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RIP Kenzo Takada

Butterick 3027. 1973.

Kenzo Takada died this weekend as a results of COVID-19. He was 81. Though perhaps not as familiar a name as Dior and Balmain, Kenzo held his own place in fashion, and definitely still has lovers of his line today.

Kenzo worked in a Japenese department store until he decided to head to Paris in 1965. He struggled as most designers do for several years before he enlisted a partner and started his “Jungle Jap” label with an investment of $4000. He came up with the name after painting murals of trees and exotic animals on his salon walls in Galerie Vivienne. He wanted a jungle themed name and decided “Jungle Jap” was the right sound and was funny. All went well until he tried to expand into the US and he was sued by the Japanese-Amerian Citizens’ League, who called the name “derogatory”, because of the visions it evoked of Pearl Harbor and World War II. He agreed to change it to Kenzo, as the League would not accept his idea of changing it to J.A.P. He was a bit mystified, as it hadn’t been problematic in Paris. The next year, he was sued again after Lord & Taylor continued to sell clothing with the J.A.P label. He sold the label in 1973 for a cool $20 million. His label after all of the controversy was simply KENZO.

Kenzo’s popularity in Japan didn’t happen until after he became a big name at Paris Fashion Week. He became so popular that by the early 80s, it had become customary to close Fashion Week with his collections. His shows were fresh and upbeat, much like he was. One critic pointed out his smiling face, reminding people that France had once offered cash to locals who would smile at touriests. They never had to paid out, as the French reportedly just did not smile. (Trying to remember if this was the case when I was in Paris, but I can’t remember.)

Kenzo’s collections had a multitude of looks. His 1970 show included toreador pants, riding breeches and sheer clown-type pants, as well as a whole selection of 1920s inspired looks, including pleated skirts. He was responsible for many of the mid 70s looks such as bat wing tops, narrow straight leg pants, big sweaters and the revival of trapeze coats. His weskit (waistcoat) looks were seen in Paris a year after he featured them in his collections. I wonder how much of the Annie Hall look so popular from the time was actually inspired by him. He rode a wave of popularity for years. He was the only designer who steadfastly refused to use man-made fibers, saying he “can’t stand the feel of them.” His collections were pure cotton, linen, silks and the like. His 1970’s line of sewing patterns by Butterick are still immensely popular.

It took Kenzo quite a while to build his business in the US, citing the high costs of French materials as well as the import fees in the US. He found it difficult to create garments that could be kept at an affordable price point for Americans due to the overhead. He eventually expanded here, and even created a line for The Limited in 1984, with garments priced from $75-100 (still pretty pricey for the time). For all of the success he had however, he lived a fairly low key lifestyle, riding the Metro in Paris and not having a maid. He retired in 1999 to travel and do art projects.

Check out a history of Kenzo Fashion by clicking here. I don’t currently have any Kenzo patterns listed (they sell like crazy), but see the selection of Kenzo patterns on Etsy by clicking here.

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Ceil Chapman and the Queen

Spadea American Designers 1150.

This dress pattern was designed specifically for Queen Elizabeth II by Ceil Chapman, and was called the “Coronation” Dress. It was inspired by a button marketed by B.G.E. Originals that was a reproduction of an original Elizabethan button. The reproduction button was sold in stores. I’ve been looking for it for years. The original was an enamel flower, surrounded by diamonds and rubies. Ms. Chapman designed the dress in “Windsor blue” peau de soie, with the understated bodice that the queen favored. The back of the top is bloused, and the collar is a simple stand up one. The skirt is full. This is reminiscent of the queen’s simple taste that echoes through to today.

The pattern is a part of the American Designer’s series that was printed by Spadea, using all of the top designers of the day. Ironically, in the 60s and 70s, the Dutchess of Windsor would create patterns for this line. One has to wonder what the queen would have thought of being an inspiration for the line that later included an outcast of the family.

Though this pattern doesn’t include the highly desired draped necklines that Ceil Chapman is later known for, it’s beautiful in its own right, and her patterns are difficult to find. I have two in my shop. Click here to see an original, and here to see a reproduction of her Skylark dress, an iconic design of the time.

sewing patterns, Uncategorized

Cosmopolitan Patterns

Cosmopolitan patterns are not often found, probably because it appears to have had a short run as a pattern company. Cosmopolitan Fashion Model Company’s patterns first appeared in newspapers in May, 1895. The ad was addressed specifically to “ladies”, but they did offer at least some men’s patterns, as seen here. They were advertised for a “uniform price” of 15 cents each. An ad in September stated that “to make them more well known”, they offered a pattern for 15 cents, postage paid. That ad states that the retail price was normally 20-40 cents, but that they were again selling them for a uniform 15 cents. By far, the majority of newspaper ads of 1895 were seen in California.

Cosmopolitan pattern, 1895. Number 548

1896 saw ads spread nationwide, indicating that they had indeed gotten the word out about their patterns. Pricing remained the same.

Cosmopolitan pattern, 1986. No number indicated.

1897 saw a significantly fewer amount of ads, indicating perhaps that the company had gone into a bit of a slump, but 1898 saw an explosion of ads, so perhaps this was not the case. Perhaps they did so well in 1897 that they didn’t need to advertise. It’s not clear. One 1898 ad stated they were selling for 10 and 15 cents but were “just as good as 25 cent patterns.” Not the best marketing ploy, I think. Somewhere between 1897 and 1898, the name was shortened to simply Cosmopolitan Patterns in ads, though I believe that the packaging still said Cosmopolitan Fashion Model Co, as one I have from after 1900 has this still printed on the envelope.

Cosmopolitan pattern, 1899. No number indicated.

1902 ads from Albuquerque indicate pricing of 10 cents, but no reference is found indicating what the “retail” (printed on the package) price was. By then, their slogan had become “none higher, none better.” By May of that year, some ads show prices of 9 cents, showing that perhaps they wanted to live by their slogan. 1904 found pricing at 10 cents. Continuing to 1907, the ad stated that Cosmopolitan was the only “10 cent seam allowance pattern.”

1908 saw some stores advertising free Cosmopolitan patterns with a purchase, and in 1909, many stores advertised that they were no longer carrying Cosmopolitan patterns, but had taken on contracts with McCall. Some stores were still advertising Cosmopolitan, but at 1 cent. The company was definitely in trouble. By 1910, they were no longer advertised at all.

Perhaps Cosmopolitan was bought by McCall, but I can’t find evidence of that. Indications are they they only published womens’ patterns, but if I am wrong about that, please do let me know. Cosmopolitan did well for a few years, in a very competitive pattern market. It may be that undercutting their prices meant they paid a heavy price, but they don’t seem to have caught on, and their marketing slogans definitely needed improvement. One thing to note though is that they always sold for less than the printed price, so price on the envelope will not help in dating them. You will have to study the style in order to come up with an accurate date, but it should always be between 1895 to 1909.

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I fold, again.

I love pleats, especially tiny detailed ones. I thought I’d share this lovely illustration of different types of pleats, derived from Book 4 of A Modern Course in Home Sewing and Dressmaking, published in 1926, and availabl for download here.

So looking at all of this fancy folded fabric reminds me of a story. My youngest son talks in his sleep. As in, you can hold an entire conversation with him while he’s sound asleep. It may not make any sense whatsoever, but he will definitely tell you things. It’s legendary among those who know hi Some years back when he was about ten, we took a cruise through the Panama Canal. The kids had a fine time and spent a lot of time in the library playing poker amongst themselves (my oldest was really into Texas Hold ’em at the time. The cruise was just after Christmas, and he’d gotten cards and chips as a gift, so he took them along.) On the plane ride home from San Diego, the youngest sat next to me. He had been running like mad for two weeks, and fell soundly asleep as soon as we were airborne. An hour or two later, he suddenly sat up with a disgusted look on his face, looked me straight in the eye and said with a sigh “I fold…….again.” Then he laid his head down and slept the rest of the flight without incident. It still cracks me up fifteen years later.

sewing, Uncategorized

I Made a Thing

My granddaughter’s name is Isla. She’s named after a server in a haggis restaurant in Scotland, where my daughter and her husband visited before she was born. They went to Ireland as well, so I’ve always gifted Isla with Irish and Scottish gifts. Last fall, I got her a kilt at the Scottish festival here. I got her an Irish knit blanket for Christmas. There’s definitely a theme.

So last winter, I saw this vintage 70s Campbell’s Soup kid doll kit on Etsy, and decided to make it for her. I actually got her the boy doll too, but decided to make the girl first to see how she liked it. She loves dolls, but trust me when I say just how creepy this thing was along the way. I wish I still had the pictures of the face before I stuffed it, because it was reminiscent of something Buffalo Bill would’ve come up with. The dogs were terrified and wouldn’t stop barking at her.

I started on it in December, but if you recal, I’m a beginning sewist and the shirt came together REALLY wonky, so I put it away in frustration. Then last week, I realized that Isla’s birthday was the next day, and I hadn’t gotten a gift. Quarantine has frozen my brain, and we haven’t gotten to see much of the grandgirls because we are in full quarantine because of my cancer and my husband’s heart disease, not to mention my 87 yo mom. So I pulled the whole thing out again and started sewing. Amazingly, the shirt came together really easily — it was a huge struggle the first time — and the rest was simple. (I had already completed the doll in December.) I decided that the hair being done in curls like it shows was just too much for my short timeframe. If I’d had red yarn, I would’ve done some crazy Merida hair, but I didn’t, so she became a blonde, which is ok, because Isla is blonde too.

You see the final results. Kinda creepy but kinda cute. Isla saw her and gave her a big hug, so I guess it was a win. I may make the boy for her for Christmas, which means she’ll get it next summer.

If you like her, you can buy the kit on Etsy here (shows the boy and the girl). It really isn’t that hard, even for a beginner like me.

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.

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A Little History of the Business of Sewing

I don’t know about you, but when I think of sewing, I remember everyone learning how to sew, at least to some extent. I was the baby of the family, and I remember sitting at my mom’s feet while she sewed on her old Necchi machine. She never really enjoyed sewing, and says she was never very good at it, but I didn’t know that at the time. I remember her making summer clothes for us. Simple patterns that I still come across today.

Mom says that her sisters, especially the second oldest, Blanche (there were 18 of kids in her family), was especially good at sewing, and made all sorts of things, including coats. She said my grandmother sewed all the time too, which I consider to be a miracle. I would love to have been a fly on the wall in a three bedroom house with 18 kids, where grandma had a huge garden, cooked and baked, AND sewed for the kids, all while grandpa was away much of the time, doing his thing as an engineer on the railroad. I’m in awe, I tell you. But I digress.

I remember my older sisters taking home ec, and taking the mandatory sewing module, and my mom helping them. They did 4-H too, and there was sewing there. But somehow, things changed when I got to middle school, and it wasn’t mandatory to do sewing in home ec. I took the semester of cooking, then took wood shop instead of sewing. I was already doing embroidery like crazy, so I don’t know why wood shop interested me more than sewing. Truth be told, it was probably that the boys were all in wood shop, but I don’t really remember. But those memories combinged to lead me to believe that home economics class had always been a thing. It wasn’t until I read The Lost Art of Dress, by Linda Przybyszewski, that I realized that home ec wasn’t always a thing. If you get a chance, read the book — it tells how home ec classes weren’t needed in the beginning, because girls learned household management, sewing and cooking from their mothers, but as mothers went to work and mass marketing started, those skills were no longer taught at home, hence the start of home ec, and the ladies who steered fashion. It’s fascinating reading.

So although I knew that, I came across an article from 1958, in the St Louis Globe-Democrat , talking about a “sewing revival” and how it was generating a billion dollars a year. Wow. It states that two out of three girls were now sewing, as a revival in the art had started five years prior. There was a decline in home sewing after World War II, and it’s stated that sewing was a practice done mainly by those in lower incomes in the 1930s and 1940s. Come 1953, “all income distinctions were erased,” and now women in the higher income brackets were sewing as well. The number of home sewists increased fourfold over several years, and by 1958, reportedly twenty percent of all women’s clothing was made at home. WOW.

The story was conceived when the reporter, Sylvia Porter, decided to see what was happening that Pierre Cardin had come to New York on a tour to promote his sewing pattern line for McCall’s. She found that it was projected that in 1958, 95,000,000 patterns would be sold, to the tune of $48,000,000. Pattern sales were expected to increase to over $100,000,000 by 1960. This does not take into account fabric sales — projected to be $250,000,000 in 1958, and increase to 265,000,000 by 1960.

She states that a large factor in the increase of home sewing was the cost of well made ready to wear clothing. She states one style from Cardin’s McCall’s pattern would cost hundreds of dollars if bought off the rack, but could be made at home for about $40. She notes that there was, at the time, an “increase in leisure time” in middle and high income households, so women and girls looked for a creative outlet.

Marketing played a big part in the draw of sewing during this time, as this was about the time you started seeing big designer names on patterns. Pierre Cardin was not the only one to license patterns with them. Givenchy did a line as well, notably creating patterns with Audrey Hepburn styles from Sabrina. McCall’s also contracted with Helen Lee to make children’s patterns, as she was a leading designer for children during the fifties. Stores joined in the surge, because they realized that if they sold patterns, they could also upsell when customers bought fabric, notions and trims.

Here’s hoping that we see a similar resurgence as people embrace simpler lives, slowing down, and lifestyles like cottagecore. When they do, I’m here for them.

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