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Posts Tagged ‘mid-century fashion’

Like Esther in the novel The Bell Jar and perhaps author Sylvia Plath too, I’m also impressed with the idea of matching handbag dress/skirt/anything. Although, I know it’s a little too “put together” these days, that does not stop me.

I have two skirts with matching handbags that I made myself. One I made last year with a matching mask as well. I like the “matchy-matchy” look because it’s unexpected and the repetition of pattern and color appeals to me.

The first matchy-matchy that caught my eye was way back when I was maybe four-years-old; my mother had a summer outfit – a red and white gingham dress and a light blue coat with the same gingham fabric lining. I remember that outfit so well and the matching part has inspired me ever since.

How about other matches? My sis-in-law made for me a matching cap and cross-body bag (thanks, Lori). I have a beautiful bespoke outfit – 1920s style coat with a matching skirt and a blouse that matches the lining of the coat.

There are many ways to match: hat with handbag, handbag with shoes, dress with lining of coat, hat with jacket. How about socks with scarf? OK, now I’m getting silly.

Matchy-matchy gets a bad rap as does any look that’s too put together because being fashionable is supposed to also be effortless. Hmm, how does that work?

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Walking with The Muses is a compelling jaunt through the life of model Pat Cleveland, who hit the fashion runways when she was a teenager back in the late 1960s. Tall and strikingly attractive, she started modeling for Ebony and then went on the road with the Ebony Fashion Fair, a traveling fashion show for African American women.

While pursuing a career in modeling, Ms. Cleveland was also studying fashion design and making her own clothing. As she bopped around her native New York City, her unique style caught the eye of a Vogue magazine editor. Even Bendel’s department store bought some of her clothing, but fashion design and clothes-making hit a snag when Ms. Cleveland was unable to provide her designs in multiple sizes. So it was full steam ahead into modeling.

She went on to create a successful career as a runway and print model in Europe and the US. But there were rocky times, including not getting hired initially because she wasn’t a blue-eyed blonde. (She got her start in the industry as a fit model.) There was a disturbing incident while traveling in the south with the Fashion Fair, sexual harassment, and a violent stepfather. Still, Ms. Cleveland didn’t allow anything to keep her down; she knew what she wanted and kept going, taking knocks along the way as well as enjoying quite a few unusual adventures. Her bright spirit and inner strength is an inspiration.

During her decades-long life as a model, she worked and partied with the likes of Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Karl Lagerfeld, Halston and even her long time crush – Warren Beatty. Each one of her encounters has a story and there’s where we find the fun. She worked for the biggies such as Valentino, Thierry Mugler, and de Givenchy and she became known for her signature way of walking the runway, which was part strut and part dance.

Along with Ms. Cleveland’s life, Walking with the Muses offers a peek into the world of mid-century fashion in all its splendor from mini-skirts to shoulder pads. A good read for those interested in fashion history or anyone just interested in reading about a fascinating life of a successful model.

I say this is an easy holiday gift choice.

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1960s Vera logo. Image courtesy of Museum of Arts and Design.

Although Vera Neumann (1907-1993) might be best known for her colorful scarves, which by the 1970s were a staple in any fashionable lady’s wardrobe, there is much more to learn about this artist, entrepreneur, and successful business woman.

Last fall I attended the exhibit Vera Paints a Scarf: The Art and Design of Vera Neumann at the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan. What I knew when I walked into the extensive exhibit was that Vera designed beautiful scarves and that is all I knew. I was amazed and excited to see examples of her life’s work from table linens, to bedding, to clothing, to needlepoint kits and more.

Vera was always interested in art and as a child growing up in Stamford, CT. she spent her time drawing and painting what she saw in nature. After high school she attended The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a private college in New York City. Later she studied life drawing and illustration at Traphagen School of Design.

After working in fashion illustration she and her husband George, a former marketing executive, started their own business in their Gramercy Park apartment. It was 1942 and the couple had an idea to transfer Vera’s bold paintings onto fabric and create textiles to use in the home. They built a silk-screen just the size of their dining table and called the new company Printex.

A year later the Vera and George took on a partner, Frederick Werner Hamm who brokered Printex’s first big order – placemats for the NYC department store B. Altman & Co. Other orders came in along with licensing deals and within a few years Printex outgrew the dining room and relocated to a larger space, where Vera and George also lived and raised their children.

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Vera at work in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Museum of Arts and Design.

During WWII fabric was in short supply. While desperately looking for cotton, Vera came upon parachute silk in an army surplus store and bought some to try. The results were a series of scarves with a fern motif and her signature on the bottom right hand corner. That was an unexpected game changer as department stores such as Lord & Taylor lined up to place orders and the Vera scarf became a serious trend for decades to come. Ten years later she had designed more than 2,000 scarves.

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Scarves by Vera. (I love the telephone dial.) Photo courtesy of Museum of Arts and Design.

 

Vera Paints a Scarf: The Art and Design of Vera Neumann tells the entire Printex story with examples of everything the company manufactured. They were the first back in the 1950s to create a lifestyle brand. A lady could decorate her home entirely Vera with the first laminated placemats, napkins, dishware, wallpaper, pillows … By the 1960s she could also don Vera clothing in those distinctive bright colors and unique patterns inspired by nature and Vera’s world travels. Motifs in all her work included flowers, plants, insects and birds, but also coffeepots, an apple, carrots, school buses, even eyeglasses. Vera saw beauty in the details of everyday living and believed that art was not meant just to adorn the walls of the elite. She felt strongly that art should be affordable and available to all. (Other designers of the day were selling their scarves for $25 or more, while a Vera scarf sold for between $2 and $10.)

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Vera Paints a Scarf exhibit. Photo courtesy of Museum of Arts and Design.

In addition to examples of Vera’s work, included in the exhibit are several videos produced by the company back in the day, which help to tell the complex yet fascinating story of Printex from humble beginnings to corporate success.

Vera sold Printex a few years before her death in 1993 (George died in 1962). Since then the brand has changed hands a few times. As far as I can tell the most recent sale was to a holdings company based in Singapore. New issues of Vera’s designs are distributed through licencing deals.

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Photo courtesy of Museum of Arts and Design.

Hurry hurry, if you’re in the NYC area Vera Paints a Scarf: The Art and Design of Vera Neumann  is on now through January 26, 2020. If you can’t make it, check out the museum website.

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