More Holiday Gift Books: “Debutantes: When Glamour Was Born”

"Dresses of the early 1900s were often loosely tailored and simple with a slightly raised waistline. During the years between 1915 and the early 1920s, it wasn’t uncommon for a debutantes dress to be short. Audrey Hoffman, mother of Audrey Clinton, in her coming out dress made of silk, satin, and lace. New York, 1915."

For those who love all things fabulous, there is nothing quite like a debutante ball gown to sweep you off your feet. Debutantes: When Glamour was Born by Diana Oswald (Rizzoli International) offers a decadent peek inside the world of the debutant.

Debutantes: When Glamour was Born includes 150 photographs by renowned fashion photographers such as Horst P. Horst, Bill Cunningham, Cecil Beaton and Toni Frissell (among others), as well as reprinted society pages, documenting high fashion worn by society women in both Europe and the United States during the 20th century. It makes special use of previously unpublished pictures from personal archives of several debutantes (including Lavinia Baker and Tricia Nixon, among others). Gowns by the likes of Oscar de la Renta (who also wrote the foreword), along with Norman Norell, Norman Hartnell, Hattie Carnegie, Christian Dior, Coco Chanel, Mainbocher, and Madeline Vionnet, among other un-credited designers are included.

According to the introduction by David Patrick Columbia, American’s adopted the practice of presenting a young lady into society (a key part of match-making for the wealthy) from Europeans in the 19th century. Surprisingly, American’s had stricter rules than did their British and French counter-parts. Columbia’s introduction goes on to highlight the role of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York Cotillions, present pages of Town & Country, and provide details of society parties for Doris Duke, Barbara Hutton, and Jacqueline Bouvier (Kennedy). It is a brief though sweeping overview (that could use some source citation).

"A master at creating shapes and silhouettes, Dior was known and sometimes even criticized or using over abundant amounts of fabric for just one dress. Chicago debutante Joan peterkin stuns in a strapless tulle and white satin Dior with white satin gloves. Chicago, 1949. Photo by Horst P. Horst."

The remaining five chapters of the book are photographic selections with detailed captions. Chapters are grouped thematically and titled: A Fine Elegance; Celebutantes; Glitter and The Dress; The Grandiose; and Summer Soirées. Photos are captioned with tid-bits of interesting information on the wearer and date, and sometimes the designers is mentioned and described. Example: “Debutante Tess D’Englanger wears a white organdy gown by Irene, 1952. Irene began her career as a costume designer and catered to both high society and Hollywood royalty.” (34)

The gowns in this book are beautiful, but  I think each chapter could have benefited from a short (two-page) introduction to provide better context and organization. That said, Debutantes: When Glamour was Born does provide photographic access to a very private world of the rich and famous with previously unpublished material, that could be useful to collections housing debutante gowns. It will also most certainly appeal to those looking for inspiration for formal gowns from history, or to add a bit of glamour to the coffee table of the fashion enthusiast.

Fore more on the book, see the New York Review of Books.

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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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Holiday gift books (Part 1): “Jean Patou: A Fashionable Life”

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Released just a few weeks ago, Jean Patou: A Fashionable Life by Emmanuelle Polle highlights the extensive private archives of the Patou heirs for the first time. This oversize monograph from Flammarion that Polle spent two years researching, features 250 color and black-and-white illustrations, including the much of the early days of fashion photography (such as those by Baron de Meyer).

The book is divided into three sections: a biography of Jean Patou, his work in Paris, and his work in the United States. Pages are covered from edge to edge with fashion sketches, photographs of garments (sportswear, swimwear, day-wear, etc, gowns), fashion photographs (including both street fashion and studio photographs), focused on the 1920s and 1930s – the height of his powers. It also includes information related to his famous perfumes-Joy and Que Sais-Je.

In New York in 1924, Jean Patou poses in one of the eighty-odd suits he claimed to own.

Though his career lasted a short fifteen years, his use of embroideries, jersey, and interest in day pajamas, and sportswear made him a rival of Chanel. The book also includes discussion and visual representation of the inspiration he gained during World War I-even including some garments he collected and kept as inspirational pieces. The book discusses his clientele, his friends, his lovers and gives an in-depth look at the man and his design work (much of which researched from private letters, diaries, and other previously unpublished material).

This book is a welcome addition to fashion history literature – as it is the first book to focus solely on the short but substantial career of Jean Patou since the 1980s. Jean Patou: A Fashionable Life is one of those rare gems that will be of interest to both established fashion historians, archivists, libraries, museums and  fashion enthusiast alike. Especially those interested in Paris, and the Art Deco period.

For a ‘sneak peak’ of the interior, check out the small gallery below.

 

* © Francis Hammond, “Declaration” evening top in pale pink silk tulle over matching silk chiffon, embroidered all over with white and silver satin tubes in a geometric diamond motif, Winter 1935. This garment, which belonged to the Princesse Nilfur, was worn under a tuxedo suit with a long skirt and jacket in black satin, lined in the same pink color as the top.

 

 

 

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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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Books in Brief: “Hollywood Before Glamour: Fashion in American Silent Film”

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If you could see the stack of books on my ‘to do list’ you might run for the hills, but you also might sit down for a good long read. There are some great reviews ahead – so keep an eye out. First up is Hollywood Before Glamour: Fashion in American Silent Film by Michelle Tolini Finamore. Released earlier this year, it has been on my to do list the longest, and here are some brief notes about it’s contents.

Nearly 300 compact pages of academic scholarship cover the 1900s through the 1930s in 6 thematic essays (plus an introduction). Not surprisingly, much of the work discusses Lady Duff Gordon (or Lucile), and also includes an entire chapter on the designer Peggy Hamilton.

It also includes discussions of American Fashion design on film during World War I, and the rise of the ‘specialist’ costume designer (including Adrian, Andre-Ani, Travis Banton, Howard Greer, Iribe, Mitchell Leisen, Max Ree, and Sophie Wachner – though noticeably absent is Natacha Rambova.) Actor’s who provided their own wardrobes for modern films, and the marketing potential that came out of that is also explored. The book is well researched, but is not meant to be a comprehensive study of the era. It remains a helpful resource.

*Anna Moore/Lillian Gish wearing negligee in Way Down East (United Pictures 1920, director D.W. Griffith). Photo by Bain News Service, new York. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress.)

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The Many Lives of Miss K: Toto Koopman, Model, Muse, Spy

My bedtime reading for the last month has been something of a guilty pleasure: Rather than making me sleepy, it keeps me on the edge of my seat and is a fascinating true tale of a real-life bond girl with brains, independence, and beauty.

The Many Lives of Miss K: Toto Koopman – Model, Muse, Spy by Jean-Noel Liaut, translated by Denise Raab Jacobs (Rizzoli, September 2013) is the deftly told story of the world’s first bi-racial model (Javanese and Chinese), who was also a spy, and who was openly bi-sexual, and who also served time in WWII concentration camps, and was influential in the career of artist Francis Bacon.

Her work within the world of Fashion (with a capital F) is detailed here in riveting and creative narrative, and much of that time is in my favorite time period (aesthetically): the 1920s and 1930s. From the designers she worked with, to the Parisian socialites who became her friends: She was an It girl, to be sure.

Toto worked for a brief six months for Chanel in 1930 as a house model, appearing in just one show for the 1930-31 fall/winter collection, “Which featured sober antelope coats and fluid evening dresses with backs that evoked peacock tails.” (24)

She quickly went on to work for Marcel Rochas, and following that Mainbocher (who would become her favorite designer). She even became a ‘jockey:’

The term used for a young woman–model, actress, or socialite–who wore their ‘colors,’ representing them [designers] in Parisian society. And Toto was everywhere: at the opera, at the Longchamp and Auteuil racecourses for the pesages, in nightclubs such as Chez Bricktop and at galas hosted by Jean Patou.” (26)

Toto Koopman models a gown by Augustabernard for photographer George Hoyningen-Huene in Vogue's September 1933 issue.

Toto regularly wore clothes from the most important designers of the 1930s: Chanel, Vionnet, and Schiaparelli. “Always drawn to eccentricity, Toto added quirky accessories, such as gloves with red lizard skin between the fingers, intentionally made to look like diseased skin–definitely Schiaparelli” (47-48)

She also worked steadily with some of the worlds most famous fashion photographers: including George Hoyningen-Huene, Edward Steichen, Horst P. Horst and Cecil Beaton. She first worked with Hoyningen-Huene in 1932, and he considered Toto an ideal model for the designs of Vionnet, Augustabernard, and other designers focused on neo-classicism.

The dresses hugged the curves of the body like a second skin, making it impossible to wear undergarments. To avoid indecency, Toto powdered her breasts and pubic area so that the fabric would not cling to those parts of her body.” (39)

Her work with Honingen-Huene appeared in Vogue often, and she even appeared on the cover. Outside of the long hours at the photography studio, Toto would spend little time with the other models – except for Lee Miller. The pair would remain friends and Miller’s surrealist sense of humor amused Toto. Some of Toto’s other friends included some giants in the Paris social scene. Women who shopped at Cartier and Schiaparelli, and who threw eccentric parties at a time when surrealism (and eccentricity) ruled. Bettina Jones, Roussy Mdivani, Salvador Dali, and Jean Cocteau were among her social set.

The Many Lives of Miss K: Toto Koopman – Model, Muse, Spy is a fascinating read, not only for the sections pertaining to fashion, but also for the historical context they provide for this time period. Despite the glamorous aspects of her life, there are some parts of this book that detail the hard, cold facts of The Resistance, World War II, and Concentration Camps, and while difficult to read it makes the story of Toto Koopman that more amazing, intriguing, and thoroughly fascinating. I’d encourage any fashion historian interested in the war and interwar years to pick up a copy.

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Books in Brief: The Mechanical Smile by Caroline Evans

Many of you will know that I’ve been doing a lot of research into the history of fashion in America. Happily, well-known historian Caroline Evans came out with a book this summer that fills a gap in the available research on early fashion shows. Her book, The Mechanical Smile: Modernism and the First Fashion Shows in France and America, 1900-1929 (Yale, July 2013) actually covers the 1890s through 1929 in both France and the United States, and relies on significant new archival evidence. It not only includes close discussions of early fashion shows, but also their impacts on dance and early cinema.

Twelve chapters divided evenly between discussions of fashion shows and of mannequins (models), this large format, 330 page book is heavily illustrated, and as a good resource should, includes endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. For my purposes (i.e. American fashion history), Chapter 4: 1900-1917 America was insightful and well-documented.

Lucile's vaudeville version of "Fleurette's Dream at Peronne," 1917. Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As is the premise of Marlis Schweitzer’s book, When Broadway Was the Runway, Evans spends some time discussing the theatrical connections of the first fashion shows in the US, especially the appeal they held for Broadway and Vaudeville producers. This included a two-week show in September 1903 at Madison Square Garden (more of a static convention than what we now think of as a fashion show) which included live fashion shows of French only designs (no American designs). Evans goes onto to describe the first department store shows – which also only showed French designers – including Wanamakers’ Napoleonic themed fashion show in 1908, Poiret’s American tour of Macy’s, Gimbel’s and Wanamakers in 1913, as well as these store’s own shows beginning in 1910. Not surprisingly, Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon), her models, and their New York presence are also well covered (and well illustrated). Here, FIT’s special collection of Lucile related ephemera plays heavily.

The next section of the America chapter explores the rapid spread of fashion shows across the US (and across markets) after these early beginnings. Evnas notes, “From 1910 fashion shows began to be staged twice a year in Los Angeles and San Francisco, collectively organized by the major department stores and called the United Fashion Show.” The chapter goes on to talk about theatricality in American fashion shows: theme’s, dramatic structures, and other elements that American shows used to appeal to buyers and consumers.

Evans’ three year fellowship to research and write the book certainly paid off. Her endnotes alone reveal how much research she did for this project, and the results are drool-worthy. She catches all the details one might need to learn more about a particular nugget in this fact-packed resource. I’ll certainly be using it as a resource for years to come.

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Knitting on the homefront (WWI)

Nurse Bertha Mullen (Mrs. Chester Mullen), ca 1918. Photo by Chester Mullen. Bertha Mullen wearing a Red Cross uniform and is knitting a sock. (Shasta Historical Society)

Knitting played a large part in women’s experience of WWI (1914-1918). That fact is recorded in historical collections across the United States, including rural Northern California, as well as across the world. As historian Susan Strawn notes in her book Knitting America, “By the time America entered the war, knitters around the world were already sending hand-knit comforts to soldiers and refugees in Europe. In the far-flung British dominion of Australia, volunteers turned out astounding numbers of socks.” (91).

The Red Cross developed a nationwide campaign, with posters and pattern books designed to encourage women to aid in the war effort – even children knit for the red cross. The Red Cross even went so far as to supply yarn, patterns, needles, and instructions, ensuring distributed of needed articles of hand-knit to the military directly.

 

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Fashion Exhibitions in NYC: RetroSpective at FIT


Yoshiki Hishinuma, evening dress, white and fuchsia polyester, cage crinoline with nylon, Fall 1996, Japan, gift of Yoshiki Hishinuma.

My trip to NYC this week is jam-packed with book related things, but I did manage to take in the RetroSpective exhibition currently on view at the Museum at FIT (May 22-November 16, 2013).

Curated by Jennifer Farley, with textiles organized by Lynn Weidner and accessories by Colleen Hill, RetroSpecitve is my favorite kind of fashion exhibition: It’s focus is on historical representations of fashion throughout history. Though small, it is well-informed and carefully selected to show how the history of fashion is a constant source of inspiration for designers, and has been for hundreds of years. This is not something new, as some would suggest. This small but significant exhibit covers 250 years of revivalism, “from the 18th century to grunge.”

Elsa Schiaparelli, evening dress, black and bronze shot silk taffeta, circa 1939, France, courtesy of Mrs. Michael Blankfort.

The culture of revival is presented here with beautiful examples from FIT’s collection of couture: ensembles, under-structures, dress-forms, textiles, and accessories.  It is supported by two video’s from British Pathe, highlighting revivals of the 1920s style in the 1950s, and also of monastic dress in the 1940s.

After an introductory image depicting the changing silhouette of fashions by Ruben Toledo, the exhibition is grouped by style or trend, and includes sections on hoops, bustles, panniers, and 1830s style puffed sleeves, pin-stripes, and more. One of my favorite aspects of this show, was the connections draw between designers of different time periods. Cat Chow  juxtaposed with Claire McCardell, Paco Rabanne paired with Yohji Yamamoto, a beautiful  1951 Balmain evening gown is paired with an 18th century robe a la Anglaise, and so on. Some of my favorites surprised me (as I don’t typically go for anything post 1980): a beautiful 1980 YSL evening gown of changeable purple taffeta with puffed sleeves (a la 1830s), a 1996 Yoshiki Hishinuma hooped gown (mixing eastern and western cultures, picture above), and not surprisingly, an Elsa Schiaparelli bustle gown from the 1930s (seen at right). Shoes, handbags, undergarments, upholstery, and other textile designs round out the exhibit and make for a rich experience.

If you happen to be in New York anytime soon, it’s well worth a visit.

 

P.S.: Did you know that there was a Fashion Archive at the British Pathe Website?

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