designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing

Fabulous Friday: Not Really Vintage, but…….

Vogue

OK, so it’s not really vintage and I’m late to the game today, but I got up at 4am the last two days, to watch two wild toddlers, so I need a bit of a break here. Nonetheless, I’m working through listing the 10,000 patterns I got a couple of weeks ago, and came across this one.

It’s Vogue 2940, by Anna Sui. Anna Sui is a very underrated designer who you don’t hear a lot about, but she has made some gorgeous stuff, including this little beauty from 2007. It’s got a very Pride & Prejudice vibe to it, and considering that the Kiera Knightley version of the movie came out in 2005, I guess that’s why. The regency vibe is unmistakable, but it would fit in perfectly for lovers (like myself) of Gunne Sax and cottagecore garments. It also may just be the perfect summer dress, as I could see it going from shopping to a wedding to church, and just about everywhere in between.

So forgive me if this one isn’t actually vintage. It’s not even quite listed in the shop yet, though it should be this weekend. It’s not even my picture. But I do feel that it is too lovely to ignore. What do you think?

designers, sewing patterns

Dazian’s Patterns

I’ve come across a few Dazian’s patterns over the years, and they’re always unique. Dazian’s produced some sewing patterns, always for dancewear or theatre costumes. The patterns I’ve seen have been for both women and children, though there are some even harder to find men/boys ones out there. I think the actual pattern line was pretty short lived, and although the ones I’ve seen always appear to be late 40s and early 50s, the company’s website states that they actually didn’t start putting out patterns until 1961. I would have never guessed.

Dazian’s as a company was pretty cool. They actually started with theatre costumes in 1842, and the company lasted over 100 years. It was started by Wolf Dazian, said to be the most knowledgeable costumer in history, though he also designed stage props. Dazian’s costumes were worn by such notables as Sarah Bernhardt, Caruso, Anna Pavlova, Al Jolson, and Maude Adams. Mr Dazian was known.

Dazian’s created costumes for Ziegfeld, of Follies fame. It was said that Ziegfield would walk into the shop carrying armloads of sweet peas, demanding the color be replicated into fabrics. He did the same thing with butterflies. He was a creative genius, but seemed to have trouble paying his bills once the costumes were done, according to Emil Friedlander, the manager of the company in the early 40s. Another customer was P.T. Barnum, who bought custom-made costumes for Mademoiselle Fanny — an orangutan.

He created a military style coat for Maude Adams that was trimmed in 14 carat gold — his most expensive costume by 1941, at a cost of $1350. Legend also had it that he created a fountain for a performance of Anna Pavlova. When she sent her rep to threaten to kill Dazian due to the noise of the water, he offered to remedy by changing the water from “hard water to soft water.” After banging around on the pipes for a while, Ms. Pavlova declared the noise to be much improved. The man was a genius at costuming and handling people.

Dazian’s expanded to the West Coast in 1929, so that they could serve not only the New York clientele, but the growing Hollywood scene as well. Wolf Dazian had pretty much locked up costuming nationwide by this time. Though he died in 1902, his son Henry had been heading the business for some years, and it continued to grow. Henry was quite the aficionado as well. He was director of the Maurice Grau Opera company, and was such a foodie that he was known to travel abroad just to taste a particular dish. Though the company remained in business for years after his death in 1937, Henry Dazian’s will stipulated that many of the company’s assets be converted to start the Dazian Foundation for medical research. He died after a long illness of heart disease, finally succumbing to pneumonia and the effects of diverticulitis. He had never married.

Dazian remains in business today as a fabric seller, primarily for curtains and drapes for theatres, including Las Vegas. That the company has managed to thrive for 180+ years is nothing short of amazing, and the diversity of their business is fascinating to behold.

The illustration above is one of a group I acquired recently. Several are signed by “Fern,” and though I have no idea who she is, I do admire her expertise. They all include cute notes about what fabrics to use and other details. I think that these are actually costume illustrations and not patterns, but I can’t be sure, given how few of the patterns are out there. Aren’t they adorable?

1950s fashion, designers, vintage clothing

Fabulous Friday: Goddess

Dovima and the Elephants, 1995, by Richard Avedon.

This may be the first post I’ve done about Dovima, but it most likely won’t be the last, because I. Love. Her. She is truly a goddess, to my eye, and the most iconic model in fashion history, with perhaps the exception of Carmen Dell’Orifice. Actually, she is the most iconic, but Carmen has had a longer career, by virtue of living longer and modelling into her 80s. But Dovima. ::sigh::

Dovima hit the fashion scene in the 40s, and worked into the 60s. She came from an era where models brought their own accessories, shoes and makeup, and did things on the fly. They did their own hair, they did their own makeup, and often the photos were done in any location they could find quickly, especially after a fashion show, when all of the photographers were vying for pictures of the same garment. This is why you will see so many photos of that era outside, where they ran to shoot after a show, or in front of a plain backdrop. It’s some of the most recognizable fashion photography ever done.

The models of that era had an elegance you don’t see now. Dovima was especially so. The way she placed her hands and tilted her head could not be replicated. Her relationship with also-iconic Richard Avedon was muse and mentor, as he considered her one of the last elegant models and she trusted him to capture beautiful images. He shot the unforgettable image above, Dovima and the Elephants, shot at a circus in Paris and featured in Harper’s Bazaar in 1955. The original dress was the first one Yves St. Laurent did for Christian Dior, and it is now housed at Newfields Art Museum in Indianapolis. I have stood and stared at it in awe many times, imagining the scene as Dovima created the image of soft and hard, old and new, elegance and animal instinct. It evokes a lot of emotion for me.

Dovima, for all of her elegance, lived a complex life. Married three times, and the face of both Dior and Balenciaga, she ended up broke in Florida, waitressing at a pizza joint. She had a particular affinity for abusive men, and according to other models of the era, would sometimes arrive at their apartments in the middle of the night, crying about what had been done to her. They wanted to help her, but she always fell back into relationships with the wrong men. She retired from modelling as Camelot crumbled and the mod era arrived, never to be seen on camera again. She died from liver cancer in Florida in 1990, but her images will live forever.

Dovima, by Richard Avedon, 1955.
1950s fashion, designers, sewing patterns

Susie Stephens – Midwest Goodness

Butterick 6879.

I listed this cute pattern in the shop this morning. It’s Butterick 6879 and it’s adorable. I love View A, but can’t imagine doing all that bias tape trim. It’d be worth the work, but wow. This pattern is part of the “Susie Stephens” line from Butterick.

Susie Stephens, in case you didn’t know, is a line of sewing patterns designed by students at Stephens College, in Columbia, Missouri. (Fun fact: I grew up not far from there, and always thought of it as a rich kids school. But I digress.) At Stephens, they had a yearly fashion show done by the students. It was called “Susie Stephens.” It commonly had a theme, such as in 1952, where the them was “Campus Classics from the Classics,” and featured garments and millinery inspired by books such as Little Women, David Copperfield and Wuthering Heights. These garments were shown in fashion shows around the Midwest.

A 1947 article notes that the designs were fresh and adaptable, with rompers that had skirts to go over them, coats with enough volume to carry books underneath during the rainy season, and much more. On the day of the show, it was surmised that the garment district of St Louis must’ve emptied out and headed to Columbia, along with designer staff from Kansas City and New York. Budding designers were hired straight from these shows. The next day, the show was done again for the people of Columbia, where customers could choose the garment or the patterns, to take to their dressmaker for adaptations.

By 1950, Butterick had taken notice, and started their “Susie Stephens” line. This line was specifically created from the Stephens College students’ designs, and was advertised for teenagers. By 1952, they had printed 30 designs in the Susie Stephens line, but it seems to have waned in popularity after 1953, and disappeared completely after 1954. It’s worth taking a look at this cute line of patterns.

1950s fashion, designers, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Thank Your Lucky Stars for Claire

I saw this meme over the holidays and had to laugh. It’s said that it’s a white-girl thing that every time someone admires a dress, the girl responds in kind “thanks, it’s got pockets.” Now I don’t know that it’s purely a white-girl thing, but women do love themselves a good garment with pockets. And do you know who you can thank for that?

Claire McCardell.

Ms. McCardell was known as the one who invented American sportswear, and for good reason. She was tall and athletic herself, the only sister in a family with three boys, and she wanted comfortable clothes she could move in. She ended up as a founding board member of Sports Illustrated. I doubt that a fashion designer has ever had that privilege since. She really did push sportswear to a whole new level (and I’m not talking about polyester gym suits and tennis dresses here).

Claire McCardell liked simple clothes that you could move in, in fabrics like jersey that draped well and moved with you. She loved cottons too, especially in plaids. Indeed, she made plaid ok to wear for evening wear. She pushed the notion of wearing tights and flats on the streets, instead of spike heels. She made jumpsuits and their shorter version, the playsuit, ok to wear outside of the Rosie the Riveter factory jobs. She put details on clothing that hadn’t been seen before or were seen only on jeans, like topstitching and yes, pockets. Those pockets that we love so much now.

Claire McCardell made it ok to wear separates, like shorts and blouses, capris, and the like. I’ve had two Claire McCardell patterns over the years: a Spadea (that sold for over $200 at auction) and a rarely found McCall’s pattern that probably sold for much less than it should have (I can’t remember). The Spadea was for one of her iconic dresses. The McCall’s was for sportswear separates. They aren’t easy to find, but the two patterns showed the full spectrum of what McCardell did.

I’m pretty sure that this Spadea 1130 is the one I had (it’s been a while). Simple lines and pockets.

Spadea American Designer’s #1130, 1953.

Here’s the McCall’s one I had. It’s a great representation of her love for sportswear separates and sadly, is from 1958, the year Claire McCardell died a very untimely death from cancer.

McCall’s 4494, 1958. Photo compliments of the Vintage Pattern Wiki.

If you are interested in Claire McCardell’s philosophy of dress, take a look at What Shall I Wear? , a book she authored that includes all kinds of advice on how to dress. I have a copy, and I love it. If you want to see more of her designs, grab Claire McCardell Redefining Modernism. It’s a coffee table book that has all the history of her designs, along with beautiful full color photos. Set aside some time for this one. You’ll want to give it its due, because it really is a wonderful book.

Until next time,
Lisa

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1950s fashion, designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

Start the New Year With Something Pretty

Vogue 1434, Nina Ricci, 1959.

I was listing this gorgeous pattern on the website today and went searching for Nina Ricci online. I came across this equally beautiful photo of a dress from her 1961 collection and had to share it, because we all need to go into the new year thinking pretty thoughts. Print available here.

Nina Ricci, 1961.

Happy New Year to you all. May your year be full of light and joy and beautiful things.

designers, vintage fashion

The Couture Group

While researching Donald Brooks for the previous post, I found that he was part of “the couture group.” Although I had heard of FOGA before, I hadn’t heard of this specific group, so I went looking.

The New York Dress Institute was a group of designers which numbered 1300 New York designers, and the Couture Group was a subset of top designers. The Dress Institute was the sponsor of the twice yearly Fashion Week, and dozens of designers showed there. First mention of the group is in 1945, but the Dress Institute was created in 1941, with the encouragement of the Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, in order to encourage people to buy American Fashion. It was much better known starting in 1946. This likely was due to the devastation of Paris’ fashion industry during the war years, and Americans attempting to establish themselves at the forefront of fashion.

In 1946, the designers numbered 19, but it grew over the course of time. The original 19 were: Hansen Bang, Anthony Blotta, Hattie Carnegie, Fox-Brownie, David M. Goldstein, Joseph Halpert, Anna Miller, Clare Potter, Jo Copeland, Ben Reig, Ren-Eta, Nettie Rosenstein, Herbert Sondheim, Spectator Sports, Claire McCardell, Pauline Trigere, Samuel Kass, Adele Simpson and Joseph Whitehead. By 1948, there were 30 members, all “high style, high price ready to wear manufacturers.” The group grew over the years to include Ceil Chapman, Mollie Parnis, Tina Reser, Ben and many more. Some of the members were also creators of French Haute Couture, such as Christian Dior.

Though the Couture Group definitely set the trends for fashion, they also seemed to be involved with the price of fashion as well, especially in the early 50s. They released statements seasonally in 1950-51 stating that the prices of their clothing would not rise, even if the government changed or even froze the prices of fabrics. Members of the Couture Group also contributed to underwriting the cost of Fashion Week (then known as Press Week) in New York, to the tune of $3000 each in 1952. That would be about $49,000 now, meaning the show cost about $1.5 to put on. That was a LOT of money, and though the couture designers showed collections, there were over 100 shows total to be seen during the week.

In 1966, the New York Dress Institute merged with the American Designers’ Group, which had been started in 1962 by a former chairman of the Couture Group. It was renamed the New York Couture Business Council, and in 1976 was again renamed New Directions.

designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

Donald Brooks

I found this pattern in my to-be-listed pile and wondered, as is typical of my inquiring nature, who Donald Brooks was. What I found was that I’m not sure I liked him very much.

Donald Mark Blumberg was a lifelong New Yorker. He worked in the early 50s doing window dressing for Lord & Taylor, while he was still a student at Parsons. Lord & Taylor asked him to design a collection for them, and his career took off from there. He began working at Townley in 1958, and took over the helm after Claire McCardell died — those were some BIG shoes to fill. (The more you learn about him, the more you will realize how different he was from her).

He worked at Townley until 1964. He favored bold prints. His 1960s Townley collection featured a python printed chiffon evening gown as its centerpiece. 1964 featured cowl necks (like the one above), bare shoulders, and got away from side closings on dresses. He opened his own house in 1965. Mid 60’s found him noted as one of the “three B’s”: Geoffrey Beene, Bill Blass, and Donald Brooks. He was all about details like back belts (martingale belts, as they had been known in the 40s and 50s), detailed metal belts, and the like. He dressed Babe Paley and Jacqueline Kennedy, and did a number of theatrical costuming jobs as well.

In 197s, it was said by the New York Daily News that Pat Nixon must’ve been planning a trip to China, because she bought one of his evening gowns, in a Chinese theme. He denied this, saying he had “no great rapport with the Nixons,” and added that his designs were “to theatrical and young” for the First Lady. Well. Judgmental, much?

In October, 1972, he was interviewed and said that women had been dressing down for a period of time and during that time had gotten away from fur. He thought fur was coming back. He said “American women’s guilt complex about ‘obviously chic’ clothes are erased now because achievement prone women have concluded that fashion is not a deterrent to accomplishment.” Wow. By this point, I was really thinking him to be rather a misogynist and wondered about many of his life choices. That year, he showed a collection of fur caftans in poncho, street and cape lengths, saying basically that any woman could wiggle, but wearing a draped poncho was more sensuous. He defended himself on the fur issue by saying he didn’t use any endangered furs because he did “no crimes against nature.” He did one collection a year from that point on.

Later in the 70s, he was primarily known for his work with fur, which continued to be his focus for the remainder of his career. He was quoted at one point as saying “You can turn an absolute whore into a lady by just putting pearls around her neck.”

See what I mean?

He was a great designer, winning the Coty Award three times, starting in 1962. He had Three Oscar nominations, including “The Cardinal” which required 2000 costumes, including 138 ball gowns. He ultimately designed for Ann Taylor, beginning in 1990, and died on Long Island in 2005 at age 77, as a result of effects from a heart attack he had a couple of weeks before.

That being said, I do love the dress shown above. It’s simple chic, and not difficult to sew, either. Click here to purchase from my shop.

1950s fashion, designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage fashion

Aurora Battilocchi

Advance Import 113, by Aurora Battilocchi

Aurora Battilocchi designed ladies’ fashion in the 1950s, and was thought by some to be the most creative Italian designer of the time. Her designs had a Parisian feel that combined with contemporary designs. Her designs worked for most women, because she did everything — empire looks as well as long torso looks with incredible details. She favored rich fabrics in brocades and satin, and her colors were equally so, in gold, flame red, sea blue and basic black.

One of her typical looks in 1955 was designed in tiers: a jacket where the hem created the first tier, and worn over a sheath dress that was cut again above the knee, creating the second tier above the final hem. Another model had a twilight themed skirt, with layers of pink, violet and blue organza. She was one of the only designers of the season to show a silk print. Ballgowns from this collection included a aquamarine silk dress with a pintucked bodice as well as a “tightly wound red and gold sheath with a huge bustle.” How I wish I could find a video of one of her shows!

She didn’t have much of a lifespan in American fashion though, as she disappeared from the scene here after 1961, and I can’t find anything about her from that point on. Perhaps she passed away, but she left a beautiful legacy. As was said about her in 1952, she was “renowned for her refined taste and understatement of the dramatic that is in itself dramatic.” Coco Chanel would approve.

designers, sewing, sewing patterns

Alexander McQueen Genius

Photo: Vogue
Jacket: Alexander McQueen
Model: Anok Yai
Photographer: Ronan McKenzie

I came across this photo of an Alexander McQueen jacket (designed by Sarah Burton) in the November issue of Vogue, and it stopped me in my tracks. My husband thought I’d lost my mind as I showed him the seams and tried to figure out what was going on. The seam coming from under the arm was driving me crazy. Was it a dart? Was it a side seam? I couldn’t figure it out.

The bodice and waist are obviously two different pieces. If it was a seam, then I’d like to see how it was cut, because it makes no sense to me. It couldn’t be joining front to back because it ends at the top of the pocket. But I’ve also never seen a dart starting under the arm like that either. It does look like there is a side seam behind it, but that one doesn’t appear to be coming from under the arm.

I pretty much obsessed over figuring this out, then put it out on my Facebook page, to have my sewing friends weigh in. They agreed that it’s a dart, even though the placement isn’t like anything I’ve seen before — but I haven’t seen a lot of true couture garments up close, either. But then my friend and guru of all things sewing patterns (and sewing) weighed in. She said it’s a princess seam, or perhaps just a curved tailoring seam. It’s a seam, not a dart. She also said it’s a true pocket (some thought it was just a flap). And then she drew me out what the front would look like in the pattern. It’s in three pieces:

Drawing by Julie Kempf

It makes a lot more sense to me now. The tailoring on this jacket is amazing, and the results are beautiful. I’m going to have to study more designs and marvel at the patternmaking. It seems to be an Alexander McQueen year for me, because I’ve basically watched all of his shows on YouTube during lockdown, and I really want to get his book, Savage Beauty (buy it here). Also, if you get a chance to watch the documentary about him, McQueen, on Amazon Prime, do it. His death was such a loss to the fashion community. I’d have loved to see what he would have done today.

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