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IMG_0292One more London story! On my visit last October, I set out to find the Beau Brummell statue. Erected in 2002 the statue stands just outside Piccadilly Arcade on Jermyn Street.

It’s not easy to find. But we did and much to my surprise we also found a couple of bums hanging at the feet of Mr. Brummell. I suspect they were not not there to pay homage. Ha! I doubt they had any idea who this man was or his importance in fashion history.

George Bryan “Beau” Brummell (1778-1840) was London born and a general man-about-town with royal connections. He was known for gambling and unusual sartorial choices. In the British Regency period (1811-1820) the trends for aristocratic gentlemen were embroidered coats and waistcoats (Brit speak for vests), knee breeches, white stockings and shoes with gem encrusted buckles. They sported tall wigs, white powder makeup with red stain in their lips and fragrance.

It was too much for Mr. Brummell who pushed back with a simply tailored “suit” the first of its kind – a white linen shirt underneath a tan waistcoat, black coat with tails, fitted pantaloons paired with tall boots, a cravat (predecessor to the tie), and top hat. No wigs, no makeup and most of all no scent! He believed in bathing everyday, which was not the done thing at the time.

The story goes that it took him several hours to dress each morning and men would line up outside his flat in Mayfair hoping to secure a place inside to watch how he did it. Among the admirers was the Prince Regent, later to become King George IV.

He had quite a lasting influence on men’s attire.

I’m a fan of Mr. Brummell’s for his contribution to fashion but also, he was an interesting character with high style standards and a quick wit. I was more than a little annoyed by these two men just sitting with no intent to leave, even after noticing my photo taking. But I after awhile I began to enjoy the irony and humor of the dapper dandy standing confident and tall over a couple of shoddy fellas. I imagined him poking his walking stick at one guy and offering a nice swift kick to the other. Indeed, at the feet of Mr. Brummell is exactly where these two belong.

Have I piqued your interest in Brummell? I recommend the biopic called Beau Brummell: The Charming Man (2006).

And/or the biography by Ian Kelly, Beau Brummell: The Ultimate Dandy (Hodder & Stoughton).

 

 

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Fashions by Mainbocher.

While visiting Chicago last month I took the opportunity to view the exhibition Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier at the Chicago History Museum.

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A young Mainbocher.

Main Rousseau Bocher (1890-1976) was Chicago born and raised but as a young man he set off for adventure, first to New York City and later to Paris. He sported many hats before becoming a couturier, including an opera singer and a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar.

Quite spontaneously in 1929 he opened his first fashion house in Paris calling it Mainbocher – pronounced mon-bo-shay. For that touch of French chic he blended his first and last names. Known for his embellished ball gowns and smart suits, he soon became the go-to designer for socialites and celebrities of the time. American Wallis Simpson donned a Mainbocher piece for her wedding to Edward VIII in 1937.

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Butterfly evening dress in silk crepe, 1945.

In 1940, the early days of WWII,  Mainbocher decided to close his Paris house and reopen in NYC. There he established himself as the first American couturier, attracting the attentions of the elite chic. Additionally he designed for Broadway plays and was commissioned by the American military to design uniforms for the women’s voluntary services.

And all this is just a brief overview! Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier follows the designer’s diverse career in detail and features 30 garments from the museum’s permanent collection as well as illustrations, photos, and audio interviews with some of his clients back in the day.

Located in a smallish gallery, this exhibit is just the right size allowing for a second and third walk around and a good gander at some of the fashions on display.

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Uniform for women’s voluntary services, WWII.

Making Mainbocher: The First American Couturier is on now through August 2017 at the Chicago History Museum. Any fashion enthusiast in the area should check it out!

 

 

 

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I could go to 10 Avenue George V wearing the most uneventful outfit and emerge with the certainty that to the knowing, or even to the ignorant, eye I was well dressed. A Balenciaga could be outlandishly showy or, like mine, almost plain. What they all had, uniquely, was poise – a savant equilibrium that was quiet even at its most extravagant – and this poise was passed onto the wearer. It was my blue light wool Balenciaga suit that enabled me to take out a notepad and quiz Eleanor Roosevelt at the Hotel de Crillon as if I were (almost) entitled to. 

– Mary Blume, columnist and author of: The Master of Us All Balenciaga: His Workrooms, His World (FS&G, 2013)

16864778_1621459711199312_3192038558631594158_nMs. Blume was a lucky young woman when in the early 1960s, after having arrived in Paris to work as a journalist, she was introduced to Florette, Christobal Balenciaga’s top vendeuse.* Florette took to Ms. Blume and often invited her into the storied fashion house to peruse the designs and buy a few older pieces at a sizeable discount.

The luck continued and more recently Ms. Blume was able to interview 90-something Florette before she died in 2006. The devoted vendeuse still had a sharp memory, providing for Ms. Blume a detailed look at the inner workings of the Balenciaga fashion house, from the time she was hired in 1936 to the day it closed in 1968. The result is the biography (and fashion history) – The Master of Us All Balenciaga: His Workrooms, His World.

A great book! I particularly enjoyed the bits about how fashion houses operated in those days – far less commercial – and I appreciated Ms. Blume’s detailed inclusion of the historical context in which Balenciaga was working. Lot’s of stories on other designers of the era (Dior) as well as society ladies, models, and … the vendeuses.

*A vendeuse worked in designer fashion houses with clients helping them choose pieces from each new collection. She collaborated with the seamstresses in fittings and saw to appointments and the overall satisfaction of her clients. She was part saleswoman, part stylist and a very important member of the staff. A good vendeuse was invaluable to any designer.

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ann-demeulemeester-02-760x760Black is not sad. Bright colors are what depress me. They’re so empty. Black is poetic. How do you imagine a poet? In a bright yellow jacket? Probably not.

– Ann Demeulemeester, Belgium fashion designer.

Ms. Demeulemeester loves black and she’s also known for her Goth inspired designs. She goes for deconstruction with a touch of Victorian/Edwardian details. She, along with Jil Sander, came along in the 1990s and put European countries other than France into fashion focus.

 

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Ann Demeulemeester Spring 2013

As for her comment on black. Well, black is a wonderful option but I think color has its place. We can’t all sport black all the time; that might be slightly somber. But I do understand what Ms. Demeulemeester is saying in terms of depth. Black is rich and full and sometimes poignant. Color is fanciful and uplifting.  The world needs both.

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Simplicity, good taste, and grooming are the three fundamentals of good dressing.

– Christian Dior (1905-1957), French fashion designer.

87d393f069ffa98f860103fd38d2017dMr. Dior was the designer credited with the New Look in 1947. During WWII there was pretty much a fashion void. The years following the war, designers and fashionables alike were starving for something new, different, and indulgent.

The New Look offered longer full skirts, a nipped waist, and soft shoulders. It was a welcome return to femininity after years of more practical, military styling.

By the way, although Dior was the first to put the new silhouette out there he was not the only designer to come up with it. His fellow French designers Jacques Fath and Pierre Balmain were showing similar looks.

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I love fashion but I love fashion history even more. That’s all I read about lately and I’m even taking a class, which I’ve mentioned before.

In this class (Fashion Icons of the 20th Century) every three weeks we have to write a short paper and make a presentation on an icon or trend during the time period we have just studied. The latest was 1930s-1950s and I chose Hollywood costume designer, Edith Head.

Here’s my paper. Enjoy!

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Edith Head (1897-1981) worked in Hollywood for over 40 years costuming hundreds of films. She received 34 Academy Award nominations for Best Costumes and won a record 8 times. She dressed such stars Mae West, Lupe Levez, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, and Audrey Hepburn, to name only a few. An icon of her era and beyond, she was the inspiration behind the Edna Mode character in the 2004 animated film, The Incredibles.

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A former French language teacher, Edith got her start in Hollywood in 1924 after applying for a job as an illustrator in the costume department of Paramount Picture Studios. She didn’t know a thing about drawing but got the job using students’ work as her own. (A story she told on herself years later.)

Edith stayed with Paramount for the next two decades working her way up from assistant to taking over as Head Costumer in 1938. It was during that time that she developed her own personal style. Self-conscious about her appearance she kept her look simple, dressing in tailored suits and sporting a chignon with slick bangs inspired by actress Anna Mae Wong. Her signature accessory was round rimmed glasses with dark lenses, which she wore indoors and out to hide her one crossed eye.

Just as she masked her own flaws, Edith was a master at masking the flaws of the stars she dressed. A thick neck, plump figure, short legs – she knew all the tricks to hide, disguise, and distract. For example, Bette Davis refused to wear a bra and suffered from a sagging bust-line. In the film, All About Eve Edith designed an off-the-shoulder cocktail dress for Davis with built-in support and mid-length sleeves edged with fur, which distracted the eye from the offending area. She won an Oscar for that film in 1950 and the dress is almost as memorable as the film itself.

Although Edith was sometimes criticized for her lack of innovative design, she wasn’t an Oscar winner for nothing. Among her more memorable designs were:

• The sarong she put Dorothy Lamour in for The Jungle Princess (1936) inspired the fashion trend for tropical fabrics and sarong draping in dresses – a popular choice for evening wear throughout the 1940s.
• The strapless evening gown she designed for Elizabeth Taylor in the 1951 film, A Place in the Sun was a smash hit with fashion critics and women across the country, who anxiously bought copies at local department stores. The gown featured a fitted bodice covered in small velvet violets and layers of ivory tulle over a yellow underskirt. Strapless gowns became a popular option for proms and dances and are still a go-to choice. (Edith won an Oscar for this film, too.)

Not only did Edith create iconic looks for stars but she was an icon herself thanks to her specific personal style and her savvy self-promotion. Unlike her peers she was happy to interact with the public. All through the 1950s she appeared on radio shows and eventually television offering advice to women about style and how to dress. She wrote a book called The Dress Doctor and a syndicated newspaper column. Edith became as well known as the stars she dressed.

Edith left Paramount in 1967 to work at Universal Studios where she remained until her death in 1981.

References:

Chierichetti, David. The Life and Times of Hollywood’s Celebrated Costume Designer Edith Head. New York: Harper Collins. 2003.

Head, Edith. The Dress Doctor: Prescriptions for Style, From A to Z. New York: Harper Collins, reprint 2008. (Original copyright 1959.)

http://www.julienslive.com/view-auctions/catalog/id/79/lot/31995/ELIZABETH-TAYLOR-GOWN-FROM-A-PLACE-IN-THE-SUN

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Lately my head has been full of Edith Head (1897-1981). I went a little overboard with research on the Hollywood costumer for my class –  Fashion Icons of the Twentieth Century. I took three weeks slowly reading her biography and writing a short paper while also putting together a presentation. I find her career very interesting and enjoyed every moment.

As part of the class presentations we are supposed to design something inspired by our subject. Well heck, I’m not a designer and I can’t draw worth a damn. But I often put together collages. So, I decided to give Edith a makeover via collage.

She had a very specific look which she sported for years – a suit, slick bangs with a chignon, and tinted round-rimmed glasses that she wore indoors and out. Since pantsuits are big news this season I gave Edith one in tweed and added a pair of chic Gucci boots. I thought it was time to liberate her hair into a bob. Glasses were her signature accessory so I kept those but with clear lenses. Of course she must have a large portfolio for all her sketches.

There we have it – the modern Edith Head (pictured above). What do you think?

Interested in learning more about this iconic costume designer? Stay tuned. I’ll be posting my paper soon.

 

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