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Posts Tagged ‘fashion history’

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Sketch of Duchess of Sussex wedding dress by Clare Waight Keller. Image by Clare Waight Keller.

We now have seen Meghan Markel’s (Duchess of Sussex) wedding dress and we know who designed it – British designer Clare Waight Keller, artistic director of the French house Givenchy.

I must confess that I did not get up at the crack of dawn to watch it all. Heck, I  like my sleep and I knew I’d catch up in the following days. I watched the BBC coverage of what Ms. Keller had to say about the dress. She went into some detail about the veil and how she suggested including flora and fauna of the Commonwealth. She recounted for the BBC reporter what she had said to the bride: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we took the 53 countries of the Commonwealth and embroidered a flower and some floral and fauna from each one of those and they would go up the aisle, the journey up the aisle with you …”

In wanting to create “a little bit of a wild garden” included in the veil were orchids, forget-me-knots, thistle, and so on.

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Queen Elizabeth II Coronation gown. Designed by Norman Hartnell.

Hmm … this was ringing a bell. British designer Norman Hartnell did something similar for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation gown in 1953. I wrote about it for the Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The coronation gown included hand embroidered flowers of each of the Commonwealth – Tudor Rose, Thistle, Shamrock, etc. –  on the bodice and skirt of the dress. Great minds think alike in Great Britain!

Back to Meghan’s dress. For my two cents, I think it was stunning in its simplicity. I love the unusual boat neck and the 3/4 length sleeves were perfection. It was made from a double silk cady fabric, which is very stable and that allowed for the shape of the dress. My only quibble was the choice of white. Perhaps a little color would not have gone amiss. A pale blue or green for spring. There may be royal rules about such things, I don’t know.

The platinum and diamond tiara (on loan from the Queen) originally belonged to Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth’s grandmother. Keeping it minimal, the bride wore diamond earrings and a bracelet by Cartier. Again, some color here would have been a nice touch – rubies or emeralds. The look needed a pop.

It really was all about the veil and the best perspective on that was from above. It took many skilled workers and many hours to create. I read that each embroiderer stopped to wash their hands every 30 minutes to keep the white fabric white.

But what an honor to be part of such a significant event.

Congratulations to one and all! Now get some sleep.

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IMG_20180322_114748Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have. they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us. 

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) – English author. This quote is from Ms. Woolf’s 1925 novel, Orlando.

Virginia Woolf’s sense of style was very much of her era and social set – bohemian 1920s. We might call it “effortless elegance” today. She favored long cardigans and printed skirts that draped so nicely on her tall slender figure. She didn’t go with the popular bob hairstyle but instead, staying just askew of fashion, she sported an untidy bun at the nape of the neck. Strands of long beads and fringed shawls were among her accessory choices.

She often referred to clothing in her novels and commented in her diary that “I must remember to write about my clothes …”

 

 

 

 

 

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IMG_20180325_113517751_HDRPeople laugh at fashion. ‘It’s just clothes,’ they say. Right. Just clothes. Except, not one of the people I’ve heard mock fashion was naked at the time. They all got dressed in the morning, picking clothes that said, ‘Hey, I’m a successful banker.’ Or, ‘I’m a tired teacher’ … a decorated soldier … a pompous judge … a cheeky barmaid … a lorry driver, a nurse … You could go on for ever. Clothes show you who you are, or who you want to be. 

Ella, 14 year-old character in the Young Adult novel, The Red Ribbon by Lucy Adlington.

The Red Ribbon tells the story of Ella, who as a prisoner of “Birchwood”  (a WWII concentration camp in Poland) struggles to keep hold of her dreams to become a dress designer. With her advanced skills as a seamstress she works in the camp’s sewing workshop where young women make clothing for the wives of Birchwood officials.

I heard an interview with author and costume historian Lucy Adlington on BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour. Promoting the book she talked about her research and the facts behind slave labor in the camps, including the making of beautiful clothing. Ms. Adlington based her novel on the true story of the Upper Tailoring Studio at Auschwitz, which was put in place by the Commandant’s wife, Hedwig Hoss. She had skilled women prisoners recruited  to make bespoke clothing for her, other officials’ wives, and female guards. Eventually there were 23 seamstresses working in the Upper Tailoring Studio, one of the better jobs to have in such a place.

This is a very interesting piece of fashion history woven into a well crafted novel of horror and hope. Although at times it’s shocking and upsetting, I highly recommend it for just that kind of truth.

I have also read Ms. Adlington’s non-fiction fashion history book, Stitches in Time: The Story of the Clothes We Wear (Random House UK, 2015). Another excellent read for those who love all things fashion history.

Check out her web-page: http://www.historywardrobe.com/index.html

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For all the ladies (& fellas) who love a beautiful shoe, have we got a film for you! Opening Friday, September 22, 2017 is …

MANOLO: THE BOY WHO MADE SHOES FOR LIZARDS

A Manolo Blahnik shoe can make any woman swoon. In this new documentary fashion journalist Michael Roberts gives us an up-close look the unassuming Mr. Blahnik and his journey from a little boy in Spain with a thing for lizards to world renowned designer. Included is commentary from fashion celebrities such as Anna Wintour, Rihanna, and Naomi Campbell just to name a few.

Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes For Lizards (Music Box Films) runs at the Landmark Opera in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck Cinema in Berkeley, September 22-29. Check theaters for show times.

Click here to watch the trailer.

 

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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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