Issey Miyake to Western Wear to Amazons at CSA Western Region Symposium


Issey Miyake’s Tattoo (1970)

The Western Region of the Costume Society of America held their symposium this year at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, OR, on October 11. I was fortunately enough to attend and was treated to seven lovely papers (some works in progress), and two lively discussions with attendees on the papers presented, as well as on the state of the western region and what members want more (and less) of. Attendees were very engaged in the discussions, more than I’d seen at a regional level.

The papers topics were based loosely on the topic “From the Street to the Catwalk, Cultural Influences on Contemporary Fashion” and the Museum of Contemporary Craft made for a wonderful setting (especially because of their exhibit, Fashioning Cascadia, which ended that day.

After opening remarks, the Annual Business meeting, and a short talk by CSA National President, Kathy Mullet (who is a Western Region member), the papers were presented. Given by Brenna Barks, Clara Berg, Meghan Hanson, Jennifer M. Mower, Linda Florence Matheson, Ilana Winter and JoAnn Stabb, the papers were varied – both in their topics, as well as in the progress of research. Topics included

  • Issey Miyake’s use of Japanese revival style,
  • GLBTQ style clothing in a regional museum,
  • a preview of the Michel Arnaud Fashion Photography Archive at FIDM,
  • pre-WWII WPA sewing rooms,
  • Street to runway fashion from the 40s-80s,
  • A history of Rockmount Ranch Wear, and
  • Romaine Brooks’ Amazon/Tuxedo fashions and their influence through history

It was also a good mix of emerging professionals and well –seasoned presenters. Regional diversity was good too – presenters were from Fresno, Los Angeles, Davis, Seattle, and Corvalis, covering three states (California, Oregon, and Washington).

Happily, attendees were also given packets of information with abstracts for all the papers presented, and much discussion was generated by the topics in the symposium wrap-up. I was glad to get to spend such good time, considering these interesting topics. It makes me glad that there is still so much research left to do! Below are some photos I took from the Fashioning Cascadia Exhibition:

Photo Oct 11, 8 26 30 AMwtmkPhoto Oct 11, 8 25 40 AMwtmk  Photo Oct 11, 8 26 45 AMwtmkPhoto Oct 11, 8 26 34 AMwtmk

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The Kimono: Two Exhibits, Two Reviews



Right now two major museums, on opposite coasts of the United States, both have exhibitions on the Kimono. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has Kimono for a Modern Age (through October 19, 2014) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has Kimono: A Modern History (through January 4, 2015). This unique situation requires a unique review. And so, I’m happy to present two simultaneous reviews of the two exhibitions by two experts in the field: Brenna Barks agreed to review the LACMA exhibition, and Nadine Stewart reviewed the Met’s exhibition. Below are their reviews. Happy Reading!

Kimono for a Modern Age

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (through October 19, 2014)

Guest Review by Brenna Barks

Little attention is paid to what can be called the decline of the kimono in Japanese fashion. Most museum-goers, and thus most museum exhibitions, concentrate on the “expected”: what is seen as the traditional, soft, delicately patterned kimono that so inspired the Impressionists and the patrons of Japonisme. Indeed, this is the majority of kimono. However, kimono – like all clothing – followed fashion. And the fashion during the last “heyday” of the kimono is the subject of the Kimono for a Modern Age exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Leading up to and immediately after the second World War, while the traditional patterning remained popular, a new style of kimono emerged: the meisen. The fabric for meisen is unusual in that the warp and weft threads were stencil dyed individually before being woven, creating a marvellous faux-ikat pattern. These patterns were typically large and boldly coloured, contrary to the expected tradition.

Woman’s Kimono with Large Dewdrops (mizutama), Japan, early Shōwa period (1926–89), c. 1935, purchased with funds provided by Grace Tsao, photo © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA

Much has been made of the influence that the West had on the patterning of meisen – and LACMA does point out the references to Art Deco motifs or motifs taken from famous Western painters, such as Matisse, in the exhibition. But what LACMA does with their exhibition of over 30 meisen is to properly place them back into context within the Japanese tradition. Yes, there are Western art influences, but predominantly meisen were reinterpretations of Japanese art: landscape paintings, calligraphic motifs, and more often new, bold re-imaginings of traditional Japanese kimono patterns such as arrows or dewdrops.

Some of these re-interpretations can even be seen as forms of protest against American occupation after World War II. At least two meisen in the exhibition feature the Japanese war flag of the rising sun being not-so-subtly worked into the pattern. One in blue as a vague “star” pattern, another into what would otherwise be an image of dawn over a village. Or perhaps instead of open protest, these patterns were a silent message of surviving patriotism and a hope that they would rise again after re-inventing themselves as well as their traditions? LACMA masterfully and tactfully addresses the subject of war and occupation, tradition and fashion head-on through the display of such kimono and their thoughtful, well-written tombstones about each piece.

With the increasing popularity of Western clothing due to ease of wear and maintenance, the kimono declined rather sharply in popularity after the war. The meisen, while largely ignored in the West until now, was in many ways the last hurrah of this beautiful garment. The Kyoto kimono industry closed for good in the early 2000s; so few Japanese people today know how to wear it that schools exist to teach the proper wearing of the kimono, or simply to dress clients when occasion calls for traditional clothing. The LACMA exhibition not only fills this gap in the history of the “symbol of Japan”, but inspires visitors to question what the term “fashion” really means: it does not necessarily mean a shift in shapes and hemlines, but can mean the re-adaptation of tradition and the extended survival of an ancient garment into the modern age.”

Kimono: A Modern History

Metropolitan Museum of Art (through January 4, 2015)

Guest Review by Nadine Stewart

Over Robe (Uchikake) with Long-Tailed Birds in a Landscape Period: Edo period (1615–1868) Date: second half of the 18th century Medium: Silk and metallic-thread embroidery and stencil paste-resist dyeing on silk satin damask Credit Line: Gift of Charles Zadok, 1959 Accession Number: 59.46

Kimono: A Modern History is a stunning exhibit, not to be missed. The fifty kimonos on display span the period from the eighteenth century to the present day, a time when the kimono evolved from a garment worn by the nobility and the peasantry. Though “kimono” literally means a “thing to wear,” this exhibit shows how much more this garment has meant to Japanese culture over the centuries and how it has influenced fashion in the rest of the world.

The first things on display are swatch samples from the Edo Period (1615-1868), exquisite examples of tapestry weaving in silk and silver thread. In one piece the fighting dragons are made entirely of tiny French knots. In another, we see Western ships with their flags, a reminder that Japan opened up to the West in this period, which would mean a new set of influences and textiles techniques would come flooding into the country. The kimonos in this section are the elegant silk padded kimonos for ladies of the nobility. The fabric of each one is an example of the highest level of craftsmanship–damask grounds overlaid with couched gold thread and silk embroidery.

Elegant as they are, the kimonos are not the only items featured here. A beautiful inlaid cosmetic box with brushes and combs, a large screen showing dancers whose fluid sleeves accentuate their movement, and an etiquette book on how to dress give a sense of the special place the kimono had in this society. The entire exhibit is full of objects that amplify the kimono story from elegant prints that show members of the Japanese court mingling with Western men and women suits and bustles to a “Basket Derby” from 1880-97, a city style made from simple reeds to be worn by the Japanese dandy with his walking stick.

Working class kimonos are just as beautiful as the kimonos for the nobility. Firemen in Japan wore heavy cotton kimonos with figures painted inside for protection as they fought the many fires in a nation of wooden buildings. The kimonos were soaked with water as the men fought fires. The designs inside were only seen during festivals when they were turned inside out. Even rarer, is a farmer’s kimono of recycled rags and a coverlet kimono worn over a person in bed, painted with image of a lobster, the symbol of longevity.

Woman’s evening coat Date: 1910–20 Culture: France Medium: Silk velvet, silk satin collar, cuffs, and lining Credit Line: Lent by Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Mr. William B. Gannett

A significant section of the exhibit shows how Japan and the West influenced each other from 1868 to 1912. The Japanese adopted Western chemical dyes and weaving techniques, while the Western fashion was swept up in beautiful images from Japan as these pieces from the collection of the Costume Institute show. A lush pink silk velvet opera cloak by Jean-Charles Worth is displayed next to a kimono robe made by Tashimaya Department Store for the foreign trade. It features short kimono-like sleeves and a simpler printed fabric with Japanese-style motifs. Finally, a light green wool Western-style robe with frog closures features embroidered flowers, which are a fine example of Japanoism.

As Japan moved into the twentieth century, the influences changed, the artistry did not. Modern inventions like cameras, express train tickets, and sheet music appear. Tow kimonos show sobering signs of the nation’s increasing militarism—one shows the siege of Port Arthur during the Russo-Japanese War and another, antiaircraft guns, tanks and planes backing Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935. Kimonos for the masses appear sold in department stores with design influenced by Art Deco and the De Stijl movement. There is even a child’s kimono treasured by Frank Lloyd Wright with a pattern of wisterias climbing over abstract trellises.

The Exhibition Catalog (Click to purchase)

After World War II, Japan began an effort to preserve its cultural heritage, preserving and honoring the craft of the kimono makers, weavers, and dyers through the Living Treasure Movement. Three kimonos created by these artists give testament to the beauty of their work. At the end of the exhibit are garments from prominent Japanese designers, who have brought the nation to the forefront of fashion while honoring their unique traditions—Hanae Mori, Issey Miyake, and Yojhi Yamamoto, and one more designer, Bonnie Cashin. Her simple black wool kimono-style coat shows her love of the Japanese kimono. It was a design she repeated often though her career.

Kimono: A Modern History is tucked into the Arts of Japan Galleries in the Met’s Asian Arts Wing. The galleries surround the lovely basalt Water Stone (1986) by Isamu Noguchi, whose soothing sound pervades the galleries. It underlines the timelessness of the fashions displayed here and their lasting beauty. This is a fashion exhibit from another perspective, a valuable reminder that Western fashion is not the only fashion.”

A very special thanks to Brenna and Nadine for cooperating on these reviews for Fashion Historia. Can’t make it to New York to see their exhibition? You can buy the exhibition catalog, but the Met has all 170 objects from the show available online for you to look at (sans curatorial insights/labels/wall text) . While there isn’t an exhibition catalog to accompany LACMA’s show, they have created this beautiful video:

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*Image: Utagawa Kokunimasa (Japanese, 1874–1944). Swimming at Ōiso, Distant Views of Mount Fuji, 1893. Meiji period (1868–1912). Japan. Triptych of polychrome woodblock prints; ink and color on paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Lincoln Kirstein, 1960 (JP3382a–c)

**Image: Woman’s Kimono (kosode) with Abstract Hemp-Leaf Pattern, Japan, late Taisho+ (1912-1926) – early Sho+wa (1926–1989) period, Silk plain weave, stencil-printed warp and weft (heiyo+-kasuri meisen), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Costume Council Fund, M.2012.130.9.

**Image: Woman’s Kimono (kosode) with Abstract Hemp-Leaf Pattern, Japan, late Taisho+ (1912-1926) – early Sho+wa (1926–1989) period, Silk plain weave, stencil-printed warp and weft (heiyo+-kasuri meisen), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Costume Council Fund, M.2012.130.9.

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Fall Book Notes and Previews (Biba, Art Noveau, and the 19th Century)

The books just keep coming! And not surprisingly, there were many released in time for the new school year. The vast majority of these are museum publications, however, reflecting the ever-increasing popularity of fashion exhibitions in museums.

The Biba Years, 1963-1975 By Barbara Hulanicki and Martin Pel

(September 23, 2014, V &A Publishing)

A revealing look at the fashion revolution of the 1960s and ’70s through the groundbreaking, hip, and now-legendary London emporium Biba, this book looks at “the most beautiful store in the world.” Biba, founded in 1963 by designer Barbara Hulanicki, quickly gained cult status and outgrew several locations before the five-story “Big Biba” opened in 1973. More than a store, it was a haven of cool for artists, movie stars, and rock musicians. This book tells the story of the Biba decade, and how the label revolutionized retail and fashion culture. With a wealth of previously unpublished material, including full-color facsimiles of the six luxurious Biba catalogs and archival photographs, The Biba Years, 1963-1975 looks at the first retailer to bring affordable fashion to young consumers. Stunning new photography documents the unique Biba look, and the designer and her contemporaries offer their personal insights.”

Art Noveau Fashion By Clare Rose (September 16, 2014, V & A Publishing)

The stunning designs of Worth, Paquin, Poiret, Fortuny, and more are showcased in this look at the glamorous world of Art Nouveau fashion. Providing an introduction to the style, which overlaps with late Arts and Crafts in the 1890s and early Modernism in the 1910s, the book focuses on these important designers before discussing Art Nouveau jewelry and accessories, advertising, the influence of exotic Eastern cultures, and artists, among them Beardsley, Klimt, and Mackintosh. New color photographs of gar­ments from the V&A’s collection are accompanied by period images of such style icons as Lily Langtry, Loïe Fuller, and Consuelo Vanderbilt, many previously unpublished. Striking and seductive, Art Nouveau styles were revived by the counterculture in the late 1960s and continue to resonate today.”

Fashioning the 19th Century: Habits of Being 3 By Cristina Giorcelli and Paula Rabinowitz (August 7, 2014, Univ of Minnesota Press)

In nineteenth-century Europe and the United States, fashion—once the province of the well-to-do—began to make its way across class lines. At once a democratizing influence and a means of maintaining distinctions, gaps in time remained between what the upper classes wore and what the lower classes later copied. And toward the end of the century, style also moved from the streets to the parlor. The third in a four-part series charting the social, cultural, and political expression of clothing, dress, and accessories, Fashioning the Nineteenth Century focuses on this transformative period in an effort to show how certain items of apparel acquired the status of fashion and how fashion shifted from the realm of the elites into the emerging middle and working classes—and back.

The contributors to this volume are leading scholars from France, Italy, and the United States, as well as a practicing psychoanalyst and artists working in fashion and with textiles. Whether considering girls’ school uniforms in provincial Italy, widows’ mourning caps in Victorian novels, Charlie’s varying dress in Kate Chopin’s eponymous story, or the language of clothing in Henry James, the essays reveal how changes in ideals of the body and its adornment, in classes and nations, created what we now understand to be the imperatives of fashion.
Contributors: Dagni Bredesen, Eastern Illinois U; Carmela Covato, U of Rome Three; Agnès Derail-Imbert, École Normale Supérieure/VALE U of Paris, Sorbonne; Clair Hughes, International Christian University of Tokyo; Bianca Iaccarino Idelson; Beryl Korot; Anna Masotti; Bruno Monfort, Université of Paris, Ouest Nanterre La Défense; Giuseppe Nori, U of Macerata, Italy; Marta Savini, U of Rome Three; Anna Scacchi, U of Padua; Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, U of Michigan.


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“Hips Don’t Lie” at the Asian Art Museum (San Francisco)

I’m happy to be able to share with you, this review by my good friend, and fellow CSA Western Region board member, Brenna Barks. She recently visited the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco to hear “HIps Don’t Lie — GORGEOUS Idea Talk” by Nicole Archer, a fellow CSA member, as a part of a CSA Western Region meet-up. . The talk is part of programming support for the current exhibition, Gorgeous (on view through September 14). Brenna kindly agreed to write up her thoughts for Fashion Historia:

Hips Don’t Lie – GORGEOUS Idea Talk by Nicole Archer

The first piece Nicole Archer led the group to in the GORGEOUS galleries for her talk, ‘Hips Don’t Lie’, was Gerhard Richter’s 1991 piece, Spiegel, blutrut (Blood Red Mirror). It was an unexpected first piece to examine, and with it, Nicole masterfully set the tone for the entire talk.

I had noticed the piece during my quick walk-through prior to the talk and had admired it for the color and for the power of such a rich color on such a large, stark piece. But I was in a bit of a hurry because I didn’t want to miss the start of the talk so I didn’t have time to notice what Nicole pointed out: the piece’s reflective properties. Oil painted on glass, Spiegel, blutrut is naturally reflective and for a talk that focused on posture, body language, and how we use both to communicate and relate not just with ourselves and each other, but with the art objects we encounter, the first “image” Nicole confronted us with was ourselves.

This forced us to examine how we were standing and carrying ourselves, and enabled Nicole to introduce the major tenet of her talk, best summarized by a Nietzsche quote she shared with us: “There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.” Our bodies know as much about figurative art – and non-figurative art, we would learn – as our minds do.

Nicole then discussed the hip line and its use throughout art history and across various cultures. Starting with the ancient Etruscan kore statues and the statuary of ancient Egypt, there is a firm, stiff posture with the hips straight and parallel which establishes one’s presence, or gives one a dominating, determined, confident (if static) air. This was followed by the ancient Greek s-curve and the contro posto poses; each of these stances adds a sensuality and a movement to the body that the initial posture does not have.

This was best illustrated by Nicole through Narkissos (1976 – 1991), a collage drawing by San Francisco artist, Jess which features a self-portrait of the artist in the composition in the more sensual s-curve posture, with another male figure in the background in the firmer, straight-hipped, kore-style stance. The contrast between firmness and softness in stance, between strong confidence and a gentle sensuality emphasized the artwork’s main theme: exploration and celebration of male, homosexual desire. As Nicole stated through her use of the Nietzsche quote at the start of the talk, my body “knew” what the difference in those postures meant and I had read the difference almost subconsciously; by viewing the work through the lens of Nicole’s thesis and expertise, and hearing and participating in the discussion with my fellow attendees, this difference was brought to the surface and for me added even more depth to an already exquisite piece.

I was not alone in my revelations. While gathered around a sketch by Tom of Finland, as various people examined the figures’ postures and connected with them physically through mimicking their poses (some only mentally, some physically), there were multiple and all equally interesting and accurate interpretations of what the two men in the sketch were doing: they were subtly checking out each others behinds, they were establishing who was the dominant and who was the less dominant person in this exchange, they were posturing for a third person observing them, and so on.

While examining the comedic Laughing Nude by John Currin (1998), one young man pointed out that the hands of the woman depicted were not graceful, but – through illustrating with his own hands – rather awkward, and that their depiction was almost masculine. This meant that Currin’s Nude was not only a parody of the distorted nudes and female figures found in most Northern Renaissance paintings, but also perhaps a parody of contemporary nudes, which tend to over-emphasize an ideal of grace and delicacy.

That so many people felt comfortable speaking aloud can only be credited to Nicole. Her ability to engage with her audience, and her style of delivery were nothing short of masterful. With or without any artistic knowledge, Nicole emphasized that since we all have bodies, we can all relate to these artworks, and that no way we relate is wrong. People felt confident and comfortable enough to speak, even though surrounded by a large group of strangers in a very public setting, something I’ve never seen before. She was also very engaging, miming actions – such as the impossibility of “strutting” while maintaining a straight-hipped, kore-style stance – explaining things quickly and succinctly, making us laugh, and genuinely listening to anyone who spoke, welcoming new insights and perspectives.

Movement was as much a theme as posture. Comparing a Japanese triptych of Three Types of Edo Beauties, wrapped in their kimono with the static nature of a Noh robe hanging in a case, Nicole perhaps intentionally echoed a statement of Lou Taylor’s: that recreating the dynamism of movement in clothing can never quite be achieved in a museum or gallery setting, a living, moving body is required to give the clothing life. As Nicole illustrated, our stance indicates what movements are possible as much as what we are doing and where we are indicates the style of movement. “Why don’t we strut in galleries?” she asked. Contrasted with the performance by Phonique and other performance artists happening in the museum at the same time, it was a very thought-provoking question. It was not suggesting that we necessarily should strut, but it brought to the forefront of our minds how different situations and their different etiquette’s dictate our bodily stances and movement.

By the end of the talk through the gallery, Nicole had brought our attention to movement even in artworks that were not human: the curves of a Balinese dagger and the swaying, beaded curtain of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s Untitled (Golden) each had their own movement and a sensuality which mimicked the s-curve of so many of the figures we had examined. Nicole also brought attention to the curators’ expertise in this exhibition by highlighting juxtaposing pieces that might seem unrelated at first, until you examine the poses and stances the art depicts – even between “realistic” photographs, and cubist portraits.

After this wonderful, insightful talk, which felt more like a private class than a lecture, I don’t think I will be completely unaware of my own stance and body language in a museum or gallery for a long time to come.

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California Fashion History: Davis Schonwasser Co.

Baby Bathrobe dated 1910-1920 from Davis Schonwasser & Co

I recently received some beautiful vintage baby clothes from a very dear friend, and one piece was a beautifully embroidered silk baby bathrobe bearing the label “Davis Schonwasser Co.” The sales tag suggests that the garment dates to 1910-1920, but I (of course), wanted to know more and couldn’t help diving in head-first to do a tertiary bit of research (this is by no means complete or exhaustive, but it is interesting).

Baby Bathrobe dated 1910-1920 from Davis Schonwasser & Co

As it turns out Davis Schonwasser & Co was a luxury department store, among the likes of City of Paris, I. Magnin, The White House, and a number of other long-time retail establishments of San Francisco. As the San Francisco Chronicle noted in 1996, “The city nourishes and cherishes traditions, celebrates the idiosyncratic and mourns casualties. And casualties there have been, even among classics: I. Magnin and Ernie’s have closed. So has the original Fly Trap, Winterland and Davis Schonwasser with its creaky wooden floors. We also miss the White House, the Fox Theater, Solari’s lentil soup and Townsend’s creamed spinach. The list goes on.” (Steger 1996)

L.E. Davis in 1903 via "Cloaks and Furs"

Several publications name different “Davis’s” and “Schonwasser’s” associated with the store. According to author Michael Zarchin, “Two Jews who combined their efforts to establish and run successfully a ladies’ and children’s ready-to-wear store known to San Franciscans for many generations were Samauel Schonwasser and Max Davis. Back in 1856, Mr. Schonwasser, an importer and dealer in dry goods, [first] established a small shop…. ” (Zarchin 1952, 47)

The Industry publication, Cloaks and Furs, suggested in 1903, that “L.E. Davis, of Davis, Schonwasser & Co., of San Francisco, is one of the new-idea men of the cloak an suit world. As long as two years ago Mr. Davis, in an interview with the writer, declared that such a thing as universal style had gone out of existence.” (Cloaks and Furs 1903, 46)

A newspaper clipping from the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, dated Feb. 27, 1907, noted that Davis, Schonwasser, & Co was established in 1873 and it has been suggested that a “Schonwasser was independent of Davis at least before 1885.” (Carey 2014) Several San Francisco based city directories indicate that the store was in business as early as 1894. According to the 1902 Crocker-Langley San Francisco directory for the year, the store was run by “Max Davis and Emll G. Schonwasser” and sold “ladles’ and children’s furnishing goods.”

Davis Schonwasser Co, 1909 (Via Bancroft Library)

The San Francisco Evening Bulletin article mentioned above also explains that, “prior to the great fire was located at Post and Grant Avenue.  After the fire, and until removal to these new quarters, the firm’s business has been carried on at California st. and Van Ness Avenue.” The 1906 Earthquake and Fire prompted a move to their most famous location, opening there March 1, 1907. This was a time when, “Van Ness Avenue became a temporary downtown during the period that the real downtown rebuilt. Major dry goods and department stores such as the White House, the City of Paris, The Emporium, Davis-Schonwasser, D. Samuel’s Lace House . . . were some of the businesses that located here.” (Kostura 2010, 18)

"Looking down Sutter St. showing "The White House, Davis Schonwasser Co., and The Sloane Building, San Francisco, California, 1908"

This “new’ building had an elegant cache as well. “It was designed by George Adrian Applegarth, an Oakland native. He trained in Paris at the renowned École des Beaux-Arts, and in 1906 was in New York working on his graduate project. He stowed away on the next ship to Paris to collect his diploma, then returned to San Francisco. He ended up in a partnership with Kenneth MacDonald Jr., who may have been his collaborator on this building. The building is still a retail venue today, although the façade has changed somewhat.” (Time Shutter)

Made of painted satin ribbons laid vertically and horizontally with machine valenciennes lace trim top and bottom edges. Slot and stud front closure, laced back, large bow top front; whalebone stays. Seller: Davis Schonwasser, San Francisco (de Young Museum)

Several Bay Area museums hold costume examples within their collections. The de Young has a corset (c.1904-1908), described as being of French origin and donated by Mrs. Gordon H. True; and the Oakland Museum of California has a never-worn black “Geisha Waist” shirtwaist dating to between 1904-1910. Interestingly, the label of this piece has the former address of “128 to 134 Post St., San Francisco, Ca.” and was donated by Deanna Vickers.

One presumes that these two donors were the original owners and clients of the store, but that it completely unverified. In a letter to the editor published in the San Francisco Chronicle, it was noted that Eleanor Maini Wollenberg was at some point, the accessories buyer for Davis- Schonwasser, and “with military precision, Admiral Nimitz would come see [her] twice yearly to pick out a purse for his wife.” (San Francisco Chronicle 2001, 2) Fashion shows were a common occurrence between 1900-1911, and were often held in cooperation with the surrounding department stores (as is described in a number of articles in the San Francisco Call).

The company appears to have had a conscience as well: In 1909, the store sold a doll to raise funds for the benefit of the California Women’s Hospital (San Francisco Call 1909), and in 1911, Davis Schonwasser supported the suffragette movement, but joining with other department stores by displaying yellow items in their windows (San Francisco Call 1911).

Little is documented of their children’s wear today, but the retailing journal The Corset and Underwear Review described a window display seen in 1918,  “Attractive clothing and nursery accessories for infants and young children formed a display in four windows at Davis, Schonwasser & Co., San Francisco, for the fall lines recently received by the various sections of the baby departments. The new and enlarged windows are in tones of cream, with pale blue and pink for the ribbons and other touches of color. The first window showed a nursery scene, with a mother in morning frock and apron, seated at the right, holding a baby in her arms.” (“Infants’ Wear” volume 12, 86)

Later years are even less well-documented in archives and history books, though it was active in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and into the 1950s at least. The company supported the San Francisco Opera’s 1950 season, and it was listed in the Bluebook of Leather and Shoe Businesses as late as 1958. By 1964, however, the location had become a Hibernia Bank office.

If you have information on Davis, Schonwasser, & Co, please feel free to leave a comment below.


For another interesting tid-bit on a former employee of the Children’s department, check out this oral history from Harvard.

Carey, Thomas. 2014. Librarian, San Francisco History Center at the San Francisco Public Library, correspondence with the author. April 16.

Cloaks and Furs. 1903. Volume 33, 46

Kostura, William for the San Francisco Department of City Planning. 2010. Van Ness Auto Row Support Structures: A Survey of Automobile-Related Buildings along the Van Ness Avenue Coridor.

“Letters to the Editor.” San Francisco Chronicle. July 6, 2.

Perspectives in vernacular architecture, Volume 9, By Vernacular Architecture Forum, Edited by Alison K. Hoagland and Kenneth A. Breisch, 2003, University of Tennessee Press.

San Francisco Evening Bulletin, 1907. California Pioneer Society subject file. Feb. 27.

Steger, Pat. 1996. “Staying Power,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 21.

Zarchin, Michael Moses. 1952. Glimpses of Jewish Life in San Francisco: History of San Francisco Jewry. Distributed by the author.

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Shirley Temple (Black) 1928-2014

With the sad news of the passing of Shirley Temple (Black) in today’s New York Times, I thought it would be appropriate to remember some of her contributions to film costume, fashion, and popular culture.

Shirley Temple was the most famous child star of the 1930s. She made her film debut at the age of five in 1934 and by the following year she was making $1,000 a week from merchandising tie-ins alone (Cook 2004 and Ewing 1977). Mothers everywhere dressed their children in Temple-imitating clothing.

Shirley Temple Sears Ad

Temple merchandise included dresses, coats, snow suits, raincoats, toys and accessories (Cook 2004). Sears and Roebuck featured a line of Shirley Temple fashions inspired by her film costumes, including short dresses with matching panties and  bolero-style dresses, winter snow suits, hats and accessories.  As the 1935-36 Sears catalog copy stated:  “Shirley and her cute clothes have stolen everyone’s heart; no wonder every little girl wants to wear the same styles.” The earned royalties from Temple’s licensed merchandise exceeded $100,000 in 1935; and exceeded  $200,000 in 1936.

However, it was the Shirley Temple “look” that most mothers were after. Her iconic hairstyle of all-over-ringlets was imitated everywhere and is still recognized today. Her style of dress, frequently identified with toddler-hood, included simple frocks made to accentuate a toddler’s belly, with puffed sleeves and hemlines that were consistently 19 inches from the floor (Cook 2004). These were trimmed with simple and unobtrusive decorative elements, such as embroidered or appliquéd, and lace edged hemlines and collars. Interestingly, conflicting fan magazines reports suggest that Temple was both disinterested in her film costumes and insistent that they be of a consistent design.

In an issue of Hollywood from 1936, writer Sally Martin explains the challenges of costuming the child star:

One day, a long time ago when Shirley’s career was in its infancy, Rene Hubert, then 20th Century-Fox designer, was discussing Shirley’s clothes with Mrs. Temple. He made the remark that clothes for small girls should reach just to their fingertips. Shirley overheard and to this day insists that her dresses reach the specified length and not vary a sixteenth of an inch one way or the other. Costuming Shirley Temple presents a real problem to the studio designers. Accustomed to competing and excelling the world’s greatest modistes in creating styles for stars on the screen, the stylists never, before the advent of Shirley, had tackled the problem of clothes for a child star.” (Martin. 1936, 40)

1933 file photo, child actress Shirley Temple is seen in her role as "Little Miss Marker"

Yet, according to Marion Blackford, writer for Screenplay in an article that same year:

In Shirley Temple’s home, in the wardrobes and clothes-closets of her own room, there hang well over a hundred different dresses and outfits! They’re all hers. . . Shirley could go a quarter of a year wearing a different outfit every day from her own wardrobe, and never once in that length of time would she wear the same dress twice! Yet—and here’s one of the strangest things of all about this most amazing little girl in the world today!—Shirley Temple is probably the most UN-‘clothes-conscious’ child in all Hollywood. To her, clothes are just ‘part of the job.’ With stoic patience, she stands hour after hour in the studio fitting rooms, enduring the interminable putting-on-and-taking-off, squeeking faintly now and then at a mis-aimed pinthrust that punctures her chubby legs, turning this way and that, when and as bidden, co-operating with all the clothes-knowledge of a trained actress. But as for enjoying those clothes herself? – why it’s a fact that Shirley doesn’t even look at herself in the mirror when she’s trying on new things.” (33)

The article goes on to provide details from William Lambert, 20th Century-Fox’s house costume designer at the time, who “fitted  Shirley’s clothes for her when she first became a screen actress” (54):

‘I never,’ says Lambert, ‘seen an actress, of any age, so utterly uninterested in clothes as Shirley! And that, especially for a child, is unusual. From the very outset, her interest in what we were preparing for her to wear was purely perfunctory, mechanical. She’d come into the fitting room willingly enough, and she’d stand and be fitted with admirable patience, for a child. But do you think she ever took a look at herself in the mirror? NO, sir—not one glimpse!! She’d stand there in her little pink undies, with her chubby legs straight and firm. She’d let us twist her and dress her and stick pins in her. When we had the dress on, she’d still stand there, and never once look into the glass. . . Still without a look in the glass, she’d hurry back and out of the dress; would get into her own things—and make a bee-line for my drawing board and the colors I use when designing clothes. That was what she was patiently waiting for all the time. Being fitted was work—but drawing pictures was play, and that was what was on her mind. She’d grab my paints (oh, how I loved that!) and she’d draw picture after picture of Jimmy Durante. Funny part of it was, it looked like Jimmy. And she’d paint his big nose all nice and pink and then she’d be happy. Clothes?—they were forgotten. And say, let me tell you you couldn’t tell her anything about drawing, either. I’d try to make a suggestion or two. She’d just hold up her pink-nosed Jimmy Durante beside one of my style sketches. . .” (54)

The article goes on to explain, that while she may seem disinterested, she still has her opinion on her look in a film, and that she had definite preferences:

Don’t understand from Shirley’s fitting-room attitude that she doesn’t know what’s going on. Far from that! For instance: All her dresses are made 19 inches from the floor. Shirley has learned to feel the length. She knows by hanging her arms and leaning over just where the right length comes. She never has to look in a mirror—when they fit a dress, she hangs her arms and leans. ‘No—too long,’ she says. And Snip, off must come an inch or so. . . . She has one definite clothes-quirk: Everything has to match in color in whatever ensemble she’s wearing. It may make no difference to the camera, but even her socktops must match, precisely, the hue and shade of the dress she’s wearing. No sloppy work for Shirley. Everything has to be just so-so, too. IF there’s a bow on her dress, not a camera may turn on her until the ends and the loops are exactly even, to the quarter-inch.” (54)

Shirley Temple (center) in the "Bachelor and the Bobby Soxer" (1947)

Regardless, of her level of involvement in the creation of her image, Shirley Temple’s iconic style left a imprint on children’s fashion of the 1930.

In the 1940s, Temple helped to define the new “teenager” demographic, and portrayed an impressionable teenage girl in the film, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer (1947), among others. More than that, her iconic look has remained one often imitated in popular culture.

Below is an absolutely perfect video of Temple from the 1934 film, Baby Take a Bow (costumes by Royer), which exemplifies both Temple’s sartorial and film styles. Enjoy – and thank you Ms. Black for leaving with such a voluminous collection of films to enjoy:


Martin, Sally. “Hollywood’s Charm School: Shirley’s Personal Wardrobe,” Hollywood, November 1936.

Blackford, Marion. ‘Miss Temple’s Best Bib and Tucker,’ Screen Play, August 1936.

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Holiday Book tease: “Hollywood Costume”


Already called out for being “Gift-Worthy” by the Huffington Post and the Associated Press, today’s review is just a teaser for Hollywood Costume (Abrams) edited by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

Hollywood Costume is the lavishly illustrated coffee-table book and exhibition catalog from the Victoria & Albert exhibition of the same name. It frequently juxtaposes film stills with the physical costumes. The above costume was designed by Travis Banton for  Claudette Colbert in Cleopatra, 1934. The image below shows Colbert wearing the dress (and showing off much cleavage) For more on the costumes in this film, see my article at Worn Through from 2010.

Another spectacular costume featured in Hollywood Costume (along with installation shots and an essay by Sam Gatley on dressing the mannequin) is this costume for Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) in My Man Godfrey, 1936 by Travis Banton (Page 214-5, Gown and duster jacket designed by Travis Banton. The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design Larry McQueen. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum).

My Man Godfrey happens to be one of my favorite movies (hello, William Powell!). The image of this dress is gorgeous in this two-page spread, but seeing all those glass bugle beads in motion in the film is just absolutely stunning. The scene below features the dress, but is also a fairly important point of the plot: (pardon the ad at the beginning of the clip):

For more wonderful insights, be sure to check out the book, Hollywood Costume (Abrams) edited by Deborah Nadoolman Landis.

*Page 137  The Collection of Motion Picture Costume Design Larry McQueen. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum

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Fashion Factoid: Veronica Lake’s Hair

Known for her ‘peek-a-book’ hairstyle – it became a bit of a problem during World War II: “In the early 1940s, US government officials asked Lake to wear her hair up for the duration of WWII: it seems that too many women working in factories were imitating her famous “peek-a-boo bang” and getting their hair caught in assembly-line machinery.” (Turner Classic Movies)

Here’s a video making the point:

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CSA tour of “Wear to Party” in Ventura, CA

Balenciaga taffeta gown with lace trim, 1955 (Kyoto Costume Institute)

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the Costume Society of America program including a tour of “Wear to Party” at the Museum of Ventura County, as well as the tour of Lotusland with a lecture on Ganna Walska (the Polish opera singer) and the costumes designed for her by Erte.

I’m going to go into too much detail (CSA Members can look forward to a writeup in our Spring 2014 newsletter of the event). However, I do want to share a few photos from the tour of “Wear to Party” – which was fabulous, informative, and fun.

“Wear to Party” is an exhibit focused on the clothing worn while social entertaining in Ventura County, including beach parties, barbeques, dinner dances, and of the prom attended by local residents. Our tour guide was the volunteer curator (and former Smithsonian curator), Shelly Foote – whose knowledge seems endless. My favorites from the exhibit include several 1930s dresses: a garden party dress with a jellyfish print, a black taffeta evening gown with a dramatic back, and a black velvet gown with green beaded sleeves. However, the pink Balenciaga-esque prom dress was also a favorite. See more below.

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Weekend Reading: Smithsonian’s 101 Objects that Made America

Marian Anderson’s Fur Coat (1939)

Just a few days ago the new issue of Smithsonian Magazine landed in my mailbox. The entire issue is dedicated to the 101 objects (out of the 137 million in the Smithsonian’s collection) that are the ‘most important’ in American history and culture (arguably, of course). More than a few objects of clothing and textiles made the cut.

Each is accompanied by a small contextual essay and an illustration (usually a photograph of the actual object, but occasionally illustrations are included).

Neil Armstrong's Space Suit (1969)

Some of the essays are written by surprising people. For example, Martha Stewart penned the essay on the Singer Sewing Machine and Justice Sandra Day O’Conner wrote the essay on her own judges robe.

The essays are available in part or in full online, and grouped by theme: Wild America, Discovery, Voice, Power, Invention, Community, Happiness, America in the World, and Freedom. It’s a good issue and a unique look at the history of the U.S. The weekend’s approach is a good excuse to seek out the issue, sit down and read it (especially those for those with historical leanings).

What articles of clothing would you have included that they left out?

Neil Armstrong’s Space Suit (1969)

Lincoln’s Top Hat (1865)

Marian Anderson’s Fur Coat (1939)

Cesar Chavez’s Jacket (c. 1990)

Justice O’Connor’s Robe (1981)

Lincoln’s Top Hat (1865)

Singer Sewing Machine (1851)

Levi’s Jeans (1873)

Aids Quilt (1987)

Ruby Slippers (1938)

Michael Jordan’s Jersey (1996-97)

Muhammad Ali’s Gloves and Robe (1974)

World War I Gas Mask (1917)

U.S. Olympic Hockey Jersey (1980)

Star Spangled Banner (1814)



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