in black and white the first example is described as “Tiny white polka dots on red crepe. A soft day-long dress.”

The next image is titled Gigantic Dots:  “Bold black dots on hot pink surah.  A dramatic sheathed bodice dress.”

Can you imagine how beautiful this dress was in hot pink with black dots?

The June/July 1957 VPB Magazine featured “the most romantic dress of the season – a pouf of black-and-white silk polka dots.”

Less than a year later, in the April/May 1958 VPB Magazine, an entire feature was on Polka Dots and Patent Leather:  “Exciting goings-on in polka dots: fresh new arrangements – at their most polished in black and white silk surah, spruced with gleaming black patent leather.”

Below is the dress of this description: “Dots blown up to impressive sizes – a look for relaxed but festive evenings.”

This two-piece dress could easily be worn today and look very current.

And here is the image for “Classic polka dots – square cut blouse [with] reverse-dot cummerbund:”

One of my favorite outfits from the show Mad Men was this white linen dress with a built-in silk polka dot sash. The two-color sash makes this dress a standout:

Image from The Fashion File; Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of MAD MEN, by Janie Bryant with Monica Corcoran Harel; Grand Central Life & Style, New York, New York, 2010, page 8.

This famous – and stunning – 1958 dress and coat ensemble by Arnold Scaasi, an American couturier, was featured prominently in the retrospective of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, September 25, 2010 – June 19, 2011:

Now this is an exhibit I wish I had seen.

And finally, this is a Carolina Herrera ad which I plucked out of some magazine a while ago. The ad is for the handbag, but the polka-dotted dress, with its bright red sash steals the show:

So why all my focus on polka dots?  They have been much on my mind lately, as I have finally begun the many-step process of making a couture dress, using this vibrant silk, purchased seven or eight years ago:

This is a crepe de chine which I purchased from Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. Smaller irregular dots are woven into the design.

The background color is navy blue.

Now my hope is that one cannot have a bad sewing day when working with polka dots.

 

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Filed under Cocktail dresses, Day dresses, Fashion Exhibits, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Polka dots, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

“A Fantasy of Fashion from Paris”

Not everyone who sews is interested in fashion history, of that I am aware.   There was, however, a pivotal moment in modern fashion history that had such an impact that its influence is still felt today, although many current dressmakers/sewers of fashions have never heard of it.  I am, of course, speaking about the Théâtre de la Mode, about which I wrote in August of 2016. If you are one of those who think fashion history is dull, I hope to convince you otherwise, by another visit to the years of 1945 and 1946, in postwar France and beyond.

In a nutshell, the fashion industry in Paris during World War II had struggled mightily due to the widespread shortages, rationing, and bare existence imposed on all Parisians during the occupation of France and even for a time after the War had concluded.  To quote from the back cover of Théâtre de la Mode, Fashion Dolls: the Survival of Haute Couture (Second Revived Edition c 2002 Maryhill Museum of Art.  Published by Palmer/Pletsch Inc. Portland, Oregon): “Liberation in the fall of 1944 after four years of foreign Occupation found Paris surviving on minimal resources.  Hoping to make a statement to the world that Paris was still the center of fashion, couturiers, jewelers, milliners, hairdressers, and theatre designers joined together to present the Théâtre de la Mode.  Using the ages-old tradition of traveling miniature mannequins dressed in current couture, the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture mobilized a whole industry with unprecedented cooperation and creativity to prove that life could begin again through these 27” tall ambassadors of fashion.  The exhibition, inaugurated in Paris in March 1945, began a long journey, first to other capitals in Europe and Great Britain, then in 1946 to the United States.”

This is the poster for the Exhibition in New York City, page 49 of the book referenced above.

Many new fashions were added to the exhibition before it traveled to New York in May of 1946. It is worth noting here some of the names of the couturiers who participated in this endeavor: Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain, Jacques Fath, Jacques Heim, Hermès, Jeanne Lanvin, Lucien Lelong, Molyneux, Paquin, Schiaparelli, Worth, Jean Desses, Nina Ricci, Jean Patou, Madame Grès, plus many, many more not as well known to us today. Its New York opening was attended, with much excitement, by the city’s diplomatic and social elite.  After the drought of fashion leadership from Paris during the War, the New York fashion industry was anxious for renewed access to Parisian inspiration and patterns, and the Théâtre de la Mode seemed to be the kick-start both countries needed.

Two of the dresses which hint at some of the changes in the air for mid-century fashions. Henriette Beaujeu designed the dress on the left and Schiaparelli was the designer for the dress on the right.

Even beachwear was included! Jacques Heim designed this ensemble of pareo pants, bra, and split skirt.

From New York, the Exhibit traveled, in September of 1946, to San Francisco to the de Young Museum, which turned out to be its final public viewing.   San Francisco at that time had a French population of over 20,000, and the response from that community was overwhelming. Sponsors of the Exhibition included I. Magnin, and two department stores (now defunct) both owned by French families, the White House and the City of Paris (who would not want to shop at that store?)  It is here that I want to pick up the story of this amazing period in time.  Hopefully I can add some details to its history and some weight to the esteem which the Théâtre de la Mode enjoyed at that pivotal time.

So what, you may ask, gives me the credence to do this?  Well, it all circles back to my sewing.  I am one of the very fortunate ones who have a room dedicated to sewing.  I, like so many of you in your own situations, spend hours and hours in this space.  It is filled not just with all the tools and machines and items I need for fashion sewing, but also with decorative objects which keep me company as I stitch away.  Over the years I have accumulated signs, millinery heads, and other fashion and sewing-related things (with support from a very understanding husband, I might add!)  I was not looking for my most recent find.  In fact, I did not even know that it existed.  However, when I saw it listed for sale on the Internet, I immediately knew what it was.  I also knew it could potentially add to the history of Théâtre de la Mode in the United States.

“IT” happens to be an original poster for the Exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco, in September of  1946.

The pure visual quality of it struck me, especially when compared with the New York poster shown above.  It must have been a deliberate decision to commission an artist of the renown of Jean de Botton to produce the image for this poster, giving emphasis to the excitement and importance of this Exhibit.   De Botton (1898-1978) was a French artist living in New York City, known for his Abstractionist and Impressionist style of painting. (He became a naturalized American citizen before his death.)  I can only conjecture that he saw the Exhibit when it was in NYC, as his image for the poster is reminiscent of several of the sets on which the mannequins were displayed.  However, he added additional elements which enhance the intrigue of the Exhibit, some of which would have spoken directly to the French population in San Francisco at that time.

The image of the ship refers to the city of Paris. The latin motto of the city, “It floats, but does not sink,” appears on the ship, as seen below in the close-up.

More French imagery in the flags and pennants.

It appears that the term “A Fantasy of Fashion from Paris” was the artist’s idea or at the direction of the sponsors in San Francisco.

And what an incredible assortment of images in this section of the poster!

I feel very fortunate to have found this original poster, and to have it signed (and inscribed) by the artist makes it even more amazing.

Signed by the artist in September of 1946 and inscribed to Irving Mills (1894-1985), possibly the music publisher, musician, lyricist and promoter of jazz artists who was a contemporary of de Botton’s in NYC.

No one could have imagined that the San Francisco showing of the Théâtre de la Mode would be its last public appearance. Arrangements could not be made to move it to other cities, so, in an unbelievable set of circumstances, the sets, the mannequins and fashions were moved to the basement of the City of Paris Department Store.  There they stayed, largely forgotten and thought by many to be “lost” until September of 1951 when Paul Verdier, President of the City of Paris department store made arrangements for them to be sent to the Maryhill Museum in Washington state, where you can see them now.

However, the impact of the Exhibit at that time cannot be overstated.  The concerted effort by the couturiers and others in the fashion industry to move past the barren War years realized success more quickly than anyone could have imagined. It was just a few months later, in 1947, that Christian Dior introduced his “New Look” – and the fashion industry as we know it today began to flourish.

Christian Dior changed fashion history with the introduction of this new look.

This poster is a rare survivor of a pivotal time in fashion history.  If you are still reading by now, I hope this “Fantasy of Fashions from Paris” reminds you, as it does me, of the resilience of the human spirit, its love of beauty, and its indefatigable artistic inclination.

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Filed under Fashion Exhibits, Fashion history, Mid-Century style

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

Théâtre de la Mode

 

The third week of our vacation led us to the Columbia River Gorge, about an hour east of Portland, Oregon, but on the Washington state side of the River. When we made our travel plans, the Théâtre de la Mode was the last thing I expected to see. But knowing that this famous exhibit resides in a museum in “a remote, out-of-the–way” part of Washington state, I looked it up a few weeks before our departure. To my great surprise, I realized we were going to be only about an hour west of the Maryhill Museum, home to this Exhibit since 1952. I never expected to see any part of this Exhibit in person, so I was elated to know I was going to have the opportunity to view it.

This is the front of the Catalogue of the Exhibit.

This is the front of the Catalogue of the Exhibit.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this collection of post-WWII fashion, here’s a brief history. At the end of WWII, France was left economically bereft, the population experiencing severe shortages of every kind. The fashion industry in Paris had been decimated by the German occupation, but it was still alive and anxious to make a comeback. The idea for a miniature traveling “theatre of fashion” was conceived by Robert Ricci, the son of the couturier, Nina Ricci. It’s intent was two-fold: to provide a platform for the well-known fashion houses to showcase their designs, with the intent of re-establishing French domination of high fashion, and as a fund-raiser for the French survivors of the war. It was decided to use mannequins of approximately 1/3 the scale of humans (27.5 inches tall), in order to conserve precious materials. It was also decided to construct the mannequins out of wire, making them distinct from actual dolls, and to maximize the effect of the clothing, which they would model.

One of the glass cases in the Exhibit shows a "naked" mannequin, which gives one a good look at what the fashion designers and "petit mains" were working with while dressing them.

One of the glass cases in the Exhibit shows a “naked” mannequin, which gives one a good look at what the fashion designers and “petit mains” were working with while dressing them.

Joining the fashion houses in this endeavor were milliners, hairstylists, jewelers, handbag makers and shoemakers. Fifteen sets, within which to show the dressed mannequins, were created by noted artists and showcased Parisian street scenes, as well as Parisian interiors.

Here is one street scene, recreated in the Exhibit.

Here is one street scene, recreated in the Exhibit.

And here is another view of it.

And here is another view of it.

When the Théâtre de la Mode was ready to tour, almost 200 mannequins had been dressed. Its first opening was at The Louvre on March 28th, 1945. In its first month of exhibition, 100,000 visitors went to see it, raising one million francs for the efforts of war relief. From Paris, it went to London, Leeds, Barcelona, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Vienna, eventually traveling to the United States. Its final showing was in San Francisco, where the collection was mysteriously stored, post-exhibition, in the basement of a local department store. An interested patron of the Maryhill Museum in Goldendale, Washington (USA), Alma de Bretteville Spreckles, spearheaded its acquisition by the Museum in 1952. Although the jewelry worn by the mannequins had already been returned to France, and the sets were lost, the majority of the fashions and models were intact.

Here is a copy of the original poster for the opening of the Exhibit in March of 1945.

Here is a copy of the original poster for the opening of the Exhibit in March of 1945.  The drawing is by Jean Cocteau.

Currently, the Maryhill Museum exhibits one-third of the entirety of the Théâtre at a time, on a three-year cycle. This meant, of course, that I would only see one-third of the mannequins during my visit, but I could live with that! My only regret is that none of the designs by Balenciaga were currently on display. (I might have to figure out a way to go back in future years??) But there were plenty of other notable fashion houses represented, as well as some I had not previously known about. Here are some of my favorites (taken with an I-phone, and no flash, making the quality less than desired in some instances):

Ball gown by Lucien LeLong, with white kid gloves and pink slippers

Ball gown by Lucien LeLong, with white kid gloves and pink slippers

Always a fan of Jacques Heim, I thought this mink coat and dress were amazing.

Always a fan of Jacques Heim, I thought this mink coat and dress were amazing.

Another evening gown, this one by Paquin. Imagine the morale boost these gowns would have given French women immediately post-war.

Another evening gown, this one by Paquin. Imagine the morale boost these gowns would have given French women immediately post-war.

Not all the fashions were ball gowns, however,  Here is a sports ensemble by Hermes:

Hermes copy

Honey suede jacket with black wool crepe skirt. The shoes are honey suede platform oxfords!

Day dresses and suits were in abundance:

This was actually called a cocktail ensemble, by Madeleine de Rauch. The white cotton embroidery on this synthetic linen was exquisite. She is wearing long cognac suede gloves and white suede shoes, too.

This was actually called a cocktail ensemble, by Madeleine de Rauch. The white cotton embroidery on this synthetic linen was exquisite. She is wearing long cognac suede gloves and white suede shoes, too.

Three day suits, from left to right, by Charles Montaigne, Robert Piguet, and Pierre Balmain. Such an abundance of riches!

Three day suits, from left to right, by Charles Montaigne, Robert Piguet, and Pierre Balmain. Such an abundance of riches!

Now this certainly a cocktail ensemble! By Martial & Armand, it feaur=tres a navy wol cat, with a blue and red striped silk faille dress, all topped off with a red straw hat trimmed in navy silk faille.

Now this is certainly a cocktail ensemble! By Martial & Armand, it features a navy wool coat, with a blue and red striped silk faille dress, all topped off with a red straw hat trimmed in navy silk faille.

This day ensemble by Robert Piguet shows a pink and gray heather wool box jacket over a black crepe dress, both of which look very current today.

This day ensemble by Robert Piguet shows a pink and gray heather wool box jacket over a black crepe dress, both of which look very current today.

One of my favorite dresses is shown in one of the street scenes above.  Here it is shown in the catalogue:

Made from black crepe de Chine printed with daisies and butterflies, trimmed with white lace rosette. The black suede gloves are by Hermes, while the straw boater is by Rose Valois.

Made from black crepe de Chine printed with daisies and butterflies, trimmed with a white lace rosette. The black suede gloves are by Hermes, while the straw boater is by Rose Valois.

Here is an example of one of the fashions which was not on display, but pictured in the catalogue. This raglan sleeve windowpane check coat is by Alex. Coats similar to this were so in vogue in the 1950s!

Here is an example of one of the fashions which was not on display, but pictured in the catalogue. This raglan sleeve windowpane check coat is by Alex. Coats similar to this were so in vogue in the 1950s!

And although not among my favorite fashions, this evening dress by Schiaparelli is not to be missed:

Mode Schiaparelli copy

The catalogue was for sale in the Museum Store (and it is also available on Amazon.) It not only gives a complete and extensive history of the Exhibit, it also includes a Catalogue Raisonne and many detailed images. Definitely worth your while if you are interested in finding out more about this amazing chapter in the history of Haute Couture, of which I have here barely scratched the surface.

There was much of other interest to see in the Maryhill Museum as well, including an extensive collection of early Native American art and artifacts, and some beautiful early blankets which complemented our earlier visit to the Pendleton store:

Pendleton blanket , c. 1910.

Pendleton blanket , c. 1910.

A round-corner Pendleton blanket, c. 1904.

A round-corner Pendleton blanket, c. 1904.

And who is this?

It's never too early to introduce my granddaughters to Haute Couture! Little Carolina and her big sister Aida got their first introduction to French fashion here, until they decided the Childrens' Activity Room was more fun! Many thanks to my daughter, Susanna, who kept them occupied while I Exhibit=gazed!

It’s never too early to introduce my granddaughters to Haute Couture! Little Carolina and her big sister Aida got their first introduction to French fashion here, until they decided the Childrens’ Activity Room was more fun! Many thanks to my daughter, Susanna, who kept them occupied while I exhibit-gazed!

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Filed under Fashion Exhibits, Uncategorized

At The Met

Much has already been written about the current fashion exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Manus x Machina. People far more savvy about current fashion than I am are certainly more qualified to offer a critique of the Exhibit. (Check out The Vintage Traveler’s three-part review of the Exhibit, for an excellent overview.) However, having just had the opportunity last week to view the Exhibit, I feel compelled to add my two cents.

The Exhibit Logo

The Exhibit Logo

I found the title of the Exhibit off-putting. Yes, I know it is a trendy way of saying “hand-made by(?) machine made,” but exactly how does one pronounce the title? It is not a comfortable invitation to what is a unique way of looking at haute couture fashion and fashion history.

The entrance to the Exhibit, which was difficult to find, especially with the crowds at the Museum on the day I attended, includes storyboards to introduce the viewer to the premise of the Exhibit. It is worth quoting from this introduction:

“Manus x Machina is structured around the métiers, or trades of dressmaking outlined in [Diderot’s] Encyclopedie, [which] placed these trades on the same footing as the arts and sciences, which had been regarded as the noblest forms of scholarly activity since Greek antiquity. The elevation of these . . . métiers served as an incendiary challenge to established prejudices against manual labor, biases that the authors sought to refute by showing the creativity and complexity such work involved.”   These trades – or métiers – which are still cornerstones of haute couture today, were listed as: embroidery, featherwork, artificial flowers, pleating, lacework, and leatherwork. Also included were sections on the actual arts of dressmaking and tailoring, including the development of toiles (muslins) and paper patterns. As lovely as some of the fashions were (but not all!), I found myself drawn to the storyboards in these sections for their clear explanations and definitions, which spoke to this dressmaker’s heart!

But first, some of the creations on display, culled by my hearty preference for classic and/or vintage fashion:

This cape and dress from the House of Chanel, Spring/Summer 2010 was stunning. The cape is made from “1,300 hand-pieced pink silk satin Flowers by Lemarie with pink frosted crystals.”

Met - Chanel cape copy

Although my photo for the next dress is very poor, I have to share it. From the House of Dior, Autumn/winter 2015-16, this evening dress is “machine-sewn, hand-finished, gray silk tulle and organza, hand glued with blue, orange, brown, and black rooster feathers by Lemarie.” It was simply remarkable and gives a whole new meaning to “King of the Barnyard!”

Met - rooster dress

The next two dresses, two of my favorites, are both by Norman Norell (American, 1900-1972). The dress on the left is from 1965, hand-embroidered with blue sequins, and the dress on the right, ca. 1953, is also hand-embroidered with blue-ombre sequins. Both of these dresses have a timeless quality to them, being chic, elegant and with an understated sexiness to them.

Met - Norell Dresses.PDF

Imagine my surprise when I saw this next dress. From the House of Givenchy, this evening gown from 1963, is made from a “hand-sewn orange cotton Mechlin-type lace hand-embroidered with red-orange glass beads, tinsel, and pieces of coral.”

Met Givenchy Dress

The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (USA) has a similar example, which I actually prefer. Circa 1964, it was owned and worn by Her Serene Highness, Princess Grace of Monaco and given by her to the collection:

MET - coral dress, Princess Grace copy

 

Of all the gorgeous Balenciaga cocktail dresses out there (and many surely owned by the Met), this example on the right, looked a bit dowdy to me. From 1963-64, it was “hand-sewn black silk machine-embroidered lace, hand-applied self-fabric flounces and silk satin bows.” The dress next to it is by Simone Rocha (Irish, born 1986), 2014, “Wet Lace Frill Dress,” so called by the use of nylon and polyester laminated with polyurethane foil, which evokes a wet look!

Met - Black Balenciaga dress copy

No exhibit is complete without an Yves Saint Laurent ensemble. This one, Spring/Summer 1963, was stunning with its overlay of machine embroidered cutwork, hand-stitched with guipure lace:

Met - Dior ensemble copy

I loved seeing this dress from the House of Dior, the prototype of which had been the feature of a Dior video in 2015. Hand-pleated, hand-embroidered with silk grosgrain ribbon, topped off with a green wool-silk crepe bodice. And don’t miss the Dior darts and the 1960-ish look of the armholes and overblouse styling:

Met - Dior pleated dress copy

Well, what could be more classic than a Chanel suit? Circa 1963-68, the description reads: “machine-sewn ivory wool boucle tweed, hand-applied navy and ivory wool knit trim hand-braided with interlocking chain stitch.” Those of us who have made one or more “classic French jackets” know how much hand-work is in one of these jackets!

Met Chanel suit

After reading the storyboards on tailoring and dressmaking, I really wonder where a Chanel jacket fits in? The tailoring division of a fashion house specializes in suits and structured garments, with an emphasis on “manipulating fabric on the grain,” and “precision and accuracy when cutting.” The dressmaking division “specializes in draping and soft construction,” “being less beholden to line and structure.” It seems to me that a Chanel jacket straddles the line between the two concepts, being structured, but with a soft fluidity that feels like a dream to the wearer.

The final storyboard, which I found captivating, was the treatise on toiles and the related development of dressmaker’s dummies. To quote: “Alexis Lavigne, a French professor, introduced one of the earliest patented dummies in the 1850s. His figures – composed of papier-mache lightly padded with cotton batting or wadding and covered in pieced and seamed canvas – contributed to the precision with which a garment could be fitted and gradually evolved to help delineate measurements and geometries essential to dressmaking.” Leave it to the French to be innovative in this regard!

There was much in the Exhibit that unfortunately brought to mind this quote from P. J. O’Rourke: “Never wear anything that panics the cat.”   But there was plenty to admire, and obviously, that is what I concentrated on. The mark of any good exhibit is its ability to make you think and expand your knowledge, and this one, despite its awkward title, certainly does that.

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Filed under Capes, Cocktail dresses, Dior darts, Fashion Exhibits, Uncategorized

Gazing at Gussets and Fashion Exhibits

We are almost halfway through the sewing year! Time for me to just keep plugging along, being grateful for any hours I can spend sewing – or dreaming about sewing. Lately it seems I have spent more time dreaming about it than actually accomplishing anything. But that’s not quite true. I have actually done a lot of sewing (I call it necessary sewing) – just not anything worth sharing. But that is about to change.

I am working on a yellow linen shirtdress, using this pattern:

I am making the short sleeve version - but a little shorter!

I am making the short sleeve version – but a little shorter!

I am really getting to be a fan of kimono sleeves. They were incredibly popular in the 1950s (and early ‘60s), and their construction varies according to the type of gusset used. The dress in this pattern has a gusset that forms part of the sleeve, itself.

Usually gussets are diamond shaped. However, the curved lower edge shows that this gusset incorporates part of the sleeve in it.

Usually gussets are diamond shaped. However, the curved lower edge shows that this gusset incorporates part of the sleeve in it.

The instructions for inserting the gusset are quite explicit and interesting, I think. The first step is to work a “bar” across the point on the bodice where the matching point of the gusset is placed. I have actually never seen this done, but it makes sense as it reinforces that stress point.

Gazing at Gussets 1st diagran

I also like the double stitching on the interior seams of the gusset as shown in this section:

Gazing at Gussets 2nd diagram

Here is how the finished short sleeve is diagrammed:

Gazing at Gussets 3rd diagram

And here are some photos of the finished gussets on my dress:

Gazing at Gussets

This photo clearly shows how the gusset becomes part of the underpart of the sleeve.

This photo clearly shows how the gusset becomes part of the under-section of the sleeve.

Here is an inside look. While the dress is underlined in a very light weight cotton/linen blend, I opted not to underline the gusset, in order to add to flexibility. I got this brilliant idea from Laura Mae of Lilacs and Lace sewing blog.

Here is an inside look. While the dress is underlined in a very light weight cotton/linen blend, I opted not to underline the gusset, in order to add to flexibility. I got this brilliant idea from Laura Mae of Lilacs and Lace sewing blog.

The seam you see at the top of this photo is the shoulder seam which runs down the length of the sleeve.

The seam you see at the top of this photo is the shoulder seam which runs down the length of the sleeve.

I managed to tear myself away from my sewing room for a few hours this week to go to see an exhibit at the Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (USA). Entitled Philadelphia In Style, the exhibit featured fashions either made, worn or purchased in Philadelphia, PA over the course of about 100 years (1880-1980).

Duskin - Exhibit title

All are part of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University in Philadelphia, a veritable treasure trove of designer, haute couture and ready-to-wear dresses, coats, ensembles, shoes, handbags, and accessories of all types. The Exhibit has special meaning for those of us with Philadelphia ties, but universal meaning for lovers of fine fashion anywhere.

Although the clothing on display was fascinating and, for the most part, lovely, it was the numerous fashion illustrations, framed and lined up one after the other, which really caught my attention. They had all been done in 1954 for a specialty ladies’ shop in Philadelphia, called Nan Duskin. The most amazing thing is that each one had a swatch of the intended fabric taped in the corner of each drawing. Here is a sampling:

Duskin sketch - purple dress

The buttons were still in question for this dress – note the line in the upper right side “buttons?”

Such a lovely coat! Note the fabric swatch, held in place with yellowing tape!

Such a lovely coat! Note the fabric swatch, held in place with yellowing tape!

So many of the illustrations were of dressmaker suits. This one is made in brown checked wool.

So many of the illustrations were of dressmaker suits. This one is made in brown checked wool.

I love the saucy pose in this sketch - and the posy perched on the shoulder!

I love the saucy pose in this sketch – and the posy perched on the shoulder!

One of my favorites: in red, of course!

One of my favorites: in red, of course!

Here are a couple of the fashions represented in the Exhibit:

This was called a Day Ensemble. It bears the table "Irene for Nan Duskin." This was Irene Lentz Gibbons, 1952-53, USA.

This was called a Day Ensemble. It bears the table “Irene for Nan Duskin.” (Irene Lentz Gibbons, 1952-53, USA)

This shirtwaist dress, Norman Norell for Trina-Norell, circa 1955, had finely done bound buttonholes. the fabric is s ilk and wool brocade.

This shirtwaist dress, Norman Norell for Trina-Norell, circa 1955, had finely done bound buttonholes. The fabric is silk and wool brocade.

The Exhibit did manage to include one of the most unattractive Chanel suits I think I have ever seen.

The Chanel suit on the left is shown with an ultra-suede shirtdress by Halston, on the right.

The Chanel suit on the left is shown with an ultra-suede shirtdress by Halston, on the right.

But it was still fascinating to look at the cuff detail:

Duskin Chanel suit detail

One of the most charming displays in the Exhibit was a collection of hat boxes from the stores in Philadelphia which were the purveyors of so many fine fashions over the decades.

Duskin - hat box display

As a lover of pretty boxes and bags, I found this vignette not only delightful, but also evocative of the thought and care inherent in buying and wearing beautiful fashions. They reminded me of the same little thrill I get when a piece of beautiful fabric which I have purchased shows up in the mail, elegantly presented in crisp tissue and tied with silky ribbons.   It makes it oh-so-easy to fall in love immediately!

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Filed under bound buttonholes, Coco Chanel, Day dresses, Dressmaker suits, Fashion Exhibits, Gussets, kimono sleeves, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s