Saturday, October 12, 2019

Exhibition: Balenciaga - Shaping Fashion

Bendigo is not one of the places that immediately springs to mind when you think of Haute Couture, but over the last ten years Bendigo Art Gallery has hosted some of the best exhibitions about fashion to appear in Australia.  Its latest is no exception. From the V&A comes Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion: an exhibition studying the work of one of the masters of fashion design.

Flamenco dress, 1961
Cristóbel Balenciaga was a Spanish designer who left his native country and set up shop in Paris during the Spanish Civil War.  Though he spend the rest of his career headquartered in Paris (where all the resources and talents of French couture were available to him) he retained strong ties to his birthplace.  Many of his designs had a strong Spanish influence, whether they drew upon the traditional costumes of bullfighters and flamenco dancers, or borrowed styles from ecclesiastical dress.

This exhibition mainly explores Balenciaga's work from the 1950s and 1960s, when he was at the height of his fame.

Because Balenciaga trained as a tailor he was an expert in cut and fabric.  His designs usually started with the fabric rather than a sketch—"it's the fabric that decides" he declared.  Outwardly simply garments were cleverly cut and put together with great precision.

Back to Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion.  As well as displaying lots of gorgeous gowns, the curators of this exhibition decided to devote a portion of their exhibition space to the construction of the clothes.  This included an x-ray of one of the evening dresses, showing the inner boning supporting the apparently unstructured garment (as well as a couple of pins the original seamstress had left in the hem!)  One of Balenciaga's toiles was mounted on a dummy, demonstrating some of the techniques of his craft. 

Opposite to the toile was a case containing various dressmaking tools used in the house of Balenciaga.

Cape in white gazar, 1963
There were certain motifs that reoccurred in Balenciaga's designs: for example, the fitted front and the bloused back, bracelet length sleeves and necklines that stood away from the neck.  (The last two of these were to allow his wealthy clients to display their jewels more easily!)  In keeping with the exhibition's emphasis on the technical side of Balenciaga's work the signage on the displays pointed out these and many similar details.  The label on one evening cape (originally worn by Gloria Guinness) not only explained how it was made in two parts, but also pointed out that there were concealed (and very handy!) pockets in the side seams!  

Tunic, 1967
This leads me from the technical side of Balenciaga to the commercial: who bought Balenciaga's clothes?  Firstly, there were the private clients.  Balenciaga made clothes for some of the wealthy and socially prominent women of his day, including Ava Gardner, Gloria Guinness (original owner of the cape, above) and the Baroness Philippe de Rothschild (original owner of the tunic, left).

Harrods fabric book
However, private clients, however wealthy, were not enough to sustain a couture house by the 1950s.  Balenciaga made most of his real profits licensing his designs for reproduction (usually to upmarket department stores).  The exhibition contained promotional material from Harrods spruiking their licensed Balenciaga designs, as well as a book of fabric samples, used to match the licensed copies with their designer originals.  

Also displayed were a number of dresses from "Eisa", Balenciaga's smaller (and less expensive) establishment in Madrid.

The last few displays in this exhibition were dedicated to designers who were inspired by Balenciaga, including Courréges, Givenchy, Mary Quant and Yves Saint Laurent.

Balenciaga closed his business in 1968.

From Eisa, 1951-
Suit, Autumn-Winter 1954

Courréges, 1965

Sari dress, 1965

Lastly: what is an exhibition without a catalogue?  I'm pleased to say that this exhibition is accompanied by an excellent book: Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion by Lesley Ellis Miller.   In nearly 200 pages the author explores Balenciaga's background, craft, clients and legacy—in other words, fleshes out the topics of the exhibition.  The book is illustrated by some excellent photographs of dresses in the V&A's collection (much better than my phone camera snaps!) as well as reproductions
of in-house sketches of his dresses and pages from contemporary glossy magazines. 

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion
London: V&A Publishing, 2017
ISBN 978 1851 177 9031

191 pages

Monday, October 7, 2019

"Diana Dresses" (1955)

All sorts of fashions made their way down couture catwalks in the 1950s—the 'A Line', the 'H Line', the 'Sack' and the 'bubble' skirt.  However, judging from the advertising in the fashion magazines, one design remained popular with the public through the entire decade and into the next: light summer dresses with narrow waits and bouffant skirts.

Here are a few advertised by just one manufacturer in the year 1955.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

"Make It Easy" Pattern 3 (1984)

In Part 3 of the "Make it Easy" sewing course we're given a pattern for a blouse and a jacket—shown here with a fluted collar and a skirt in matching material.

As our beginner sewer gradually gets more experienced the lessons become more advanced.  In this issue we learn about fitting that most eighties of fashions—shoulder pads!

Fitting Shoulder Pads
Foam rubber shoulder pads can be bought in two or three thicknesses.  These last longer if they are covered with lining fabric, cut in one piece on the bias and folded over at the armhole edge. Ready-covered pads are also available.  Check that the cover fabric is washable, or remove the pads before cleaning.
Before sewing in the pads, adjust their position until they look right.  Pin on the outside, on one side of the shoulder seam, not all the way through the pad, but just enough to hold them in place.  Stitch inside to the shoulder and armhole seam allowances only.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

A History of Blouses - Part 1 (1890s)

In the late 1880s a new garment was introduced into feminine wardrobes: the blouse.  It has waxed and waned in popularity, but has been a staple ingredient in women's dress ever since.  Through the years it has ranged from being as plain as a man's work shirt to being an elaborate confection of ribbons, lace insertions and embroidery.  

In the 1890s the blouse and skirt combination almost became a uniform for the 'New Woman' of the era.  It was worn by women for playing sports, for undertaking further education and for working in the new white-collar jobs that were opening up to women.  

Koch & Co. catalog, 1892

The earliest versions of the blouse were tunic-like garments, usually descending below the waistline over the skirt and belted in.  A popular type of blouse was the "Russian" blouse, fastening on one side  at the shoulder like a Russian peasant's tunic—but not noticeably Russian otherwise.
"Blouses are quite as much worn as ever, and now seem to be made of everything, the most recent fancy being velveteen. The other day I saw a maroon-coloured one which looked very warm and comfortable, and was becoming as well. In fact, it seems difficult to distinguish between a bodice and a blouse, except that the latter differs from its accompanying skirt, and is rather more decorative than a bodice would be."
"Girls' Attire : The Newest and Best", by The Lady Dressmaker in The Girl's Own Paper, 24th of November 1894 
"There is no doubt about the popularity of the blouse. From the highest to the lowest everyone seems to wear it, and it is wonderful what numerous forms it can take... I have before spoken of the wonderfully beautiful colours in which it is now produced, and the pale hues for evening wear being very remarkable in tone and texture."
"Girls' Attire : The Newest and Best", by The Lady Dressmaker, in the Girl's Own Paper, 29th of June, 1895
By the middle of the decade the blouse was being styled in imitation of men's shirts (and called the shirt-waist in America).  Any resemblance was mostly superficial however.  Women may have adopted collars and cuffs—and even ties!—with their blouses, but the sleeves were always fashionably cut, and the bodices always lined and often boned.

Photo by A. Poulson, Goulburn N.S.W. between 1893-1895

A glance at those almanacs of trade, the shop windows, tells us that the shirt waist, the summer girl's first favorite, has come again to charm all beholders with its freshness. It has profited by its last summer's association with the most fascinating of her sex, and presents itself to an expectant throng in all the beauty and attractiveness that it learned from the girl of the seashore and mountains.
Quite as coquettish as its wearer, and knowing full well the value of all its pretty conceit, it easily holds first place in woman's wear for the summer season of '96. It no longer relies upon its simplicity for its charm, and most elaborate are some of the newer styles shown in the smart shops. Two notable changes from last season's designs are in evidence - the very decided Bishop sleeve and the detachable collar and cuffs of spotless white. 
Carson-Pirie Monthly, Mid-March 1896

Delineator, November 1890

"No. 3551—The blouse is here represented made of light dress goods and dark velvet... the girdle is deeply pointed at the top and bottom of the front and back... the closing being made at the left side with hooks and eyes.  The girdle is lined with silk and interlined with canvas, and all its seams and closing edges are boned.  The blouse may be worn beneath or outside the skirt, as preferred.  The blouse is appropriate for wear with any of the fashionable walking-skirts..."

"No. 3549—The blouse, which may be worn beneath or outside the skirt, as shown in the engravings, is in this instance pictured made of a pretty variety of dress goods and velvet to match. It is made over a smooth-fitting lining, which is slightly shorter than the outside... The upper part of the blouse consists of a deep yoke... The lower portions are joined by side seams which are made separately from those of the lining... The outside is closed with hooks and loops... and at the neck is a deep rolling collar that flares at the throat..."

Delineator, May 1896

"No. 8354—The basque-waist is here illustrated in a combination of light brown crépon and green velvet.  Made with a low, square neck and elbow sleeves it is a charming evening waist, while with a high neck and long sleeves it is handsome for any occasion not calling for full dress..."

"No. 8347—The shirt-waist is here pictured developed in white lawn and trimmed with embroidered edging.  The fronts have becoming fulness collected in gathers at the neck, and the closing is made with studs through a box-plait formed at the front edge of the right front... Around the waist is a belt that has pointed ends and is close in front.  The bishop shirt sleeves... are made... in shirt-sleeve style and are closed with link buttons.  At the neck is a large sailor-collar..."

Weldon's Ladies' Journal, June 1897
"No. 13592—A Morning Blouse.  This pattern is suited to serge,flannel, cambric, linen, holland &c. all edges being machine-stitched.  The fitted lining is covered in the upper part with a pointed yoke, under which the material front and back are arranged in box pleats... The basque is worn inside skirt, and waist finished with a sequin, petersham or leather belt finished with a pearl clasp...."

Weldon's Ladies' Journal, June 1897
"No. 13698—A Dressy Blouse.  This design is suited to fancy or plain silk or satin, trimmed passementerie or insertion, or lace, spotted net, canvas, grass lawn &c., over a silk foundation...."

Delineator, September 1898

"1920—Very much in accord with the times is the natty military shirt-waist so appropriately shown made of white piqué with the box-plait, shoulder straps, cuffs, belt and collar of bright military-blue piqué… The closing is made at the center of the front with buttons and button-holes through a box-plait of blue piqué joined to the right front… The neck may be finished with a narrow neck-band for wear with a removable collar, or a standing collar of strictly military cut may give the completion, as illustrated… All cotton shirt-waist materials may be used for this waist, though silk or wool is always attractive."

"1840—Green taffeta silk was here selected for this becoming shirt-waist… Percale, Madras, zephyr gingham, chambray, lawn, dimity and plain dotted Swiss are also suitable for this shirt-waist."

Photo by E. Squire, Hawera N.Z. circa 1898

Every season we are regularly told that the blouse and the shirt are going out of fashion, and every year they seem to become more popular.
Hearth and Home, March 24 1898

Sunday, September 22, 2019

"A Summer Coat for only £1:00" (Woman & Beauty, July 1956)

Do any of my readers enjoy vintage sewing?  Then perhaps you'd like to try your hand at this pattern for a light summer coat.  It was originally published in Woman & Beauty in 1956.

... to make from our diagram

 MATTRESS TICKING and the easiest diagram in the world to copy combine to help you give yourself  the luxury of a purely summer coat which is wonderfully smart and costs practically nothing.  It's straight, neat, crisp and slimming.  All the material needed is two yards of 56-inch-wide striped mattress ticking which is obtainable from the Household Fabrics department of almost any large store, price 9s 11d a yard.

Cut the ticking according to the diagram which allows a ¹/₂-inch on all seams.  Make a dart at each front shoulder and then mark the positions of the three buttonholes 1 inch from the edge of the coat, the centre button being on the waistline, and make bound buttonholes.  To make the mock pockets fold each strap in half, sew the ends and turn before attaching to the coat.  Join the shoulder seams.  To make the collar, fold the piece in half, stitch the two ends and turn, then tack it firmly to the right side of the coat, working from the centre back to the fronts.  Join the shoulder seams of the facing and put the right side of the facing carefully around the neck.  Stitch and trim the edges, clipping around the neck edge.  Turn the facing to the wrong side of the coat and press well.  Finish off the buttonholes.  Then stitch the side seams from the sleeves to the top of the vent; turn in each vent edge level with the seam and sew in its place.  Stitch the bands to the sleeve edge, hem to the required length, sew on the buttons and your coat is complete.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Miroir des Modes (August 1925)

This was a French magazine promoting Butterick patterns.  I have a suspicion that the illustrations and the descriptions (translated into French) were lifted from Butterick's English language publications.

Here we see the mode still evolving towards what we typically thing of as 1920s fashion.  The line is straight, with bust and and hips flattened and minimised, but skirts  still descend well below the knee.  The models all wear cloche hats and have bobbed hair, which makes them thoroughly modern misses in 1925! 

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Golden Hands Monthly (September 1974)

Golden Hands Monthly was another Marshall Cavendish publication, specialising in patterns for clothing that could be knit, crocheted or sewn at home.  Each issue contained one multi-sized sewing pattern for a woman's garment.  This dress looks as if it was intended for special occasion wear.

"In response to requests for a dress that is demure yet flattering, feminine without being over fussy, and fashionable yet dateless, here is one with all these features and more besides.
The bodice is high necked and skims the body with clever seaming and unusual buttoning; the sleeves are tight, but with pleated fullness at the shoulder for easy movement and a cuff that flares into a full circle; the skirt sways and swirls with each movement, being circular also, flattering to even the larger hipped person.  So if you are tired of separates, trousers and jeans, this is the dress to remind you that you are a woman, and we guarantee you will look a very pretty one too."
Fabric suggestions for this dress were wool or synthetic crepes, lightweight wools and closely woven tweeds, rather than the ubiquitous 1970s polyester double-knit.