1950s fashion, Celebrity, designers, sewing, sewing patterns

Who was Hannah Troy?

McCall’s 5289, 1959, by Hannah Troy.

I came across this fantastic pattern the other day, and as I was listing it in the shop, noticed that it was designed by Hannah Troy. I’ve never seen a Hannah Troy pattern, and never heard of her, so I did some digging.

Hannah purportedly entered into the fashion industry in 1940 through a design she made herself, then sold for $3. She became a fashion model, and in a rather ballsy move for a model, suggested a different drape of fabric to the designer she was modelling for. I guess she didn’t believe in the (very wrong) belief that models are just clothes hangers and shouldn’t think. That suggestion led to her immediately becoming assistant to the designer, then head designer for another company, then to her branching off on her own to create Hannah Troy, Inc. Not bad for someone who started as a home sewist, yes?

Hannah revolutionized the clothing industry when she began designing for women with short waists. She was working as a model at May Company, and after spending days watching salespeople show short waisted women how to alter clothing to fit, decided there should be a petite line, made particularly for short waisted women. She enlisted help from the military, of all places, deciding that they would have the best database of women’s measurements. She got measurements of the WACs from the quartermaster, and found that the majority of women she studied were short waisted. She called the measurements she used in designing “Troyfigure,” and went to work.

One of Hannah’s most influential designs was one that Grace Kelly wore when she went to Europe early in her career. That also happened to be the trip where she met Prince Rainier. Hannah was also considered to be one of the most influential people in bringing attention to Italian fashion. In 1951, exports of Italian goods was $1 million, and by 1955, was $1 billion dollars, all in large part of the fact that she lauded the Italian goods. She was celebrated all over Italy for the help she gave their fashion industry, even being given the Star of Solidarity — the first American woman to be so honored.

Hannah designed with “complete wearability” as her foundation, and felt that the best designs were those that “lent themselves to the individual tastes of the greatest numbers of women.” She wanted to design for the masses, and bring the European styles to American women. Not unlike Coco Chanel, she felt that the best designs compliment, not overwhelm. Interestingly, she didn’t think women’s knees were pretty on anyone, even those with good legs. As the sixties marched on, she pronounced the pantsuit trend as “silly”, and thought the trend of women wearing teen styles was “ridiculous.” She did very well for herself, designing for a number of socialites and celebrities. Newspaper articles describe her apartment as elegant, and having decor that included rare antiquities from ancient Chinese dynasties.

She retired to Fort Lauderdale in the early 1970s, after thirty years in the fashion industry, and died of a heart attack June 22, 1993, in a Miami hospital. She was 93.

Celebrity, Hollywood, vintage clothing

Valentina

Who knew that Milwaukee holds a treasure trove of a couturier for some of the icons of fashion history? At Mount Mary College, in their Historic Costume Collection, there are almost 400 original Valentina toiles and garments, as well as personal documents and more. In Milwaukee. I’ve always said that the hidden gems are held in places you’d least expect, and now Milwaukee is on my bucket list.

Valentina was born in 1898, and was orphaned during the Russian revolution, and reportedly was rescued at a train station by George Schlee, who she subsequently married after escaping the country. They were married in Russia in 1920, and emigrated to New York via Paris in 1922. She is shown in the 1925 New York census as a housewife to George and notes herself as a naturalized US citizen. In 1930, she is found living in Manhattan with George, again as a housewife, though reports state she started her business in 1928, with dresses she pulled out of her own closet. Of note, the 1930 census states she is still an alien, and not a US citizen, and she subsequently applied for citizenship in 1932, noting herself again to be a housewife. In 1937, papers laud her for her costumes in the play “Idiot’s Delight.” She costumed a few movies in the early 1950’s, but was most known for the celebrities she dressed, such as Greta Garbo and Lynne Fontanne. (The photo above are of garments from Ms Fontanne’s collection and was worn in Idiot’s Delight.)

Valentina was known for her monochromatic designs, often having a stark monastic look. She costumed many stage shows, including dressing Katherine Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story. The drape of the garments is beautiful and so simple in design as to not distract from the wearer. She loved to use opulent fabrics to create a lush effect that had customers flocking to her. She was held at the same level as Claire McCardell would be later, and there are some similarities in their garments, as both created simple garments that were comfortable to wear. Much of the work was hand done and there was not a lot of ornamentation. She truly was the torch bearer for the minimalism that we see today, but would not be popularized until the 1990’s.

Valentina wore her designs and was able to build her business in that way, given her status as a fashion icon of the time. Barry Paris noted in his book Garbo that Garbo and Valentina had a falling out over George in the years before he died, and though they lived in the same apartment building, they created a schedule where they would never run into each other in the lobby. She died in 1989 from Parkinson’s Disease in New York.

Valentina’s name is not as widely known today, being overshadowed by Valentino, who is not only male, but Italian. Her work still deserves to be seen and studied, because she set the bar in many ways for many designers to come.

Photos: Threads Magazine

Celebrity, Hollywood, Uncategorized

Hindsight is Compelling

I listed a book in the shop today. It’s called “Tell it to Louella,” and it’s written by Louella Parsons, the famed Hollywood columnist of years past. Ms Parsons was the person who knew all the gossip coming out of Hollywood, so you can only imagine the things she tells in this boo about people like Frank Sinatra, Princess Grace of Monaco, Lana Turner, and many more. But it was Marilyn Monroe’s story that I found most compelling.

I’ve long said that it’s hard to look at pictures of Marilyn, because I see so much sadness in her eyes. This book, published in 1961, acknowledges that. Ms Parsons calls it fear though. She said “if I were asked to choose one adjective with which to desribe Marilyn, I would choose ‘frightened.'”She said that when she looked at photos of Marilyn very early in her career, she saw sheer fright, to the point that it made her feel compassion for the poor girl. She described her as a Cinderella who is sure that the clock will strike midnight at any moment, and stated that this is why she could never achieven her full potential.

Marilyn was dead a year later.

Interesting that others have seen what I see through almost all of her pictures. Look past the beauty, the sex appeal, and the “it” factor, and you see sadness. And fear.

Mentioning the ‘it” factor, Ms Hopper says in her book that Clara Bow, the original IT Girl, had written her a letter the previous Christmas and said “not to [Elizabeth] Taylor, not to [Brigitte] Bardot, but to Monroe did I mentally bestow the “It Girl” tag some time ago. She and Jean Harlow are the only women I’ve ever seen who possessed the flesh impact that people said I had on the screen.” What an interesting way to put it.

Other interesting tidbits: Hollywood agent Ben Lyon always said Marilyn was a natural blonde which, of course, was not completely accurate. Ms Parsons brought this up to him one time, to which he responded “She is a naturaly blonde. I didn’t make the mistake. Nature did.” Hilarious.

Another thing that is really interesting in retrospect: Joan Crawford called Marilyn out for showing up to an event in form fitting gold lame dress which left nothing to the imagination. (This was not JFK’s birthday party.) Ms Crawford compared it to a burlesque show, and said “Miss Monroe should be told that the public likes provocative feminine personalities, but it also likes toknow that, underneath it all, the actresses are ladies.” Marilyn did not take the criticism well, being known for being very sensitive, and esponded that “I didn’t mean to do anything that the industry wouldn’t like. I just thought that I was expected to look alluring. Maybe my choice was bad, but my intention wasn’t. And the way so many people jumped on me — as if I’d committed a crime. Especially Joan Crawford.” She then added something that to Ms Hopper seemed to be out of contect, saying “I’ve always admired her [Crawford] for being such a wonderful mother. For taking four children and giving them such a wonderful home.”

Wow. Reads a little differently today, doesn’t it?

She ends the chapter by saying “no matter what, one thing I do know. Marilyn will make news for a long, long time. I hope, for her sake, that it will be happy news.”

I guess it’s up to the reader to decide whether memories of Marilyn are happy or not.