Category Archives: Fashion history

Diversions – in Print

Works of fiction which feature some aspect of sewing or fashion are often some of my favorite reading experiences.  While I do not necessarily seek them out, if I hear of such a novel, and it’s reviews are positive, then I will add it to my reading queue (similar to my sewing queue!) And sometimes, there is a surprise sewing element in a novel – those are the bonuses.

The last three novels I have read, in quick succession, were all very different, but each one used sewing and/or fashion as foundational premises either for the plot or for character development.  So, here are short reviews of each one, in the order in which I read them.

The first novel, Beneficence, by Meredith Hall, came to my attention by a review in The Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition back in the Fall.  The subtle role sewing plays in this novel makes it one of those bonus books. Some of the words used to describe this novel, and rightly so, have been “haunting,” luminous,” and “exquisite.”  It takes place in Maine (USA) and spans the years from the late 1940s to the early ‘60s. The story is about the Senter family, who owns a dairy farm, and the devastating tragedy which befalls the family of five.  Early in the book, one gets the sense of impending doom.  At this point, in no way did I have any inkling of the role sewing would have in the development of one of the main characters, Dodie, the daughter.  The masterful writing – eerily beautiful, and very affecting – is of such quality that it was only after I had finished the book did I realize how her sewing helped to define Dodie. The sewing references even hint at the blessings ahead for her in the reader’s mind at book’s end.  She is a mender, a creator, and a giver of things she has sewn.  She is wise beyond her years.  She is a character I will long remember.  The book is a masterpiece.  

One word of warning, however, is necessary for this book.  Parts of it are very difficult emotionally to read.  I cried a lot reading it, perhaps crying the most at the book’s end when grace and wisdom finally replace anguish for each of the Senters.  If you are feeling in any way fragile right now, then plan to read this book at another, more secure time.  

Feeling emotionally drained (but fulfilled) after reading Beneficence, I wanted something light-hearted and fun.  And like a blessing, this book came to me as a Christmas gift from my daughter, Susanna.  

This novel first appeared in 1993, and it has been recently re-released.

The Women in Black, by Madeline St. John, is set in the early 1950s in Sydney, Australia.  It follows four women (actually 3 women and one 16-year-old girl) who work at Goode’s Department Store in Fine Dresses and Model Dresses (Model Dresses being the most expensive.)  The time of year is December, when cocktail and party dress buying is at a frenzy!  Patty and Fay are in the fine dresses, Magda manages the Model Gowns, and Lisa is a temporary hire who helps out wherever she is needed.  In many ways, however, it is Lisa’s story.  Magda takes a loving interest in her, and when Lisa is exposed to the confectionary frocks in Model Gowns, she comes alive.  She particularly has her eye on one dress, which is called “Lisette.”  And when she finally has the opportunity to try the dress on, this is what transpires: 

“Lisette was, of course, everything which could have been dreamed; like all the great works of the French couture, it was designed to look beautiful not simply as a thing in itself, but as the clothing of a female form.  It took on then the property of vitality and movement, that is, of rhythm:  it became finally incarnate.  Lisa stood, overwhelmed, staring into the great cheval glass.   . . . The frock changed her absolutely; the revelation which had come upon her when she had first been shown the Model gowns was now complete.”  

What a fun book, written by someone (sadly now deceased) who understood the transformative power of dress and dresses.  Treat yourself and read this book!

Just the title of the third book I am sharing is intriquing enough to catch your attention.  

Based loosely on a true story, but definitely a work of fiction, The French Model, by Alexandra Joel,  is the story of a stunningly beautiful young Australian woman who makes her way to Paris and becomes a model in Christian Dior’s House in post-war France.  In leaving Australia, she is escaping not only from an unhappy marriage, but also from revelations about her past which make her question her identity and all those she has ever loved.  This book has it all:  mystery, espionage, love, fashion, friendship, sacrifice, sex, “very important person” sightings, political intrigue, history, and courage – all in a complex story line which will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The writing is lovely and descriptive, the main characters endearing.  Some of the story is a bit contrived – or unbelievable – but I was generally able to overlook those parts to enjoy the larger storyline.  And I loved the emphasis on the workings of the House of Christian Dior. Anyone who loves vintage fashion – or historical fiction set at the end of World War II – should find escaping into this story a happy place to be.  

One final observation about these three books.  The dust jackets are works of art.  Not unlike a perfectly fitted and flattering dress, each one is so perfectly evocative of what lies within, capturing the very essence of the books they adorn.  As I look again and again at each one, it takes me back to those stories, those places and those indelible characters which gave me so much reading pleasure.  

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Filed under Book reviews, Christian Dior, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized

A Fabric and Its Label

Find me a beautiful vintage fabric, accompanied by its original label, and I will tell its story. 

 
What started off as a simple eBay purchase evolved into something quite unexpected, with secrets and history to reveal. It is all about this piece of vintage Forstmann wool, purchased within the last two years.  

This wool is 56″ wide and I have 1 1/3 yards, just enough for either a skirt or a simple dress.

I was drawn to its vibrant plaid combination of red and green and black and white.  An extra bonus was its attached label and famous brand name.  I was familiar with Forstmann woolens from the time I was a child in the 1950s, and I was aware of its renowned quality.  But I was quite unprepared for the reality of my purchase.  

Immediately upon opening the package, I was struck with two things:  the saturation of the colors and the buttery softness and easy hand of the wool.  I was thrilled with my purchase, and carefully placed it away in my fabric closet, intending to think about it until I had a plan in place.   I would occasionally get it out to admire it, so I felt I was quite familiar with it.  However, it was not until this past Spring when I suddenly realized it was an uneven plaid.  Having just agonized over a dress made from an uneven Linton tweed plaid, and having by this time determined that I wanted to make a sheath dress from this wool, I had one of those dreaded “uh-oh” moments.  My plan seemed to be self-destructing.  An uneven plaid would not do for such a dress.

And then I did something I had yet to do – I opened out the full expanse of the yardage.  That was when I realized the brilliance of the woolen manufacturer.  The wool was loomed with a right and left side, with a center “panel,“ making it possible to have an even orientation of the plaid. Thus, I would be able to balance the plaid on the front and also on the back of the dress I hoped to make.

In the center of this photo is the center point of the wool, with half the width to one side and half to the outer side. Absolutely brilliant.
Here is a close-up, in which the lovely herringbone weave is also beautifully apparent.

With this exciting discovery, I then wanted to know more about when this fabric was manufactured.  I knew that Forstmann Woolen Company had advertised in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine in the 1950s and ‘60s, and I also knew Forstmann woolens were often the fabrics of choice for fashions displayed in the magazine.  A little bit of perusing and detective work helped me narrow down an approximate span of years for the production of my wool.

This full-page advertisement from the October/November 1953 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine features the label current at that time.  It is probably a precursor to the label I received with my wool.  

I love this ad for many reasons, but especially for the red coat. Isn’t it just so elegant?

I found no label pictured from 1955, but the cover from February/March features a suit made from Forstmann tweed:

This has to be one of my favorite magazine covers of the vintage Vogue Pattern Book Magazines I have.

The inside front cover from October/November 1959 is once again a full-page ad for Forstmann.  The label shown is similar to mine, but not exact. 

This label is another variation, without the descriptive phrase “100% Virgin Wool.” Again, this ad has beautiful depictions of wool, with Vogue patterns chosen for each of them.

It seems that by the second half of 1960, Forstmann Woolens had entered into a partnership with Stevens’ Fabrics.  

This ad was prominently placed on the inside front cover of the October/November 1960 edition of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

Proof of this partnership was quite apparent by the second half of 1962.  The label featured in this ad actually has Stevens Fabrics woven into the logo.  

From the August/September 1962 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

My best guess, from the above references, is that my piece of fabric was manufactured in the second half of the decade of the 1950s.  I have always considered that span of years as the golden age of American fashion.  My fortunate purchase reinforces the knowledge for me of the excellence of design, quality and craftsmanship available to the home sewing industry at that time.  Now – it is up to me to do justice to this piece of Forstmann wool. Amazingly, and with good fortune, the story of this fabric continues some 65 years after its manufacture. 

And here’s to a new year – 2021 – with its own secrets and stories to reveal. May they all be happy ones, waiting to be discovered and shared . . .

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Filed under fabric labels, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

A Fabric Story

Several years ago I found this fabric on the website of Britex Fabrics in San Francisco.  As I have always been intrigued with “alphabet” prints, and I love red, making this purchase was an easy decision.  

At first glance, it appears to be just that – an alphabet print.  But if you look closely, you start to realize that the letters represented are not all the alphabet.  In fact, only 7 letters of the alphabet are represented.  They are indeed only the letters in the surname of the manufacturer, Marcel Guillemin et Cie.  The manufacturer’s name is in the selvedge.  

I decided to buy two yards, thinking I would one day make a blouse.  A couple of years went by and I had occasion to visit Britex while on one of my trips to California.  By this time I had started making Classic French Jackets, and I was always on the lookout for potential lining fabrics for a future jacket.  To my great surprise, the bolt of this exact fabric was on the silk table, which gave me the opportunity to purchase another yard “just in case.”  (I’m not sure why I didn’t buy another two yards.)  This one-yard length joined its sibling in my fabric closet.  I thought about it a lot, and often got it out to admire it, still not committing to its actual use, however.  

Fast forward several years – to 2020, to be exact.  A plan started to form in my mind for this fabric.  And it all had to do with this blouse pattern from 1957.  I envisioned this blouse made into a dress, and that was that.  Decision made!

I used View B for a blouse several years ago, and have always loved it. Why not a dress?

Sitting in my sewing queue over the summer, this fabric kept talking to me.  Although at one time, most fabric manufacturers proudly included their name on the selvedge (and even sometimes provided labels), it is somewhat rare to find this selvedge notation now.  So, I wanted to know “Who is Marcel Guillemin?”  

I was able to find a little bit of information online, but only enough to raise more questions.  The most valuable information came from my personal “library” of fashion/fashion history books, which not only provide me with inspiration but also background information.  Although I still have many blanks to fill in, this is what I discovered – and what a surprise it has been!  

  1. Marcel Guillemin et Cie was a “wholesaler established in Paris in 1930; manufactured silk and synthetic fabrics; still active today.”  I found this entry in Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, by Lesley Ellis Miller, V&A Publishing, London, 2007. 
  2.  The company provided “ribbons, silk and velvet” for Balenciaga (ibid) and silks for Christian Dior.  Each couturier had a list of textile purveyors whom they used for their creations, and it was exciting for me to find Marcel Guillemin among the listed.  Anyone who knows of the post-World War II efforts to revitalize the devastated fashion industry can appreciate what Guillemin and other textile concerns faced at that time. “The French luxury textile industry was a fragile one throughout the postwar period.  To assist manufacturers, the French government gave a subsidy to couture houses if they used 90 percent French textiles in a collection.”  Christian Dior: History and Modernity 1947-1957, by Alexandra Palmer, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 2018., p. 69.
This well-known dress from the House of Christian Dior, 1947, was made in silk from Marcel Guillemin et Cie. (Ibid., p. 107)

3. The company also produced silk scarves. A number of silk scarves which I have found pictured online appear to be from the early years of the company.  But it also appears that Guillemin became known for its scarves at least through the 1960s.  

This advertisement from the 1950s with an illustration by Rene Gruau features “Les Echarpes de Marcel Guillemin”

A few vintage scarves with the Guillemin name printed on them are currently available for sale in various online shops and sites.  This one appeared in an Etsy shop a few weeks ago, and I was quick to purchase it. 

 The seller listed it as “probably 1980s,” but I believe it to be from the 1960s when Marcel Guillemin et Cie produced a number of scarves in bold geometric designs.  This one is quintessentially 1960s’ “flower power.”  And the silk is lustrous, of the best quality.  

When I found this scarf, I knew it would be perfect to pair with my recently completed linen dress.

The fabrics we use in our sewing is of such importance to a successful outcome.  I have treasured this opportunity to learn more about this fabric and the storied history of Marcel Guillemin et Cie. 

Of course, every story benefits from a happy ending.  I have still to finish writing – or should I say, sewing – the ending, but with any luck, it will be the successful completion of my red silk dress.  Stay tuned for the next chapter.

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Filed under Christian Dior, Fashion history, silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Dreaming in Color

Way back in January of this year – which seems like a lifetime ago now – making plans for my 2020 sewing was an exciting exercise.  I was eagerly looking forward to some upcoming events, including one in early May which was going to require at least two new dresses.  One of these dresses would be worn to a “fancy” evening.  In this casual world, what dressmaker does not relish the idea of making a dressy frock?  It was definitely going to be a fun trip and a varied multi-day event.

C         A        N        C        E        L        L        E       D

Needless to say, that trip and all its events were cancelled.  Other special occasions were also cancelled, along with many that were not so special.  I looked anew at my sewing plans.  I shifted some things around, eliminated others.  But I kept going back to the thought of that dressy dress.  The fabric was so cheerful, the colors so bright I could not abandon the idea of making it, even without an occasion for its wearing. So in early May I decided to go ahead with my original plans, albeit without a deadline.

I had purchased this silk charmeuse from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in New York City several years ago.  It reminded me of fabric which one might see in a design by Christian Dior, due to its “Impressionistic” appearance.

The subtitle for this informative book is The Inspiration and Influence of Impressionism at the House of Dior.

When I unfolded the fabric to give it a press, I saw it was actually a Pierre Cardin design.  It struck me as somewhat unusual for Cardin, so of course I wanted to know if there had ever been any connection between the two couturiers or their fashion houses.  I went to my St. James Fashion Encyclopedia.  Well, yes, as a matter of fact there was:  “From his earliest work for the House of Dior up to the 1950s [my italics],Cardin displays an interest in the sculptural qualities of cut and construction that are still his trademarks in the 1990s.” (p. 87, The St. James Fashion Encyclopedia, Visible Ink Press, Detroit, Michigan, c1997.)

It may be a bit of a stretch to suppose this fabric does indeed have a Dior connection, but still, I wonder.  Could Cardin – now at his advanced age of 97 – and his fashion house still be influenced by those early days with Dior?  Of Dior’s style direction in the early 1950s, Christian Dior himself wrote ”…Colors were inspired by the pictures of the Impressionists and evoked the fields of flowers dear to Renoir and Van Gogh.”  (p. 5, Dior Impressions, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc., New York, New York, c2013.)  It is fascinating to ponder.

Now back to topic:  I started my dress.  I got the silk organza underlining marked and cut, I cut out the fashion fabric, I basted the two layers together, ready to start the actual construction.  Then I had a bad day.  It had nothing to do with my progress or the process, which was going along fine.  I just had this dismal feeling this was all for naught.  Why would I need such a lovely silk dress?  Where would I wear it?  Were all these hours I was spending in my sewing room just a waste of time? What purpose do all these pretty clothes serve without any social gatherings and occasions to which to wear them?  I think it is fair to say I was having a serious existential sewing crisis.  It was dispiriting and discouraging to say the least.  It made me question my otherwise passionate commitment to couture sewing.

That night I had a dream – in vivid color.  I saw myself in a fancy restaurant which was bustling with people – and I was wearing the very dress I had started – now completed and quite notable in its floral print of bright greens, and pinks and reds and purple.   I was seated at a table with three friends and we were lunching. (Not sure this dress is quite the thing I would wear to a midday lunch, but that’s dreams for you.)   The four of us were having the best time. We were laughing and totally engaged in our conversation and in our friendship. It was lovely and it was memorable.

And there was not a facemask in sight.

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Filed under Christian Dior, Fashion history, Formal or fancy dresses, Love of sewing, sewing in silk, silk, Uncategorized

What Do You Think of Sewing Contests?

And – what do you know about them?  One of the more venerable sewing contests is the annual Make It With Wool.  Founded in 1947, it is still going strong and features winners in various categories/age groups.  Prizes for winners and runners’-up include scholarships, sewing machines and fabrics, and of course, national recognition in the field.  Pattern Review sponsors several sewing competitions throughout each year, in addition to a “sewing bee.”   Its followers are legion at this point, and it is always a coup to be a winner, selected by readers’ votes.

But what would you say if I told you that in 1956 the Singer Sewing Machine Company introduced a national sewing contest with prize money totaling $125,000?   The 1st Grand Prize carried the unbelievable reward of $25,000.  In current 2020 American dollars, that is almost $240,000!  Not only that, the 33 regional first prize winners also received a free trip to New York.  Take a look at the following two-page ad which appeared in the February/March 1957 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine, announcing the second year of the competition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vogue Pattern Book Magazine of August/September 1957 included this page “as we go to press…”

Vogue Pattern Company was rightly proud of their representation in this contest and in others.

And then here is the feature article on those winners in the following issue (October/November, 1957):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judging was based on “fashion points of appearance, fit and selection of design, colour and fabric, plus construction points of quality and accuracy of cutting, sewing and finishing.”  Isn’t this what most of us strive to attain in our own sewing?

By the next year, 1958, the contest included a new category, called the Young Homemaker Division, for young women between the ages of 18 – 25.  $9,000 of prize money was awarded to the top four winners.  What beautiful dresses and ensembles they created!

I suspect these young women continued to sew throughout their lives.

Also that year, the General Federation of Women’s Clubs sponsored their own sewing contest.  The theme of the contest was “the ideal costume for a clubwoman’s wardrobe.”  Points of consideration in the judging were: “fashion-rightness,” “versatility and appropriateness for club occasions,” “becomingness to the wearer,” “over-all fashion effect,” and “workmanship.”  24 of the state finalists submitted entries consisting of a dress with its own jacket or coat.  That is still to this day a winning combination, classic and chic.

The prize money was certainly less impressive in this contest, at $250, $150 and $100 for the first-, second-, and third-place winners, but imagine the prestige of winning for “your” club, at a time when there were 1,485 clubs represented in the contest!

By 1963, Singer Sewing Company had started the Young Stylemaker Contest for girls aged 10 – 21.  The caption on the following article tells it all:

Included in the trip to Paris for the two winners was a tour of the famous Parisian couture houses.  Can you imagine having such an opportunity at that point in your life?

This contest had expanded its scope by 1965, ferrying fifteen finalists to Rome via a chartered jet for a 5-day stay before the final judging of the Stylemaker Contest.  Notes by the contestants included the charming observation “how very chic the Italian women are.”

By 1969, this contest had drawn more than 93,000 participants!  As part of their prize, the three winners each were given an all-expense paid, one-week trip for two to London, Paris or Rome.  The purpose of the Stylemaker Contest was to “encourage young and creative talents in Fashion sewing.”

By 1971, it appears that changes were in the air for the Stylemaker Contest.  Whittled down to two winning divisions, only the overall winner received a trip to London, Paris or Rome for two, although both final winners also received cash prizes of $800 and $600 respectively.  The “heyday” period of home fashion sewing was sadly beginning to draw to a close.

Needless to say, fashion sewing contests no longer command such notable and generous prize money or trips.  Those were heady times in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, likely never to be experienced again.  However, I would like to think a new sewing heyday is upon us – or perhaps we are it.  What place do contests have in our current global community of sewing?

I rarely enter sewing contests, not for any reason other than the fact that I have so many projects in my queue that the last thing I need to put my attention on is something that is not top priority for me.  But that doesn’t mean I will never enter a contest.  I actually think I probably should at some point. So – again, what do you think of them?   Sewing is creative, so obviously contests today still value and encourage creativity.  Surely emphasis is still placed on fashion appropriateness, workmanship, style, a flattering assessment, fabric and color selection. It is precisely these goals which make fashion sewing so exciting, at least for me, and I suspect for most of us.

Let’s learn a little from the past and make it new again.

 

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Filed under Fashion history, Love of sewing, Mid-Century style, Sewing Contests, The Conde Nast Publications, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

“A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing” – Book Review and GIVEAWAY

Two of the most creative and stylish ladies I know in this global fashion sewing community, Sarah Gunn of Goodbye Valentino, and Julie Starr, have collaborated once again on a book dedicated to our craft.  Their first book, The Tunic Bible, published by C&T Publishing, met with acclaim and well-deserved enthusiasm, establishing itself as the go-to standard for creating one-of-a-kind, flattering tunics.  In A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing, Sarah and Julie broaden their focus to cover a range of styles, namely those that have stood the test of time and are considered “classics.”

I love the size of this book. At 9.5″ x 7.5″, it is easy to hold and use.

The book is very handily compartmentalized into 30 chosen styles, the “classics,” thoughtfully documented by Sarah and Julie.  I would have loved to be privy to their brainstorming sessions on what styles to include in this list.  There are the obvious ones, of course, such as the pencil skirt, the sheath dress, the shirtdress, and the French jacket.  But they also cleverly identified some styles not always necessarily thought of as “classic.”  But indeed, they are, and truly deserve their place in this book.  Think Halter dress or top, Palazzo Pants, Jeans-style Jacket, and Menswear Pajamas!  All these and more are included in this book.

Each chapter deals with one ”Classic” and its history and who, throughout the years, has worn it.  Also included are sewing tips, fabric suggestions, and styling guidelines for each classic.  Some of the chapters include a cautionary paragraph on how to avoid the “Frump Factor.”  Simple changes like altering the hem length or wearing the appropriate shoes can change one of these classics from frumpy to fabulous.  Pay attention to the authors’ suggestions because they know about what they are writing!

Here is just one example of tips and styling ideas included with each category.

Accompanying each chapter is also one of my favorite aspects of this book – a carefully chosen quote.  I thought I had come across just about every quote about fashion and sewing that was ever spoken or written.  But somehow, Sarah and Julie have discovered some real gems and placed them perfectly in the book.  Take for example this quote by Winston Churchill included in the chapter for the pencil skirt: “A good speech should be like a woman’s skirt:  long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.”

Or consider this one by Georgio Armani in the chapter on the Bateau Neckline: “Elegance is not standing out, but being remembered.”  As one who loves a bateau neckline precisely for its elegant appearance, I found this quote perfectly placed.

The center section of the book, nestled comfortably among the many chapters, is “the Classic Garment Gallery.”  I was very flattered to be asked to contribute to this section, which is a compilation of classic styles sewn by “members” of the worldwide sewing community.  Here you can see these classic styles modeled by the makers, and it is a marvel to take this all in.  Yes, this is a section to return to again and again to get inspiration.

And speaking of inspiration, the absolutely delightful illustrations by Beth Briggs will not only captivate you, they will also provide you with styling ideas and concepts.

At the back of the book is a carefully considered list of Resources.  Included are lists of Fabric Books; Fabric Vendors; Fabric Shopping Around the Globe; Trims, Tools, and Notions; Related Articles, Videos, and Online Classes; and Sewing Instruction and Alteration Books.  No beginning or advanced devotee of fashion sewing should be without this list of Resources.

Well, no fashion sewing book is complete without a pattern, and I am happy to report that included with A Stylish Guide to Classic Sewing is a multi-sized pattern for the Goodbye Valentino modern classic pencil skirt.  There is nothing quite like a pencil skirt for a basic wardrobe component.  This is a skirt to be made time and again, following the precise instructions included in the back of the book.

This is a sewing book, and as such, targets those of us whose passion is sewing our own fashions.  However, there is much in this book which would be of value to anyone wishing to enhance or perfect her own style.  Likewise, it should be inspirational to those just beginning to sew for themselves as well as those who just aspire to it!  How perfect is this quote from Audrey Hepburn (page 161): “The most attractive accessory a woman has is confidence.”  With this book in hand, you will both sew and dress with confidence and style.

And now, it is with great excitement that I am able to offer my readers a chance to win a copy of this book, compliments of C&T Publishing. Should the winner be a resident of the United States, he or she will receive a print copy of the book;  an international winner will receive a digital copy of the book.   For a chance to win, please leave a comment with this blog post no later than  Sunday, December 8th at 12 noon, Eastern Standard Time.  I will draw the winner late afternoon on Sunday, December 8th.

To read more reviews, and for more inspiration, please visit the following sites (dates indicate the day of review):

Dec 2  Lori VanMaanen

Blog – girlsinthegarden.com

Instagram -@girlsinthegarden

 

Dec 3 Andrea Birkan

Instagram – @andreabirkan

 

Dec 4 Anita Morris

Blog – anitabydesign.com

Instagram – @anitabydesign

 

Dec 6 Alex Florea

Blog – sewrendipity.com

Instagram – @sewrendipity

 

Dec 7 Lucy VanDoorn

Blog – myloveaffairwithsewing.com

Instagram – @myloveaffairwithsewing

 

Dec 7 Cennetta Burwell

Blog – themagonanystylist@blogspot.com

Instagram – @cennetta_burwell

 

Dec 8 Manju Nittala

Blog – sewmanju.com

Instagram – @sewmanju

 

Dec 8 Dorcas Ross

Instagram – @lonestarcouture

 

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Filed under Book reviews, Fashion commentary, Fashion history, Uncategorized

Fashion and Friendship

There is no dearth of books about fashion available for reading or just perusing.  Most of those, however, are books intended for an adult audience, so I am always delighted to find a “fashion book” written and illustrated for children.  I have always found that these books written for children are of equal delight for adults, and especially so when said adult can share them with an interested child or grandchild.

For Audrey with love:  Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy, by Philip Hopman is just such a book.

Copyright text and illustrations 2016; English translation copyright 2018 by NorthSouth Books, Inc., New York. Available in bookstores and on Amazon.

Written originally in Dutch and published in the Netherlands in 2016, this book was translated into English and published in the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in 2018.  Philip Hopman is not only the author, he is also the illustrator. His whimsical drawings are captivating both for their fashion sense and for their charming renditions of Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy.

This is truly a story of friendship, but of friendship born out of a shared appreciation of beautiful clothing, Givenchy being, of course, the designer of those stunning clothes, and Audrey Hepburn being the client.  She was the one who could wear his designs like no other!

By the time they met, Givenchy was already a sought after designer, with an impressive roster of clients.  Among those clients were Greta Garbo, Grace Kelly, Jackie Kennedy, Wallis Simpson, and many others.

(Should you purchase this book for a child in your life, I recommend reading it through once or twice by yourself. Some of the text needs to be read across from the left to the right page, top to bottom, for the story line to be most meaningful, especially for a non-reader. This is a minor detail, but an important one for the enjoyment of its storyline.)

He initially claimed that he had no time to design for the rising movie star, but once she tried on a few of his clothes, he realized she was the perfect fit for his designs, both in style and in essence.   They became best friends, with a lasting connection and concern for each other that transcended the clothes.   Audrey was known to have said “When I wear his [Givenchy’s] clothes, I feel safe.  I’m not afraid of anything.”

This is a sweet book, but the success of such a children’s book is how it is received by this younger audience.  Does it engage them? Does it tell a story that is meaningful to them?  Does it start a conversation?  Does it spark imagination?  Is it a book that can be read over and over and still be enjoyed?

I purchased this book specifically for my two granddaughters’ visit with us this summer.  These are two little girls (currently six and four years of age) who like clothes and like dresses, so I felt fairly certain they would like this book.  What I wasn’t prepared for was how well it captured their imagination.  Before we even got to the title page, they were immersed in the lining pages.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They looked at the silhouette of each dress, loved the wide-brimmed hat with the white streamers, and decided the red dress was the one they liked the best.

Each page brought new delights for them, and they picked out their favorite designs as we read through the text.  We talked about how sometimes dreams don’t come true (when young, Audrey wanted to be a ballet dancer, but was told she was too tall, and her feet were too big!)  But we decided when one dream is crushed, there are other ones to pursue.  We talked about friendship, and we talked about how important it is to care for other people, no matter how busy and famous one might be.

But mostly, we talked about the clothes!  And that red dress?  Little four-year-old Carolina asked me if I will make that dress for her some day.  How can I refuse such a request?  Of course, I said YES.

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The Best Laid Plans

The best laid plans sometimes need revision.  As a person who likes to make careful lists and schedules, I find it difficult at times when life conspires to upset those plans.  Especially difficult is when my sewing plans go awry!

I have been dreaming about making this coat in my treasured vintage pink wool.

With new enthusiasm after seeing the Dior Exhibit in Denver, I was sure this coat would be well underway by the end of March. However, for an unexpected, albeit happy, change of events, here we are at the end of March and all I have finished is my toile.  But my enthusiasm is still on track!

A fun part of any project in which I use a Vogue Designer pattern is devoted to finding out more about the initial debut of the pattern, and documentation of its appearance in Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.  Although I had a good hunch that this pattern was from the mid-sixties, I was quite delighted to see it included in a feature of new Designer patterns debuting in  the October/November 1965 VPBM.       .

The caption for my coat pattern, top and center, reads: “DIOR: The ensemble to wear all year – a dirndled dress and a coat that’s shaped high and narrow.”

 Of course this was when Marc Bohan was the Creative Director at Christian Dior, a period of the 1960s known for its gorgeous dressmaker coats and ensembles.  Here is a sampling of some other designs appearing in the same time frame in a few Vogue Pattern Book Magazines.

I actually own this pattern, too. I have always loved the look of this coat.  This pattern is shown in the same issue of Vogue Pattern Book Magazine as the Dior design, October/November 1965.  What a great year for coats.

This kimono-sleeved coat was shown made in textured pineapple wool by Einiger. I made my purple coat from vintage Einiger wool, so I know what fabulous quality it is.

This coat features a spread collar on a low V-neck.  This coat and the one above are shown in the February/March 1966 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

This coat is described as being “the total look of the Chanelesque tradition.” It, too, was made from “mossy-surfaced” Einiger wool.

And this coat is reminiscent of the Dior design I am making, with its pointed collar, straight-shape and concealed closing. The tubular belt is a brilliant addition. This design is by Guy Laroche and both it and the pink coat shown above were included in the February/March 1964 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine.

Back to my toile: I made the first one without any alterations to the pattern.  The first thing I noticed is that the horizontal seam which extends around the back and angles up on either side of the front, seemed to add extra “baggage” in the lower back.

Here was my first toile atop the waxed marking paper. This shows the lower front and back piece, with its angled side seam.

The seam was designed to be below the waistline, but I determined it might look better on me if it were reset to fall exactly on the waist.  This adjustment would keep the spirit of the design, but would be more flattering on me for some reason.

I made another slight adjustment to the shoulder line.  First I cut the shoulder line on the body of the coat back about ½ inch on either side, to reduce some excess fabric across the upper chest.  That made some pulling in the top of the sleeves. So then I added about ½ inch to the top half/curve of each sleeve.  So it was an even swap, just distributed differently.

This shows my markings on the upper shoulder.

And the adjustments to the top of the sleeves.

Interestingly, the sleeves have no shaping by darts or seams on this pattern.  They seemed a bit too full to me, so I tapered the seam to reduce the width of each sleeve by about 1.5 inches.  I have had to make this adjustment to other coat patterns from the same time period, so perhaps a fuller sleeve is a hallmark of that era.  I did not want to narrow the sleeves too much, as they need to be comfortable to wear over long sleeved dresses and sweaters.

I am contemplating adding a half belt, secured with buttons to the back of the coat.  That’s a decision I’ll make as the coat comes together.  The drape of the wool, as opposed to the drape of the muslin, may convince me I do not need it, but I rather like the appearance of a back belt.

Here is a rough mock-up of a possible belt, but this needs much more thought!

I found this picture of another coat which has a high back belt, probably about the length of one which I might add. It is so helpful to find examples like this of design details.

Lots of pink featured in coats from the 1960s. This design was featured in the February/March 1968 International Vogue Pattern Book.

So, I have embarrassing little to show for the past three weeks regarding this coat.  Perhaps the next three weeks may be kinder to me. We shall see!

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Filed under Christian Dior, Coats, Dressmaker coats, Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

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 in Denver: Review of the Exhibition, Part II

It’s been over two weeks since I arrived home from Denver, Colorado where I visited this Exhibit, and I still think about it many times throughout each day.  It was that spectacular.

This image adorned one of the doors of the elevators to the second floor where the exhibit is located.

 

The Exhibit was divided into 15 different themes/sections.  In the first part of my review of the Exhibit, I covered the evolution of the fashion house from its founding in 1947 by Christian Dior up to the present day under its leadership by Maria Grazia Chiuri.  A separate section was devoted to each of the seven (so far) Creative  Directors.   The other eight sections covered a myriad of topics; however, for me, three of the most outstanding and fascinating displays were 1) The Office of Dreams; 2) Ladies in Dior; and 3) The Total Look.

“The Office of Dreams” refers to Christian Dior’s studio.  His hundreds of sketches, made for each of his collections, were first translated into toiles, made of muslin.  (Here in the US, we often refer to our mock-ups as “muslins.”) According to the story-boards, Dior’s assistant and head of the workshops (ateliers), Madame Carre would ask this question of each toile:  “Have I expressed you correctly.”  When approved, each toile would be taken apart and its various components would be used as the pattern for that design.  This process is, of course, used today in haute couture – and by those of us who are home couture dressmakers.  The Exhibit had the most fascinating display of cotton toiles, all from recent Dior collections, the earliest being from 2007.

This coat by Raf Simons from 2012 received special attention.

A representation of the pattern derived from its toile was enlarged and featured on the opposing wall to all those toiles on display.  As a dressmaker, I was enthralled with this opportunity to see all the pieces that went into this coat.

“Ladies in Dior” featured many of the notable, famous, socialite, and stylish women who have dressed in Dior over the decades.  Among those women are:  Lee Radziwill (sister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker, Marilyn Monroe, and more recently, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman, and Rihanna.

Elizabeth Taylor wore this embroidered faille evening gown from the Spring-Summer collection of 1961:

Here is a detail of the skirt to the dress above. Notice the slight sweep of the back part of the skirt. Very graceful and flattering.

I found this next gown to be one of the most amazing on display.  Named “Fanny”,” it was designed for Fall-Winter of 1953 and made for American Elizabeth Firestone (who married into the founding family of Firestone Tires.)

On display close to the location of the dress was this drawing, including a swatch of the celestial-blue silk taffeta in which it was made.

In addition, there were numerous letters, sales receipts, and notes documenting many of the dresses in this section. The correspondence was perfectly fascinating.

I had to check twice to make sure this black embroidered dress had not actually been designed by Christian Dior himself.

Raf Simons  was inspired by the 1949 Miss Dior dress when he designed the one pictured above in black for Natalie Portman in 2013.

The 1949 embroidered evening dress designed by Christian Dior and named for his sister. This design served as the prototype for Raf Simon’s dress.

This dress with its spectacular bow is similar to one worn by Marlene Dietrich.  This one is from the Fall-Winter 1949 collection.

Designed in 2017 by Maria Grazia Chiuri, this long taffeta evening ensemble (below) was worn by Rihanna. It is the picture of elegance.

Another amazing bow adorns this dress, below, from the Fall-Winter 1956 collection.  Worn by Dior client Claire Newman, it is of black silk faille.

Here is a close-up of the fringe on the bow featured above. And notice the lovely sweep of the skirt.

Marilyn Monroe had a special affinity for the designs of Christian Dior.  In her last photo shoot, she is wearing a backless Dior dress.  This design from 2011 (Christian Dior by Bill Gaytten), below, is based on that dress, designed by March Bohan and worn by Marilyn Monroe in 1962.

One of my favorite sections of the Exhibit was “The Total Look.”  Christian Dior was a remarkable businessman in addition to being a fashion visionary.  He wanted all his clients to be able to be dressed head to toe in Dior. That included shoes, gloves, handbags, lipstick, jewelry, hats – everything to give a woman “a total look.”  This section was divided very cleverly into Dior offerings by color, and it was inspiring. Tall panels – head to toe – included items and fashions from every decade.  It was difficult to get decent photos as this area of the Exhibit was very crowded, but here goes!

Pink . . .

Oh my, this coat from Fall-Winter 1966, designed by Marc Bohan in reversible wool was simply gorgeous.

Coats from the 1960s are a favorite subject of mine!

Green and Gray . . .

The panels speak for themselves, but I couldn’t help but have a special affinity for these pumps by Roger Vivier for Christian Dior, about 1960:

The dresses portrayed in miniature were astounding, such as this one from 1957:

And this one from 1948:

Yellow . . . and a sliver of red  . . .

The yellow gown midcenter is a Raf Simons creation from the Spring-Summer 2103 collection.

Red . . .

This “Dior Red” quilted satin dress by Maria Grazia Chiuri is from the Spring-Summer 2017 collection. It was amazing.

Red and Blue . . .

Another Raf Simons creation is front and center on the Blue panel.  This wool coat is from the Fall-Winter 2013 collection.

And this miniature dress is so perfect, it is difficult to believe it is not a full-size garment.   Made in silk faille, it is by Yves Saint Laurent for the Spring-Summer 1958 collection.

From the “Office of Dreams” to the stuff of dreams, I think I have just a bit more to say about this Exhibit and the delights on display.  Can you bear a much shorter Part III?  Soon to come. . .

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