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#overdressed4life

Here’s a little story recounted by French fashion designer Paul Poiret (1879-1944) in his autobiography, King of Fashion.

paulpoiretI passed many times in front of the shop of this English master without daring to cross the threshold. One day, when I was feeling in cavalier mood, and since I needed a suit, I went in and ordered one, not, however, without asking the price, through fear of some unpleasant surprise. I was told one hundred and eighty francs – and I gave my order. 

“When shall I come try it on?” I added. 

“Our clothes are made in London,” I was told. “… and yours will not be ready for seventeen days.” 

… and in seventeen days I returned. Filled with emotion in the fitting room, I saw my coat arrive in the hands of the classic tailor, wearing a measure round his neck. I was astonished that they did not try on the trousers. He called the man who received me: “The trousers, Monsieur? What trousers? You did not order any trousers, nor a waistcoat either.” 

In the 1910s Paul Poiret was known for liberating women from the corset, only to confine their movement with the hobble skirt. Influenced by Asian aesthetics and theater, he was called “King of Fashion” and traveled extensively, including to America where he showed his designs and lectured.

I just finished Poiret’s autobiography, King of Fashion (V&A Publishing) first published in 1931. He led an interesting life and he was a good writer, but I was disappointed that he didn’t discuss his design process, his influences, and perhaps share some of his insights into the fashion industry of the era. I know that he fell out of favor after WWI and I was hoping that he might shed some light on that time of his life. I’m also aware that he met and encouraged designer Elsa Schiaparelli and I would have loved to know what he had to say about that, but no mention.

What he does discuss is his childhood and young adult life working for houses of Douchet and Worth. He goes into detail about opening his first fashion house and the many parties he hosted and attended. There’s lots of name dropping, which meant nothing to me as they were all French and a very long time ago.

Overall The King of Fashion is a good read, if you’re not expecting much about fashion.

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Lady Sybil Crawley (Jessica Brown Findlay) shockingly sports Harem Pants, in season one of  Downton Abbey, 1913.  I think of  Paul Poiret, who was cutting edge in fashion design at the time. Costumes by Susannah Buxton.

Many people won’t realise that it can take six or seven specialist skills to create a costume, often including millinery, corsetry and tailoring. We might have five or six fittings if it’s a complicated costume and each piece can take at least a week to complete, depending on the intricacy of the design.  

Susannah Buxton – British costume designer. This quote is from an interview with Selvegde magazine. (The Brits spell realize with an s.)

Ms. Buxton has been working in costume design for 30 years having won many awards including a BAFTA and an Emmy. She’s known for her work in television PBS shows such as Downton Abbey and Poldark.

She is also one of the co-founders of Costume Symposium –  three days of lecturers and workshops for costumers and students. Masters in their craft teach workshops on making corsets, embroidery, millinery, gloves and more.  Ms. Buxton says as her generation retires these necessary tools of the trade are dying out and resources for teaching such are limited. She wants to help pass along these skills and techniques to the next generation.

The annual event is new since 2018 and has so far been held during the fall in different locations around the UK. Because of the pandemic, this year has been cancelled but there are plans for spring 2021. Click here for more information. 

One of the assignments in the fashion history class I recently completed was to find historical fashion references in current fashion. In magazines I looked for examples covering ancient clothing to the 20th century and matched with historical images from books, plus I had to write a comment.

Gotta love those extreme sleeves of the Late 19th Century.

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Over-sized puffy sleeves on this otherwise simple cotton dress is the descendant of the Leg of Mutton Sleeve, which enjoyed a revival in the 1890s after its debut in the early part of the century.

By the 1890s hoops and bustles were out of fashion. As women were becoming more independent, some fighting for the right to vote, they needed to get around more easily. Simpler skirts paired with shirtwaists (blouses) were the look and when the skirts narrowed, the sleeves expanded.

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A tailor-made with leg-of-mutton sleeves. c.1895. Image from Survey of Historic Costume (Fairchild Books).

 

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A few of Anna Sui’s vintage inspired dresses. Part of the 2019 exhibit, The World of Anna Sui at the Museum of Arts & Design in NYC.

Everyone wears t-shirts and jeans. Everyone wears jeans with a little pretty top … that’s the extent of our fashion right now. So, why not give them something a little bit more, but with the same ease. 

Anna Sui – American fashion designer.

Ms. Sui said this in 2006! And I suppose since then jeans have been replaced by leggings.

How about a dress for a change? Dresses can be so easy to wear and cool for hot temps. Plus a dress is an instant elevated look.

 

 

One of the assignments in the fashion history class I recently completed was to find historical fashion references in current fashion. In magazines I looked for examples covering ancient clothing to the 20th century and matched with historical images from books, plus I had to write a comment.

This week we are up to the Early 19th Century: Marie Sleeves.

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Louis Vuitton’s pretty puffed sleeves feel very 1820s Romantic. Called Marie Sleeves back in the day, the puffs were created by using tied ribbons. Today, elastic creates the same effect and LV has added touches of lace for good measure.

Come back next week!

 

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Illustration by Zoe Taylor. From Selvedge magazine.

I buy most of my clothes at agricultural shows, and good stout things they are. After agricultural shows, Marks & Spencer is the place to go shopping, and then Paris. Nothing in between seems to be much good. 

Deborah, The Duchess of Devonshire (1920-2014).

The Duchess was the youngest of the six Mitford sisters, who were famous English aristocrats in the 1930s and 40s. Among the pretty and adventurous Mitford sisters was an author, two Nazi sympathizers, a communist, another quiet aristocrat, and the Duchess.

In 1950 she and her husband, the 11th Duke of Devonshire, took over and renovated the family estate, Chatsworth. The Duchess was involved in much of the work and the mansion was decorated to her taste. After decades of such estates being of little to no interest to the public, Chatsworth became a major tourist destination. It still is.

I love the unexpected practicality of the Duchess when it comes to her clothes. It’s humorous that she touted M&S, as the British department store is known for its stodgy selection of clothing. But then the Duchess was also a fan of Paris fashion. Her closet must have been an interesting mix.

 

One of the assignments in the fashion history class I recently completed was to find historical fashion references in current fashion. In magazines I looked for examples covering ancient clothing to the 20th century and matched with historical images from books, plus I had to write a comment.

This week we have the fluff and frills of the 18th Century Ball Gown.

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This expansive backside and numerous ruffles makes this gown by Marc Jacobs fit for any Rococo 18th Century royal court. (But this model’s tiny head is calling for a tall wig.)

 

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More historical fashion next week.

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Imagine – a standard house dress c.1950. Today this is a dress someone might wear to a special occasion.  Ha! Image from Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume & Style, DK, 2012. 

We’re not going out and showing off what we’re wearing the same way. Things like stiletto shoes, skinny jeans, corset dresses feel unimaginable for a long time in terms of not having reasons to wear them. Soft, drapey things were already a place we were heading toward, but now they’re a psychological comfort for people. There’s been a comeback of things like house dresses and flats for home. We’re looking for security blankets in what we’re wearing.

Sarah Liller, San Francisco based fashion designer.

This quote is from an article in the Datebook section of the SF Chronicle, The Coronavirus and Social Movements Gives Fashion a Reality Check, July 3, 2020 by Tony Bravo. Click here for full article. 

Yes! Let’s bring back the house dress.

What is the pandemic’s effect on fashion? We were already pretty casual and if there’s any shift it will be toward even more casual. Picking up takeout food a few weeks back I noticed a guy getting out of his car in shabby shorts and slippers. Clearly he rolled out of his house and into his car in what he’d probably been wearing for days. As we spend more and more time at home, we’re getting out of the habit of dressing and the additional stress of moving about in public is taking a toll on what little desire some of us had in making any effort at all.

I agree with Ms. Liller that people now more than ever want comfort and a feeling of security, which can be found in loose-fitting draped clothing in soft fabrics. So long anything tailored. I see cotton knit unstructured jackets, large scarves, slouchy hats, baggy pants, oversized t-shirts, chunky sweaters … silhouettes that we can snuggle into and feel protected. What I will look for is different takes on these standard items of clothing. Perhaps textured fabrics, creative layering, interesting use of accessories.

What I hope to see is masks everywhere on everybody. Fashionable people will get creative with their masks, but any mask is a positive statement in my book.

 

 

 

One of the assignments in the fashion history class I recently completed was to find historical fashion references in current fashion. In magazines I looked for examples covering ancient clothing to the 20th century and matched with historical images from books, plus I had to write a comment.

This week: The Falling Collar

 

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This blouse by Alberta Ferretti has a lace collar that extends over the shoulder, reminiscent of the 17th Century Falling Collar. Men’s fashions during this time were far more ostentatious that women’s. They loved their embellishments and the more the better – lace, bows, panes, and slashes, layers, wigs, gloves.

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A close-up of the lace Falling Collar.

By this time Trunk Hose are out and Breeches are in. Dublets are still worn and attached to the Breeches by hook and eye, rather than points (or laces). The Falling Collar has replaced the Ruff. Boots and large brimmed hats adorned with ostrich feathers round out the overall look.

Let’s hear it for the men of the 17th century!

Want more? Check back next week.

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As the pandemic rages on, it’s time for another of my favorite go-to movies: Pretty in Pink.

Pretty in Pink is the third in what became a trilogy of teenage films written by John Hughes. First came The Breakfast Club then Sixteen Candles. Molly Ringwald was in both and the story goes that Hughes wrote Pretty in Pink for her.

Ringwald’s character, Andie, is a high school senior –  creative, smart, and poor. Her best friend Duckie, played by Jon Cryer, is hopelessly in love with Andie, but his humor and charm go unnoticed. However, cute and sensitive Blane, played by Andrew McCarthy, is very much in focus for our heroine as he crosses the tracks from his slick wealthy existence into her world, which is more interesting if rather dingy. Of course there is a villain (James Spader) and an older hip mentor (Annie Potts) and lots of teenage strife, broken hearts, and a couple of really satisfying dramatic scenes.

When this film came out my first thought was: “Ahem, pink is not pretty on redheads.” As a redhead myself, I know the two colors we cannot wear are pink and red. Perhaps deeper shades of these colors, but not the classic pink and red … no way!

This is because, in my opinion, red hair is very striking and therefore other vibrant colors clash. We need deep shades that don’t compete, such as burgundy, mauve, navy, and we all know a redhead’s best color is green. Apparently, Ringwald had a “predisposition” for pink, hence the movie’s title.

That aside, Pretty in Pink is a fun film for its 80s nostalgia, the teenage romance, and of course, the costumes! Watching Andie today it seems that her quirky sense of style is rather timeless. She would stand out in this era just as much as she did in the 80s. Costumer Marilyn Vance worked closely with Ringwald, who had much to say about her character’s clothing.

They shopped thrift stores and flea markets to create a look of vintage crossed with homemade crossed with (almost) granny. Andie sports cardigan sweaters often embellished with pins or lace. (Ringwald said in a 2006 interview that she still owns several of those sweaters.) Hats tied with a scarf. She likes layers and even did what I used to do – layer short socks over stockings. (Stockings not nylons, not tights.) Her jackets are vintage, her jewelry is antique style and at home she dons lovely Japanese kimono.

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Duckie also has a very unique style. I love his collection of bolo ties. He wears vintage jackets, vests, baggy pants and a pork pie hat. Oh, and a lot of very large rings. He gets bullied, but he’s true to his look.

Our third stylin’ character is Annie Potts as Iona. In every one of her scenes, she dons a different and extreme ensemble from a punk rubber dress and spiky hair to a preppy red blazer complete with super size shoulder pads.

As for the ordinary kids, Vance said that she shopped Kmart for their “ice cream” colored skirts, t-shirts, and sweaters. There are lot of light colored jeans and our wealthy fellas sport linen suits! One of my favorite parts of this film is Spader slithering around the high school hallways in his Italian loafers (no socks), hands stuffed in his linen trousers. We’re not supposed to like him, but I find his snotty attitude hilarious.

Beyond the costumes, I really enjoyed the very strong performances by the entire cast. No one other than Ringwald could have played this role, and surprisingly, Paramount looked at other actresses, including  Jennifer Beal. Finally the powers-that-be wised up and went with the actress for whom the part was written.

Ringwald is solid as Andie, able to be confident as the underdog, yet vulnerable when she’s let down. Anger is not a problem and even a little bitchy comes out from time to time. But the real star here, if you ask me, is Jon Cryer, who clearly put all he had into Duckie. Passion, vulnerability, humor, even some dance moves. His character is over-the-top and Cryer is able to successfully deliver that without putting off the audience. Plus, who could resist that winning smile?

Well, apparently Ringwald could. She had a lot of input on casting the film and although she admitted that Cryer was a strong contender, she also liked Robert Downey Jr. for the role. She thought he was cute and could see herself (Andie) falling for him. She did not feel the same for Cryer. How it was that he was cast and not Downey is a part of the story not shared. But there is something else.

The ending we see in the film is not the original ending. SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the movie (or don’t recall) and don’t want to know the ending, stop reading and go watch. Originally, after Blane disappoints Andie, she realizes the true love of Duckie is what she wants and they end up together at the prom. The whole script was written to follow this direction. They filmed the ending as written, despite Ringwald’s insistence that it was all wrong. Then they showed a test audience and … the audience booed. The young women wanted Andie to have “the cute boy.” So, Hughes quickly rewrote the ending (the quickly part shows) and six months after the first wrap they re-shoot the ending and Andie goes off with Blane, who has awkwardly redeemed himself.

The decision to change the ending remains controversial and even some very young audiences watching the film today think Duckie was the right guy for Andie. Still, the movie was a hit at the time and has since become a cult favorite.

I could write so much more, but I’ve gone on long enough. Pretty in Pink is a great escape from today’s social media, cell phones, bad news, pandemic. Turn it all off and go back to a time when we still bought records. Speaking of that, the soundtrack was a big hit too.