Category Archives: Mid-Century style

“. . . A Vivifying and Effervescent Color. . .”

Every December when Pantone announces its Color of the Year for the upcoming annum, I think of it as a holiday gift for the mind and senses.  The commercial implications of the selection are obvious, as the manufacturers in the lifestyle and fashion industries are guided to a degree by the chosen color.  Or perhaps the Color of the Year is more of an affirmation of the direction these manufacturers were headed anyway.  Nevertheless, the color serves as a guideline and often an inspiration.  The color for 2019 is Living Coral, Pantone 16-1546.

Described as “a peachy shade of orange with a golden undertone,” the color shown here is not nearly as vibrant as the real thing!

Its description reads as follows: “ Vibrant, yet mellow, Living Coral embraces us with warmth and nourishment to provide comfort and buoyancy in our continually shifting environment.  Sociable and spirited, the engaging nature of Living Coral welcomes and encourages lighthearted activity.  Symbolizing our innate need for optimism and joyful pursuits, Living Coral embodies our desire for playful expression.”

Pantone has been selecting a Color of the Year for 20 years, although the company had its beginning in 1962.  It certainly appears that they went back to their early roots in when choosing Living Coral for 2019.  Take a look back 58 years at this cover of a 1963 Vogue Pattern Book Magazine:

This cardigan coat is paired with a white wool dress underneath.

One of the prominent colors featured inside this issue from February/March 1963 is referred to as “absolute orange” and “sun-tinged melon.”

This 7/8 length tunic coat is in “the softest of the melon shades.”

And this is a “pink-infused shade of melon.”

Even the back cover of the magazine shows a golden-tinged orange color.

Well, I do not need any convincing to be excited about the chosen color for 2019, as I already have made several garments n this hue.  Not only do I love this coral color, I admire its versatility and wearability with other contrasting colors. Following is a quick run-through of my examples of Living Coral.

Although this dress gave me fits when I was making it (because of the pattern and the fact that it called for knit fabric and I used a stretch charmeuse silk instead), I do get compliments whenever I wear it, so I guess I did something right. Even the print in the fabric looks a bit sea-life and like living coral.

This dressy coat has to be one of my favorite makes:

To me this is a perfect example of Living Coral color.  One of the reasons I love this coat so much is because it pairs so well with blue.

Another example of coral and blue – this time navy blue – is this dress I made a few months ago.

And then last year about this time of year, I made this blouse to pair with a bronze-and-white-lace skirt, tied together with a coral sash.

My most recent make for me (I’ve been sewing for my little granddaughters, too, soon to be revealed!), is this coral wool skirt.  I have worn it with gray , and it will also look good with navy blue and light blue , and of course, winter white.

Although I haven’t tried it yet, I think Living Coral will look spectacular with this year’s color of Ultra Violet, and 2017’s Greenery.

I made this coat last Spring in a color very close to Ultra Violet.

With three weeks left in December, I am presently concentrating on the more traditional colors of red and green and blue and gold.  But Living Coral gives us an optimistic view of the year to come, and that’s a vivifying message for all of us.

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Filed under Fashion history, Mid-Century style, Pantone Color of the Year, Uncategorized

An A-Line Cocktail Dress

The A-Line silhouette is certainly a very recognizable and common style.  Although there is nothing spectacular about it, it does have a rather interesting origin in modern fashion history.  I had lots of time to think about this style as I worked through my most recent project, and I was surprised with what I discovered.

This entry in Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion gives a succinct history:

“Apparel styled close and narrow at the shoulders or waist and flaring gently away from the body to the hem in a line resembling the letter A.  Introduced in 1955 by Paris couturier Christian Dior, the term is used as an adjective in describing a wide variety of apparel with this shape, including coats, dresses, jumpers, and skirts.” (The Fairchild Dictionary of Fashion, by Charlotte Mankey Calasibetta and Phyllis Tortora, Third edition, Fairchild Publications, Inc., New York, New York, c2003, page 11)

A further entry adds “…Usually made with narrow shoulders, [and] a high neckline…” (Ibid, page 11)

Dior’s “A-Line” collection in the Spring of 1955 featured a “fingertip-length flared jacket worn over a dress with a very full, pleated skirt.” (“A-Line dress,” by Susan Ward; Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion, by Valerie Steele; Thomson Gale, Detroit, Michigan, pages 35-36) Fairchild’s Dictionary has a depiction of this very dress which was called “the most wanted silhouette in Paris.”

Obviously the A-Line shape then evolved into a less dramatic, and more ubiquitous style during the 1960s and ‘70s, much closer to  what we recognize today as A-Line.

When I was contemplating which pattern to use for my dress (I had purchased the fabric, 1½ yards, 54” wide,  from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics in April of this year), I wanted a style which would showcase the fabric. Although I originally thought I would go with a sheath dress silhouette for this fabric, when I found this pattern, it struck a chord.

The line drawing for the shorter length shows more detail of its seaming and darts. The description on the pattern envelope reads: “Evening or street length, high shaped, slightly A-line dress has short sleeves and scoop neckline with or without slit at center front…”

I liked that center front seam with its notched neckline, even though I knew it might be a little tricky to match the embroidered vines and flowers.  However, I thought  the semi-attached appliqués would be lovely overlapping the seams.

The small slit in the center front neckline.

It took me a full week to finish my muslin.  The bust needed to be dropped so those princess-seamed darts needed a lot of adjustment.  In the shoulder area I had some gaping in the front, and I also needed to reshape the top of the shoulders.  Instead of easing the sleevecaps to fit the armscye, I decided to replace that ease with a shaping dart to the top of the sleeves.  I really liked the fluid look that gave to the shoulder line. I drafted three-quarter sleeves as I was contemplating that change to the original pattern.

It is difficult to see in this black fabric, but this is the top of the sleeve with its shaping dart.  If you look closely, you can see some loose edges of the larger appliqués.

Can you guess what is coming next?  As is often the case when I purchase fabric first and then choose a pattern, I created a challenge for myself.  It was almost immediately obvious to me that I would not be able to work on the lengthwise grain of fabric, as I could not begin to fit the pattern pieces onto the fabric and do any matching whatsoever. As luck would have it, I preferred the appearance of the meandering of the vines and flowers on the crossgrain, and I figured out how to stagger the pattern pieces to both fit the fabric, and match the seams.  But those three-quarter length sleeves?  No way were they going to happen!  I could just fit in the original short sleeves, so short they were going to be!

Here are the silk organza underlining (pattern) pieces laid out on my fabric. I had to stagger the four main pieces to fit it on the fabric. Fortunately I was still able to match the pattern of the vines and flowers. Whew! (I took pictures on my iPad to help with the matching.  You can see it in the upper right corner.)

I ended up basting by hand every single seam on this dress.  Even with great care, it was incredibly easy to catch corners of those loose appliqués by mistake, so it was much easier to make adjustments in basting rather than in the finished machine-sewn seams.  The basting also showed me I needed to take out a small bit of the width of the skirt from the waist down, about an inch total.  When is an inch more than an inch?  In this dress!  That one inch made a huge difference in its final appearance.

Because I was sewing this dress using couture techniques, the neck facing was eliminated, with the black crepe de chine lining fell-stitched to the edge of the neckline.  When I under-stitched the lining to secure it in place, I used an off-white silk buttonhole twist. It was so much easier to see light thread on the black lining, and also, I think it looks pretty.

I hand picked the zipper, which virtually disappears in this dark jacquard embroidered fabric.

I was able to arrange the hem of the skirt so the larger of the semi-attached appliqués would hang just beneath the fold-line.

This shows two of the appliqués at the hemline.

I love the graceful flow of this dress.

The simple look of this dress belies the hours and hours I spent on it!

And I am so pleased that I was unable to make three-quarter length sleeves. These short sleeves are just perfect!

I am quite happy with the way this dress turned out.  I do think its simple lines show off the fabric well – no need for anything too fussy when the fabric is so incredibly lovely!  I love that I can wear this 1960’s A-Line style and somehow feel – and hopefully look – very current.

 

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Filed under Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Fashion history, Formal or fancy dresses, hand-sewn zippers, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, underlinings, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

A Definite ‘60’s Vibe

“Unexpected,” “unusual,” “fascinating,” and even “a bit magical” are words used to describe some of the fabrics, prints and designs from the late ’60s/early ’70s (The Editor’s Letter, Vogue Pattern Book International, April/ May 1970.)  Although I have no documentation, I am sure that this red and white Moygashel linen is from those last years of the 1960s or early years of the ’70s.

Of course, another clue to the age of this Moygashel linen is its width of 45″. Prior to about 1964, Moygashel was only available in 35 or 36″ width, as best as I can determine.

A quick look through some of my Vogue Pattern Book Magazines from this time period uncovered other fabric designs which have a similar feel to them.

This dress appeared in the April/May 1970 Vogue Pattern Book International, page 16.

 

This large, irregular leaf print was shown in the February/March 1968 issue of Vogue Pattern Book International, page 11.

 

Even this sewing machine ad features a dress with an abstract geometric fabric design. Again, this is from the February/March 1968 Vogue Pattern Book International, page 24.

 

And here is another spectacular Moygashel linen, advertised in the April/May 1970 Vogue Pattern Book International, page XXIV. Cute dresses!

Interestingly enough, these demonstrative and colorful fabric designs were often sewn from the same or similar patterns as their more demure pastel and solid counterparts. I kept that in mind as I contemplated which pattern to use for this “unusual” and “fascinating” linen. Additionally, I wanted to pair it with a red linen belt  (which I ordered several years ago when I knew that Pat Mahoney was closing her custom belt and button business.  The red linen is some I fortuitously had left over from some of my sewing in the early 1970s.)

Then, after the recent success of my fairly dramatic changes to this pattern – and knowing I had a great muslin from which to work – I went with it again.

Here is the result:

I definitely had some issues with the very uneven grid.  I took a lot of pictures of the fabric arranged on my dress form before I started to lay out the pattern.  This helped me to visualize the areas which needed some regularity (if you can call it that!)  I realized quickly, in order to achieve a semblance of matching in the critical areas, I would have to accept way less than perfect in other areas.  Because the entire geometric design is so irregular, I have, I think, made peace with this decision.  (I haven’t worn the dress yet, so the proof of this is still to be determined.)

The bodice front seemed to me to be the most critical, and I wanted that three-striped horizontal motif to follow across the upper bustline.

 

The back proved to be a bit more problematic, as three quarters of it lined up fairly well, with one section off on the left side.  Because the side piece wraps around the side (as in no side seam), there was only so much I could do in order to be able to “match” the front.  Additionally, I thought it was more important to have the back center seam, rather than the side back seam, positioned correctly, so that’s what I did.

Am I going to have the nerve to wear this dress?

I may end up loving it??

I lined the entire dress with a very lightweight linen cotton blend, eliminated facings for the neck and armholes, and finished those areas with a typical couture treatment.

Because the skirt lining is unattached, I finished off the seams of the linen with Hug Snug rayon tape.

I did not use a silk organza underlining, as I like my linen dresses to be washable. Without that inner layer of organza, I had to be very careful with sewing the hem, to try to make it as unnoticeable as possible.

I doubt I will have a chance to wear this dress yet this Fall.  The later it gets, the odder it will look.  That’s okay.  I’m ready to move on to something more subdued – but hopefully “a bit magical” will still be in the equation.

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Filed under couture construction, Linen, Linings, Mid-Century style, Moygashel linen, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue Designer patterns

Wearing Dots

From this …


To this…


How did that happen?

After my purchase of that pattern a couple of years ago, I definitely had second thoughts.  While I loved it when it was first available back in the 1970s – and at that time I was of the age when I probably could have actually worn it – I immediately realized it would not be appropriate for a 60-something-year-old! I tucked it away in my pattern file where I knew I would come across it occasionally and indulge a long-ago dream.  Little did I know it would play a major roll in the realization of this polka-dotted dress.

It took almost eight years for me to come up with a plan for this polka dot silk fabric.  I kept envisioning a waisted, sleeveless dress with a “flowy” skirt, but I could not find a pattern I liked, either vintage or new.  I wanted to avoid darts as much as possible (that’s a story in itself for someday), which meant I needed a princess style bodice.  Many princess line bodices have side seams, but I wanted one without side seams, and with princess line seaming on the bodice back as well.  Pondering all this, I again came across my Belinda Bellville pattern above and thought maybe it would work, with a few changes. But then I noticed that the bodice was supposed to be cut on the bias. 

This pattern detailing from the instruction sheet shows the thee bodice pieces at the top of the picture. The bias is clearly marked.

After not having any success in finding any other suitable pattern, I gave it another look.  Why not cut it on the straight of goods?  It was at least worth a try in muslin, so that’s what I did.  The changes I made to it included; 1) lowering the bust line, 2) eliminating the short-waisted front of the dress and restoring it to waist level, 3) placing the front center part of the bodice on the fold, eliminating the center seam, 4) lowering the neckline just a little, 5) making the waist larger, and 6) adding some ease across the back and shoulders.  With all those changes, I had a bodice I really liked.

But then I needed to make a skirt to complement the bodice.  When I looked at the skirt pattern, I knew I needed to divide it in thirds (for one half of the width of the skirt) and match the seam lines to the seams in the bodice.  Here is what I came up with:

On the left is the one-piece tissue pattern for the skirt. Using the dart lines on that pattern helped me determine the angles I needed for my skirt.

It was about this time I got the idea to make this dress in a longer skirt rather than knee-length, which is where I usually wear my dresses.  The only question I had was – did I have enough fabric to do this?  My silk was 45” wide, and I only had two yards.  I spent at least an hour laying out and eyeballing my muslin pieces on the silk, on the floor, just to see if I could possibly accomplish this task.  I found one combination that would allow this, and took a photo so I could remember how to do it!

It literally took an entire week to work out the pattern and perfect the muslin, but then the sewing began!

As soon as I completed the construction of the bodice, including its silk organza underlining, its catch-stitched raw seam edges, with the seam allowances around the neckline and armholes appropriately tacked in place, I knew I had a bodice which was just what I had envisioned.

Somehow the skirt seams all matched up perfectly with the bodice seams and the center front inverted box pleat, which I added, looked wonderful, I thought.  I made the lining out of navy blue crepe de chine, purchased from Emma One Sock Fabrics.

When it came to under-stitching the neckline and armholes, I decided to do it in white.  It mimics the white polka dots in the fashion fabric and also was much easier to see while doing all that handwork.

Instead of a box pleat in the lining, I did two side pleats to reduce bulk in that critical tummy region!

Fortunately, for the belt, I had silk taffeta left over from two previous projects, which turned out to be a perfect match.  I did not want the belt to take away visually from the rest of the dress, so I made it a modest 1.5 inches wide.  I think it is enough to complete the look, but not overpower it. And OF COURSE I wanted to finish it off with a tailored bow.  (I am planning a post on making this tailored bow belt, so I will not go into the details of it right now.)

 

An oyster-colored clutch helps to complete the look.

This is a very comfortable dress to wear!

No attempt was made to match any dots, as the pattern was completely random. This is the hand-picked zipper. I love the fact that the navy thread shows up on the white and coral dots.

And should I need a dress coat, this one matches the belt!

While this dress was firmly in my queue for summer sewing, at the time I did my planning I was not making it for any special occasion.  However, as good fortune would have it, two unforeseen occasions are now approaching in late summer for which this dress will be perfect.  I am definitely looking forward to wearing these dots!

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Filed under Bows as design feature, Cocktail dresses, couture construction, Linings, Mid-Century style, Polka dots, sewing in silk, silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1970s

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 Coat For Many Reasons

When I started planning this coat, I could not then have known the many reasons why I am now so happy to have made it.

The journey – and yes, it has been a journey – started with the fabric, offered for sale to me by a reader several years ago.  Simply the provenance of the fabric  – a piece of stamped Ernest Einiger wool, from one of the great mid-century American wool manufacturers, now sadly long gone – was reason enough to give it some extra thought.  I knew I had to wait for the right time to put pattern and scissors to it. When the Pantone Color of 2018 – “Ultraviolet” – an orchid shade of purple – was announced, I knew the time had arrived!

In the meantime, I had given it much thought and the more I looked at it, the more I thought I would be wise to get some construction advice on it.  Happily I was able to go to Baltimore in mid-April for one of Susan Khalje’s week-long Couture Sewing Schools, during which everyone works on their own project.  Usually one is expected to arrive with a pattern selected, and a marked muslin (toile) of her project ready for fitting.  This time was no different, which meant that all my thinking about the best pattern to use for this coat was ready to come to fruition.

Because the fabric is a very heavy coat-weight boucle, I originally looked for a pattern which either did not include buttons and buttonholes (traditionally more difficult to do well on a fabric of this weight), or had slot-seam buttonholes. I thought I had the perfect pattern in this Vogue from 1962. However, when I actually opened out the pattern pieces, I realized it was not going to work.  The kimono sleeves would surely produce drag lines in this heavy fabric, and a double layer of the wool in the shawl collar could be quite bulky.

Then I pulled out two more patterns which I thought were possibilities:

The single slot-seam buttonhole in the Mattli pattern was ideal, but all the intersecting seams could be a problem to do well, so I eliminated that one.  The simple lines of the Christian Dior design were lovely, but then there were more buttons, in addition to my evolving thought that this fabric would work well with a pattern which did not have such a narrow silhouette. It was then that I went to a pattern which I had already used:

View A with the longer sleeve for this coat, although I originally made it with the shorter sleeve here.

I love the simple lines of this coat and its well-turned collar, and I especially love my addition of a half belt to the silk coat I made.  I still wasn’t sure what I would/could do about buttons and buttonholes.  Advice from Susan would be very valuable!  As it turned out, she helped me determine that I could do bound buttonholes even on this very substantial wool.  Another fortuitous finding was that this pattern lent itself to showing off the interesting windowpane weave of the boucle, which became much more apparent the further away from it we got.

Other of Susan’s recommendations included:

1) Making the coat dress length rather than coat length.  The intensity of the color, used with this pattern, looks better in a shorter length.

2) Cutting the belt on the bias.  This was brilliant and gives a nice subtle focus to the back of the coat.  She also recommended that I line the belt with the silk charmeuse lining fabric rather than using the boucle .  It reduces bulk and makes the belt lay much more nicely.  I sewed one side of the belt by machine and then hand-stitched the other side, making for a nice crisp turn of the charmeuse to the underside.

My addition of a belt to this pattern is an excellent example of what is known as a “dressmaker detail.”

Here the bias cut of the belt is quite apparent.

The entire coat is underlined in silk organza, including the belt, shown here with one side sewn by machine.

And here is the silk charmeuse belt lining almost ready to be applied by hand.

3) Underlining the collar with charmeuse (again to reduce bulk) and then under-stitching the underside, to make it turn beautifully.

The collar on this pattern is beautifully designed to sit perfectly on the neck.

4) Clipping the long back center seam, even though it is on the straight of grain.  Clipping it reduces strain on that seam and allows a much more fluid movement of the back of the coat.  (I’m sorry I forgot to take a picture of this, but it is certainly not rocket science, just common sense.)

5) Tips for matching the woven windowpane design in the wool, the weave of which was difficult to see close-up.  Forked pins and a walking foot  helped to keep the layers – even basted ones – from shifting.

Other procedures I used to help “tame” this fabric were:  lots of judicious trimming of seams and corners; clipping, clipping and more clipping; lots of steam and pressing; lots of basting of seams.

I even trimmed the edges of the bound buttonholes to reduce bulk down the front of the coat. I am not completely happy with the buttonholes (which were difficult to do on this fabric), but once I finished them, they looked better than I thought they would.

I found these buttons in an Etsy store. From the 1960s, they are a nice fit with the fabric and the pattern. And I like their wobbly edges!

By the time I returned home from my class, I had the coat about half finished, but I felt completely confident in my ability to finish it competently.   Here are a few more details:

The sleeves feature a turned- back vent which is secured by a button through all layers.

I used the pockets for this version of the coat (which I had eliminated for my silk version.)

The belt is attached to the side seams just about an inch below the armhole. This placement allows it to fall right at the center back waist.

It is always rewarding to get to the point in the construction of a coat when you are ready to put the lining in.  And to make it just a little more fun, I added flat silk piping on the inside front facings – which will match one of the dresses (still to be made) I intend to wear with this coat:

I ended the piping at the shoulder seam on either side. (I see a basting thread which is peeking out from the piping!)

So my “coat for many reasons” allowed me 1) to use treasured fabric which had been in my collection for a few years; 2) to take advantage of the focus of this beautiful purple color during the year of  “Ultraviolet;” 3) to use a coat pattern which I really wanted to use again after making it once; and 4) to have experience in working – successfully – with such a heavyweight wool.

But the most important reason?  I need another coat. I always need another coat.

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Filed under Buttons - choosing the right ones, Coats, Dressmaker details, Mid-Century style, piping, Uncategorized, vintage buttons, Vintage fabric, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s, woolens

“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