1920s fashion, designers, sewing, sewing patterns, vintage clothing, vintage fashion

When a Designer Pattern isn’t a Designer Pattern

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.

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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