Tag Archives: vintage fashion

A Lesson from Lilly

Have you ever purchased a piece of fabric on a whim – and then regretted it? That’s exactly what happened to me, here in the midst of July. I saw this piece of Lilly Pulitzer silk fabric offered on eBay, and without giving it too much thought, I bought two yards.

I have always loved most of the Lilly prints and color combinations, and something about this silk just looked fresh and summery to me. I have long wanted to make the pattern pictured below again, and with its Asian flare, I thought the multi-colored, abstract printed Lilly silk would pair well with it.

The date on this pattern is 1958. I made the blouse/tunic a few years ago and still enjoy wearing it. I would like to make view B sometime…

I had several scraps of solid green silk, one of which I thought would be good as a contrast fabric for the button details on the front of the blouse. (The pattern calls it a tunic, but it looks more like a blouse to me.) As it turned out, I used a scrap of green silk out of which I had made a blouse to go with a purchased Lilly skirt way back in the 1970s! I still have the skirt, but not the blouse…

Anyway, I am digressing. When the fabric arrived – in an itsy-bitsy package that weighed about an ounce – I knew I had made a mistake. Yes, it was silk, but it was so flimsy and slippery I wasn’t very sure it could be sewn with any sort of finesse. (Now I know that assessment was correct.) I contemplated saving it for a lining for something sometime, although truly, it would make a flopsy lining.  Deep down, I knew if I didn’t make it right now, I would never, ever use it. And that would be a waste of money for sure.

Well, now I am going to digress. I find that if I purchase a piece of fabric of impeccable quality, I can hold onto to it for months or even years without ever fearing it will never be used. In fact, the better quality the fabric is, sometimes the longer I wait to use it. That allows me time to think about and search for the perfect pattern, time to explore possible dressmaker details for it, and time to savor its beauty. When it comes to silk in particular, I have found that high quality, fine silk, even very lightweight silk, has a substance to it and a hand to it that makes sewing with it a pleasure.

Let me tell you, this was not a pleasure. I slipped and slid the whole way through the construction of this tunic/blouse. My pins would not stay in place, falling out willy-nilly. Clipping and trimming was a nightmare, as the fabric kept sliding in the way of my scissors. I contemplated spraying the entire thing with hairspray to stabilize it! Then, once I had enough of the tunic/blouse sewn that I was able to visualize my green silk accent strips on it, I realized that the green buttons I had planned to use were going to look – awful.

The green of this button is too deep for the colors of this fabric.

Happily, my luck changed just a bit. I went to my button box and found this card of four buttons.

One button was missing, but that was okay, as I only needed four.

They had been a “bonus” addition in an order of buttons from an Etsy shop, and I really thought I would never have any use for them. But guess what? They were just right for this tunic/blouse. At least this one thing was easy!

The blue of the button seems to work well with the solid green.

As you can see, I persevered and finished this monster.

I made an Obi-style sash to wear with it, which I think improves its appearance.

The back of this blouse has a center seam, which allows for some really nice shaping. I haven’t had a chance to get any self-modeled photos made yet, for which I apologize.

Here it is without the sash. In order to keep the slippery sleeves folded up, I had to add a snap on the inside seam of each sleeve.

I haven’t worn it anywhere yet. We shall see if I get any favorable comments; if I do, then perhaps I will eventually enjoy wearing it. At the least, it will stand as a lesson to me – never, ever again to buy any fabric on a whim.

29 Comments

Filed under Asian-inspired dress designs, Blouse patterns from the 1950's, Blouses, Buttons - choosing the right ones, sewing in silk, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

Do You Do Pink?

Apparently, pink is a controversial color. Or maybe “was a controversial color” is a better statement. A recent article by Nancy MacDonnell in the Off Duty section of The Wall Street Journal (“Making Peace with Pink” February 11-12, 2017) makes a case for the appropriateness – and timeliness – of pink even for those who think they don’t like it. While I am one who thinks pink is always in fashion, it turns out that this Spring, it really is in fashion! According to Ms. MacDonnell, “On this season’s runways, pink predominated.” The different fashion houses showed varying interpretations of pink: Michael Kors was “brisk, All-American, [and] cheery.” J. Crew was “equally upbeat,” while Valentino showed pink that was “lush and romantic, with intricate appliqués and historical references…”   The list goes on and on. The unifying thread (pardon the pun), as claimed by the designers, was the lack of traditional “sweetness” associated with pink, with emphasis on the feminine power inherent in the color.

Looming large on page 58 from the November 2016 WSJ Magazine is a Valentino coat, quite traditional in design, but made very special by its stunning appliquéd pink wool.

According to Dr. Valerie Steele, the Museum Director at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, who was quoted frequently in Ms. MacDonnell’s article, the idea of pink as a feminine color did not take hold until the 1950s. Back in 1954 when Christian Dior wrote The Little Dictionary of Fashion, his entry on “pink” stated: “The sweetest of all the colors. Every woman should have something pink in her wardrobe. It is the color of happiness and of femininity.”   He even used pink throughout his book for illustrations, chapter headings and the title page. He recommended pink “for blouses and scarves; … for a young girl’s frock; it can be charming for suits and coats; and it is wonderful for evening frocks.” Who can argue with that, be it 1954 or 2017?

The title page of Dior’s smart little dictionary. (Harry N. Abrams, Inc., NY, NY, copyright 2007)

This page from the June/July 2013 issue of Town and Country Magazine gives an interesting timeline of the color pink, “how the color of little girls and baby dolls came of age”:

Click on the image to read it.

I particularly like this statement from Laura Vinroot Poole, the founder of boutique Capitol in Charlotte, N. C., quoted in The Wall Street Journal article: “To wear pink, you have to be an interesting and smart person… You have to have things to say. In pink, you can’t hide.”   Nor would you want to.

Personally, pink is my favorite color. I am always drawn to it, regardless of its hue. And its hue covers a huge range from palest pink to deepest fuchsia, from bubblegum pink to raspberry red. In thinking about pink for this post, I gathered this stack of pink fabrics from my collection. Just looking at it makes me happy!

From top to bottom:
1) vintage Moygashel linen, purchased on eBay
2) silk charmeuse, purchased from Britex Fabrics
3) vintage Moygashel linen, purchased by me in the 1970s
4) linen, possibly Moygashel, purchased on etsy
5) silk jacquard purchased from Britex Fabrics
6) silk charmeuse, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics
7 & 8) coordinating silks, purchased from Mendel Goldberg Fabrics

The only controversy I have with pink is deciding which hue of it I like best.

19 Comments

Filed under Fashion commentary, Moygashel linen, silk, Uncategorized, Vintage fabric

Coming and Going: a Split Personality Dress

Dresses – and garments in general – with back interest have always intrigued me. The addition of a simple back belt can add so much to a coat design, for example, and a yoke in the back of a dress can be the perfect place to add complimentary buttons which might not have a place on the front of the dress. Perhaps it was this reason why I was drawn to this Advance pattern, which I found in an Etsy store.

Thanks to one of my readers, I know that this pattern dates to 1964.

Thanks to one of my readers, I know that this pattern dates to 1960.

I hesitated for quite a while before buying it, as I just wasn’t so sure the gathered back skirt on this dress would look as good on me as it looked on the pattern envelope. I also did not want a “dated” or “too cutesy” look. But finally I gave in and made the purchase. The buttoned back and the dropped back waist were two details which really appealed to me, as well as the sleek sheath look of the front of the dress. I also knew that the right fabric could work wonders, and I bought the pattern with this gray and blue polka dotted wool/silk blend in mind.

I purchased this fabric from Mendel Goldberg in New York City.

I purchased this fabric from Mendel Goldberg in New York City.

Then, there is always that steadfast fall-back, as well – making a muslin (toile) and if it really doesn’t work, then just scrapping it! What could I lose besides a few yards of cheap muslin and a few hours of time?

I had never used an Advance vintage pattern before, so I was interested to see how one would make up. I was impressed! The pattern pieces went together very precisely, and, in particular, the flounce, or gathering, at the back of the skirt was not overdone. The only initial change I made to the pattern before cutting out my muslin was to lower the bust dart, which I always have to do. Once I made the muslin, it was a little snug across the front, so I added ¼” to either side seam. As it turned out, I needed the extra width just across the midriff area, and ended up taking out quite a bit of extra width from the waist down.

Some pictures of my muslin.

Some pictures of my muslin.

Coming and Going

While I was working on the muslin, I was in a quandary over the buttons. I had to have them before I could start work on the fashion fabric because of those pesky, but beautiful, bound buttonholes, which are one of the first things to go in. Nothing I had on hand was right and after a very brief dalliance with the thought of blue buttons (what was I thinking, even briefly??), I knew gray mother-of-pearl buttons were what was needed. As luck would have it I found a set of six 5/8” buttons in an Etsy shop, which were described as blue-gray mother-of-pearl. As soon as they arrived in my mailbox, I knew they were perfect.

Coming and going

By this time I had transposed the muslin onto white silk organza, made my working pattern, basted the fashion fabric and the organza together, and ordered marine blue crepe de chine from EmmaOneSock for the lining.

For those of you who asked, here is a picture of the silk organza being used as the pattern piece. when cut out, the two are basted together by hand along the seam lines, dart markings, and hem lines.

For those of you who asked, here is a picture of the silk organza being used as the pattern. When cut out, the two are basted together by hand along the seam lines, dart markings, and hem lines and then handled as one piece.

I also used silk organza patches for the facings for the bound buttonholes.

I also used silk organza patches for the facings for the bound buttonholes.

Here the facings are turned towards the inside. Proper measuring is essential for this technique to be successful.

Here the facings are turned towards the inside. Proper measuring is essential for this technique to be successful.

The back of the dress during construction.

The back of the dress during construction.

Although the pattern called for lining only the skirt back, I wanted to fully line the entire dress. The pattern for the back skirt lining is shown here in the thumbnail diagram:

coming-and-going-thumbnail-sketch

It was cut narrower than the skirt back, with darts for shaping rather than gathering. I had to make a decision about how to complete the lining – should I attach it to the waist seam at the back and somehow join the front to the back at the side seams, or should I make the lining as a completely free-falling piece? I opted for the latter, with the sleeves, of course, being inserted separately. It worked beautifully. Then, for some extra detail, I added a contrasting flat piping to the edge where the lining meets the facing.

I had this coral colored silk bias tape which I chose to use for this extra detail.

I had this coral colored silk bias tape which I chose to use for this extra detail.

Coming and going

Often facings are eliminated in couture sewing, but in this case, with the buttoned placket in the back, I decided to keep the facings so the buttonholes and buttons would have a firmer foundation.

This dress turned out to be all that I wanted – a classic slim sheath from the front, with surprise back detail which (I think?) is flattering, adding extreme comfort to its wearing, and which sets it apart from the average design.

Coming and going

Coming and Going

Coming and going

 

Coming and going

Coming and going

Coming and going

Coming and Going

Coming and going

coming and going

Coming and going, it feels like a good way to start off the new sewing year .

41 Comments

Filed under Advance vintage patterns, bound buttonholes, Buttons - choosing the right ones, couture construction, Day dresses, Linings, Mid-Century style, Polka dots, Uncategorized, vintage buttons

A Good Start

Happy December! It seems like a long time since I have been here with a new post for Fifty Dresses. The first thing I want to say, since my forced hiatus from sewing (due to my badly injured left hand), is “Thank You!” to so many of you who gave me encouragement, sent sympathy and healing thoughts, and made me feel like such a valued part of our worldwide fashion sewing community. Your kindnesses meant the world to me at a personally difficult and discouraging time.

Although my heart never left sewing (attested to by the new vintage patterns and a couple of lengths of new fabrics which have somehow found their way to my sewing room over the past weeks!), my hands have finally come back to it as well. While I still have weeks and weeks of “hand therapy” to attend in an effort to restore full use of my left hand, I now can sew at the machine, cut and mark fabric, and even hand sew. Having said that, I wish I had something truly spectacular to show you to prove that point, but alas, I do not. What I can show you is a promise of things to come, things which are now destined to make their appearance in 2017 instead of in November or December of 2016.

I had my heart set on getting this fabric made into a dress to wear during this month of December, even though back in October I still had not settled on a pattern for it.

I purchased this fabric from Mendel Goldberg in New York City. It is a wool/silk blend, similar to fabric in a dress I made last Fall.

I purchased this fabric from Mendel Goldberg in New York City. It is a wool/silk blend, similar to fabric in a dress I made last Fall.

After searching online through many, many vintage patterns, I finally came across this one, an Advance pattern (a small departure from my normal preference for Vogue):

I still need to do a little research on the exact date for this pattern, but it appears to be from the mid-1960s.

I still need to do a little research on the exact date for this pattern, but it appears to be from the mid-1960s.

I could easily see this dress made up in polka dots, with the three-quarter sleeves. I think the back detail with the buttons is so pretty. My muslin is in the process of being completed, and then I will determine if this style looks good on me. I certainly hope so…

Another project I wanted to complete this Fall was a new bathrobe. A while ago I found this vintage Viyella fabric (cotton/wool blend, warm but light-weight, 5¼ yards, 35” wide), and it just spoke “bathrobe” to me.

The paper label is still attached to this length of fabric.

The paper label is still attached to this length of fabric.  Isn’t it lovely that this fabric is washable?

This Vogue pattern seems just about perfect for it, as long as I can match the plaid and still have enough yardage to eke it out. My muslin will tell the story.

I definitely want to make the long version of this robe.

I definitely want to make the long version of this robe. This pattern is from the late 1950s.

But before I can get any further on either of these projects, I have some sewing to do for Christmas gifts. The countdown is on, but I think I have a good start. It is wonderful to be back in my sewing room, which now looks like a cross between a couture atelier and Santa’s workshop, with fabric and wrapping paper and ribbons vying for equal space.  Happy December, indeed!

38 Comments

Filed under Day dresses, Mid-Century style, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1950s

“Mrs. Scimpy”

Two years ago I made this dress:

The Year of Magical Sewing

From this pattern:

Perfect Blue - Mattli pattern

Once I had the dress finished, I liked it so much that I decided a coordinating coat, with a lining to match the dress would be wonderful – sometime. I even went so far as to order more of the blue silk blend fabric from EmmaOneSock, while I knew it would still be available.   Tucked away in my fabric closet, it has patiently waited while I searched and searched for the right coat fabric in a coordinating/contrasting color and in silk. I finally found it last Spring, during a online silk sale at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco.

Taffeta coat - swatch

The fabric is lightweight silk taffeta, with the weft in persimmon color and the warp in fuchsia pink, giving it a shimmer which changes color with movement. I decided it would be my first project after we returned from our summer travels – with the intention of having it ready to wear with the dress to a September wedding, which happens to be at a location where a light coat or wrap is advisable.

All along I had intended to use the Jo Mattli coat pattern that is shown with the dress. I liked the idea of no buttons and simple lines.

Taffeta coat - Mattli pattern

The thumbnail diagrams on the back of the pattern envelope.

The thumbnail diagrams on the back of the pattern envelope.

However, when I got the pattern pieces out, here is what I found:

Front and back pattern pieces

Front and back pattern pieces

Yep, that is one voluminous coat! I knew that, even with taking some of the bulk out, I would probably still look like I was wearing a tent. With that slim dress, I am not sure why the coat has to be so full, but I had no qualms about deciding not to go in that direction. However, I still wanted a coat with no buttons or maybe just one button. I dug through my collection and came up with several possibilities, which included this one:

I do like the looped buttons, but I just wasn't convinced this was the right look.

I do like the looped buttons, but I just wasn’t convinced this was the right look.

I have another Jo Mattli coat and dress design which I love, but I think the coat would make up much more attractively in wool rather than silk taffeta, so I ruled this one out:

Taffeta coat - 2nd Mattli pattern

Then I came across this one: View B shows it with no button/buttonholes down the front. I also like the three-quarter sleeves, with the cuff detail.

The pattern description reads: "Striaght coat with or without buttoned closing below notched collar. Long and below elbow length sleeves with button trimmed vent. Optional pocket in side. Slim skirt.

The pattern description reads: “Straight coat with or without buttoned closing below notched collar. Long and below elbow length sleeves with button trimmed vent. Optional pocket in side. Slim skirt.”  I knew this coat would take on an appropriate dressy look when made up in silk taffeta.

Now –  I try to buy vintage Vogue patterns in sizes with a 32” bust and 34” hip measurement; however, that is not always possible, so I will go up or down a size if it is a pattern I really want to have. When I make my muslin (toile) for such a pattern, I try to include adjustments for the size issues so that my final alterations will be easier. However, the handwritten note on the front of this pattern gave me pause: “too scimpy” it reads. She obviously meant “skimpy,” but those two words spoke volumes to me (no pun intended!) Maybe I would just follow the pattern exactly (except for lowering the bust which I always have to do), and see if the size is okay.

Taffeta coat - pencil notes

And that is exactly what happened! Little did Mrs. “Scimpy” know that her simple pattern review, circa 1961, would save me both time and effort in 2016!

It looks like Mrs. Scimpy made her coat out of red wool, with a matching skirt. Her pencil notes on the yardage required indicate such, along with the cost of the fabrics: $22. I certainly hope she figured out that the coat was too skimpy in time to make adjustments, as a red wool coat with matching skirt would be lovely indeed!

8 Comments

Filed under Coats, Dressmaker coats, Messages from past owners of vintage patterns, Mid-Century style, silk, Silk taffeta, Uncategorized, vintage Vogue Designer patterns, vintage Vogue patterns from the 1960s

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!

4 Comments

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.

17 Comments

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