Christian Dior rocked the fashion scene with his 1947, which was ultimately called “The New Look.” Gone was the fabric rationing of the era. The pronouncement that Paris fashion had not only survived the war, but that it was back in new and exciting ways was obvious, as Dior showed his “Corolle” and “Figure 8” styles. These styles were minimalist while over the top, with voluminous skirts, requiring yards of fabric never seen before. He stripped down to the details when showing them, keeping colors deliberately muted and hats very simple. The Bar Jacket is iconic, and seen in museums all overthe world.
Echoes of the Bar Suit are seen throughout the late forties, fifties, and early sixties. It returns in the 80s, and is seen even today. Sewing patterns are reflective of its popularity. Remember, this is a time when sewing pattern companies and fashion designers sent representatives to Paris with their only assignment being to replicate the styles seen in the fashion shows. This brought Paris fashion to housewives in America, making real style attainable. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, designers were not always given attribution, so it would take some deep diving to find which designer matched with which “Paris Fashion” pattern, but they definitely exist.
When I saw this pattern the other day, I saw the echoes, with it’s tiny “flap” (they don’t call it a peplum). It’s a one piece dress, as opposed to the Bar Suit, which is two pieces, but wouldn’t you agree that there is a definite influence here?
It’s not exact, of course, but it’s like hearing echoes of one musician in another’s music. The influence is definitely there.
Oscars night is a big deal around here. I call it Pretty Dress Night, and my husband has zero chance of watching anything else as I enjoy the parade of fashion. It’s been this way for years.
When my now adult son was six, he had strep throat on Oscars night. We knew he wasn’t going to be going to school the next day and, being a huge movie fan even at that age, he begged to stay up to watch the Oscars. I think that Harrison Ford was going to be presenting one of the last awards, and he wanted to see him, so I relented. Since that time, it’s been tradition for us to watch them “together.” I have quotation marks because when he went to college, we were on AOL Instant Messager during the awards, and now we might get together, or we might be texting the whole time, but we always watch them together in one form or another. To say that he is a huge film buff would be a gross understatement.
Around the time of the first Oscars we watched together, our video store had a contest for choosing the winners. I got stuck waiting in line and just dashed off my guesses and put them in the box. I won. I got ten free rentals, which the ex used. That was fine, because I didn’t watch a ton of movies — I was working evenings and home schooling three kids during the day. The ex, on the other hand, always tried to see the Oscar nominated films. He couldn’t believe that I won, given my lack of film viewing, so the next year, he brought me the ballot from the video store and challenged me to beat him. I did. And I won another twenty movie rentals, which he again used. Now he was unhappy, because he went to the time and expense to watch all these movies, and I may see one Oscar nominated film a year. So he did it again the third year in a row, and I won again. Twenty movie rentals, but now the video store required showing ID in order to get the free rentals, so he couldn’t get them.
He swore that I told them not to rent the movies to him. I didn’t. I think we eventually used them up, but after that, he refused to compete with me. My oldest, however, did not. It was ON. Year after year, he tried to beat me and failed. Finally, maybe four or five years ago, he finally beat me. I don’t pay as much attention to the buzz as I used to, but now all of the kids and I have a running contest to see who guesses the most accurately. We usually come in pretty close. But really, I’m just there for the clothes.
It’s funny to think that the Oscars weren’t a huge event when they started, and have only gotten huge since the seventies or so. Now, it’s the red carpet night, arguably even bigger than the Met Gala, which is only watched by fashion fans. Oscars night is seen by anyone who loves movies, so its reach is massive. This is huge for the designers who want to get their designs out there. I listed the book shown above in the Etsy shop the other day. It’s a great view of the Oscars up to the early 2000s, and has tons of photos, black and white and in color, of the stars of the day. Meantime, I’ll be on the couch with popcorn, passing judgement on the stars on Oscars night. Who’s gonna join me?
I listed this pattern in the Etsy shop today. I’d never seen a Vogue French Boutique pattern before.
The French Boutique series seems to have been a shorter lived series that was distributed between about 1976 and 1981. Most of them are designed by Christian Aujard, though Renata has a couple as well. These were lesser well known boutique designers in Paris at the time. Renata, the designer of this one, was known for creating loose, comfortable styles.
I love this one. I’d wear the blue version with boots. It looks unbelievably comfortable, doesn’t it? I think you could get through Thanksgiving with this style and never feel the need to loosen anything after the feast. The top would be great with jeans, but would work with loungewear pants as well. I do prefer the belted version though — unbelted, it reads maternity.
I’m going to be keeping my eye out for not only more French Boutique patterns, but also Renata. Her aesthetic reads as contemporary even today.
I’ve been uploading some patterns to the Vintage Sewing Patterns Wiki. They are from an August, 1926 issue of Pictorial Review magazine, and wow are the styles beautiful. I’ve come across this lately more than once, and figured it deserved a bit of a spotlight: sometimes designer patterns aren’t designer patterns.
We all know about designer patterns by Vogue, which include everyone from Schiaparelli to Oscar de la Renta. Many of you know about the designer series by Advance, which included designers like Jo Copeland and even Adrian (I have two. See them here.). Spadea, of course, did tons of designer patterns by Ceil Chapman, the Dutchess of Windsor, and many, many more. McCalls had patterns by designers like Givenchy and Geoffrey Beene. There are even some mail order designer patterns — Charles James did two. I’ve been lucky enough to have one. But did you know that some designer patterns are not labelled as such?
The pattern above, for example, was “designed after Lanvin.” It is Pictorial Review 3405. It was not labelled as a designer pattern, and most likely was not approved by the couture house, but back in the day, it was regular practice to send people to the couture fashion shows in Paris, with their only purpose to be making copies of the designs. They would sketch out the designs, then come back to America and have patterns made from the sketches. This Pictorial Review has four pages of “designed after” patterns from Lanvin, Worth, Molyneux and more. They’re gorgeous.
In the more modern era, you can find patterns attributed to Alexander McQueen by looking at Givenchy patterns from the era when he was their designer. Here’s one:
I recently sold a Chloe that was most likely Karl Lagerfeld as well. These are the things you find when you do a deep dive into sewing patterns. I find it fascinating, and maybe others do too. I just really love nerding out over the history involved in sewing and the patterns women used. Perhaps they knew what they had. Perhaps they didn’t care. But the details in it are so interesting to me. You never know what you have till you know what you have.
A new listing in the Etsy shop: this track suit style jacket by McCall’s, labelled Van Martin. It’s from 1981, when track suits were starting to become a bit more stylish. The pattern is only for the jacket though. It looks comfortable, because it has an inverted pleat down the back, to give you room to move, and you can make it with anything from poplin and linen to double knits and velour. It’s pretty versatile (and this one is a bust 40, which is nice for today’s ladies).
Van Martin was a sportswear designer. I like what he had to say in this article from the White Plains Journal-News. He said [sewing] “is a means of expressing my creativity. When you cook a meal, you create something that’s never before existed, and that’s what you do with sewing.” Isn’t that cool? You may buy a pattern, even a pattern that’s existed and been owned by various people for a hundred years, but you still are creating something that’s never existed before, because you are choosing the fabric, buttons, zippers, trims all yourself and making it your own. You are a creator. I love the existentialistic idea of that.
I listed this pattern in the Etsy shop this week and thought who in the world is Leona Rocha. Well, first and foremost, she is apparently not related to Coco Rocha, who is the first person who came to mind. I went looking, and here is what I found.
Leona Rocha was a fit expert. Born in Hawaii, she originally enlisted in the Army’s dental technician course. She used her GI bill benefits to train as a designer at the FIT, she was a past president of the American Home Sewing Association, and even wrote a book about fitting with simplicity. She was a founder of a sewing notions company called Fashionetics, and was the inventor of The Fashion Ruler while still a student, and it is still sold today. In the early 80’s, she partnered with Simplicity to do seminars about fit. At that time, she also hosted a TV show called The Sewing Show on cable four days a week, twice a day. It was a thirteen week series about how to sew at home and properly fit home sewn clothing. She later became an executive at Vogue-Butterick patterns — and married one of their executives. She ran for office on Maui, where she still lives today.
Seems like with all of these accomplishments, I would have known something about her, so I’m glad that now I do. She has left a great legacy to the sewing community.
I read the vintage book Fashion Fundamentals, by Bernice Chambers recently, and wow, is it fascinating. The setting is 1947, which puts it post World War II, but before the New Look dominated the scene, so the world was fresh out of not only a war, but fabric rationing and the huge impact of the war on the fashion industry. It includes everything from bios of designers to descriptions of different fabrics and fur. Cool stuff.
What I found most interesting though, was the stories it told of France’s couture industry during the war, and how they were able not only to keep it going, but keep it in France. The Germans wanted to move the couture industry to Berlin. Lucien Lelong, the president of the Haute Couture Chambre Syndical De La Haute Couture, and though he made a couple of trips to Berlin, he pulled off the absolute miracle of defying the Germans and refusing to move. Can you imagine the absolute bravery of going against the Germans, who wanted to take occupied France’s biggest industry away from them?
Think of the impact this could have had. Christian Dior had not shown a collection yet. The entire Berlin fashion scene — iconic in its own way — might not exist as we know it. Moving couture to Germany would have completely turned fashion history on its head. I am amazed.
Add to this that the German officers and their lives liked to shop in the couture industry, and what the designers did to sabotage it, and you will laugh. They purposely made horribly awful, huge hats for the Germans, refusing to offer them top designs. This shows that everyone can be a defiant cog in the wheel of the opposition if they think it through. I just love the visual on this — imagine godawful hats in the windows where the beautiful tiny sculptural hats of the 40s should be, and German women walking out thinking they look amazing whilst the French laugh at them behind their backs.
The other thing that they did was so united. The couture industry was rationed 2/1000 of the normal amount of cloth they normally were used to. A tiny amount. OK, so they can’t make as many clothes, and marketing would be hard if not impossible, but think of how many jobs this affected. This put an entire industry under threat of unemployment during the occupation. What did the designers do? They had limited fabric to work with, weren’t allowed or able to do fabric embellishments like ruffles or pockets, so they did embroidery and beading. LOTS of it. Doing huge intricate designs kept the embroiders employed and families from going hungry.
The pivots that the French couture industry accomplished during the war amaze me. American industry faced its own restrictions, but we were not occupied, and the restrictions weren’t as suffocating. We could still get good cotton, even if we couldn’t get Asian silks or Italian wools. The French had to completely think outside the box, and did it whilst making life difficult for their oppressors. I love it.
The book will be listed in the Etsy shop in the next day or two.
I’m reading a 1940s book about the fashion industry, and am learning all kinds of things about lesser known (now) designers. Case in point: Fira Benenson. I’ve seen Fira Benenson patterns before. They are generally 1950s Spadeas, sometimes very early 1960s, but I’ve never heard of her name outside of this. Turns out she’s an interesting person.
I always thought, given her first name, that she had to be Italian, but she was actually Russian. She was a driving force for Bonwit Teller and got her start as the director of imports there before World War II. During the war years, she was the one who designed Bonwit Teller’s collections. She was one of the first retail buyers to return to Paris after the war.
She was very much a team player, saying that no designer designs in a vacuum. “A designer works with the assistance of many people — the fitters, operators, fabric people and her other workers. I would be helpless without my staff.” This is so true, as you’d be surprised how many designers can’t draw, sew or make patterns. Many of them, of course, would never admit it publicly.
Ms. Benenson was noted for elegance. She used rich fabrics and embellished with embroidery, shirring, tucking and intricate seams. In 1941, she used a rounded shoulder technique she terms the “hug shoulder” to accentuate women’s curves. That same season, she showed a “soupcatcher” waist, with horizontal looped draping below the waist that created a shelf -hence the soupcatcher name. It was basically a front pannier and based on a Victorian fashion, and created a beautiful, draped effect that accentuated a tiny waist.
“Miss B”, as her staff called her, was soft spoke and gracious, always wearing black, and generally a shirred dress of her own creation. She always wore a huge black pearl left to her by her mother, surrounded by ribbons of diamonds. She was born in Russia in 1898, the child of the Czar Nicolas’ banker, and came to the United States in 1921, after the death of her mother. She opened her own dress shop and was recruited by Bonwit Teller in 1934 to head up their Salon de Couture. This required frequent trips to Paris to view the collections, as she did not design at this point. She only began designing again in 1940 when the war made it necessary. She opened her own shop again in 1948, going into the wholesale business. She maintained both couture and ready to wear collections, as she felt that women wanted clothes that looked “made to measure” to be widely available.
In private life, Ms. Benenson was the Countess Fira Ilinska, married to a Polish nobleman. She spoke seven languages, collected Belgian blown glass, and was known for her dinner parties, where she did much of the prep and cooking herself. The count and countess celebrated 30 years of marriage in March 1961 with a posh dinner party at their apartment that included many of the same guests who originally attended their wedding, including diplomats, artists, writers and businessman. Four months later, the count died in Paris from heart disease. He was 64. Ms. Beneson died in 1977 in the New York apartment she had called home for many years.
Rita Hayworth was something of a muse to Jacques Fath, who designed her blue wedding dress to the Prince Aly Khan, as well as her trousseau of 15 gowns to get her through the wedding week. Her wedding dress, designed in a powder blue Fath called “Rita Blue”, was copied almost immediately, and made available to the American public whilst the happy couple was still on their honeymoon. It was only available in America in navy and black. He then designed her maternity wardrobe shortly afterward. The sale of her wedding dress design caused an on again off again feud between the two, and Fath reportedly didn’t even send congratulations to Rita at her next wedding only four years later. There is no word whether they reconciled before his very untimely death from leukemia in 1954.
This dress, shown in Life Magazine was also designed for Rita, and was also seen in her namesake blue.
After the discussion about unknown designer patterns yesterday, I went to look for as many of the Doublemint Gum designer patterns as I could find. Here is the list. There may be more, but these are all I could find at the moment.
Simplicity 2849, above, is attributed to Sonya Henie as the designer. Now, Sonya was a prolific skater, but did she actually design this, or were they just using her name? We will never know for certain.
This cute number was modeled by Joan Bennett in the ads, and is attributed to designer Elizabeth Hawes.
This beautiful suit was modeled by Claudette Colbert and designed by Travis Banton.
This ad featured Deanna Durbin, with the pattern being attributed to Vera West, “Universal Pictures’ Fashion Creator.”
This one is different. Though it mentions the movie The Last Frontier/aka The Real Glory, the ad does not mention a designer. If it was designed by the costumer of the movie, it would be Jeanne Beakhurst, but there’s not a way to confirm this attribution.
That is the only one I can find for 1939 that mentions an actress. It may be the only one, and perhaps the movie/designer/actress/pattern/gum collaboration was confined to 1939, but considering they snagged Schiaparelli and Valentina, I’d say it was pretty successful, wouldn’t you?