You Should Be Reading: Fashion and Age

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During my many years of fashion retail experience, mainly at upscale sportswear brands, one of the most common pieces of feedback I received was the lack of choice for older women. Yoga tops and running shorts designed with the 21 year old in mind, but priced out of her reach, dominated the shelves, while more mature women (often the mothers of these 21 year olds) with successful careers and the spending power to match struggled to find clothing designed with their bodies and tastes in mind. The recent release of advertising campaigns and cult documentaries featuring older women would suggest that the fashion industry has finally begun to take notice of their more mature consumers – but is it just another trend, or are the ‘Bright Old Things’ here to stay?

1. Julia Twigg and Shinobu Majima (2014). ‘Consumption and the Constitution of Age: Expenditure Patterns on Clothing, Hair and Cosmetics Among Post-War “Baby Boomers”.’ Journal of Aging Studies 30, 23-32.

The article addresses debates around the changing nature of old age, using UK data on spending on dress and related aspects of appearance by older women to explore the potential role of consumption in the reconstitution of aged identities. Based on pseudo-cohort analysis of Family Expenditures Survey, it compares spending patterns on clothing, cosmetics and hairdressing, 1961–2011. It concludes that there is little evidence for the ‘baby boomers’ as a strategic or distinctive generation. There is evidence, however, for increased engagement by older women in aspects of appearance: shopping for clothes more frequently; more involved in the purchase of cosmetics; and women over 75 are now the most frequent attenders at hairdressers. The roots of these patterns, however, lie more in period than cohort effects, and in the role of producer-led developments such as mass cheap fashion and the development of anti-ageing products. – Full Article Abstract

See also: Julia Twigg (2013). Fashion and Age: Dress, the Body and Later Life. London: Bloomsbury.

Listen to Julia Twigg discuss fashion and later life on BBC Radio 4.

2. Robin Mellery-Pratt. ‘Bright Old Things and the Silver Spend.’ The Business of Fashion. 2 January 2015.

Robin Mellery-Pratt, fashion writer for The Business of Fashion, outlines the need for fashion businesses to successfully engage with their older customers to remain both financially competitive and culturally relevant. The British department store Selfridges’ decision to amend their 3 year tradition of featuring ‘Bright Young Things’ in favour of ‘Bright Old Things’ at the start of 2015 would suggest that some retailers are beginning to take their aging consumers seriously. Mellery-Pratt identifies other steps that fashion brands and retail outlets should take to attract and accommodate for ‘silver spenders,’ including lighting levels, product labelling, employing the right staff, and most importantly, engaging with mature consumers on an emotional level instead of neglecting them.

3. Vanessa Friedman. ‘Fashion’s Two-Faced Relationship with Age.’ The New York Times. 7 January 2015.

Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic for The New York Times, Vanessa Friedman discusses fashion’s recent obsession with older women. Citing recent advertising campaigns featuring famous mature women such as Joni Mitchell (Saint Laurent) and Joan Didion (Céline), Friedman identifies the discrepancy between brands ‘paying lip (and advertising) service to the importance of the mature market’ and actually designing with the older woman in mind. The article acknowledges the influence of Ari Seth Cohen’s blog and accompanying documentary Advanced Style and the British documentary Fabulous Fashionistas on the fashion industry, as well as the economic reality of the growing spending power of those over 50. Friedman summarizes the paradoxical relationship between fashion and aging well, stating that ‘on the one hand, fashion plays endless aesthetic homage to youth; on the other, it remains firmly in the thrall of and power, of the mature.’

Image Credit: Joni Mitchell for Saint Laurent via Fashionista.com

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You Should Be Watching: Contemporary Collecting in Museums

As many museums confront issues of limited storage space and the costs associated with maintaining and conserving their collections, the question of what artefacts are worthy of collecting has become increasingly important. At the same time, museums must be willing to adapt to the changing expectations of their visitors in an increasingly fast-paced and technologically advanced time. The following five videos from three different institutions explore different approaches to contemporary collecting in museums. What do you think of museums commissioning designed objects specifically for their collections, in the case of the ROM and the Museum of London, or collecting objects the minute they hit the headlines, in the case of the V&A? We welcome your comments below.

1. Christian Dior Haute Couture for the ROM

Two videos from the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto outline the museum’s acquisition of a Christian Dior Couture coat dress, displayed in the exhibition ‘BIG‘ in 2012-2013. Named ‘Passage #5,’ the dress is from the Spring/Summer 2011 Couture collection, inspired by the illustrations of René Gruau and designed by John Galliano (in a collection which would be his last for Dior, a fact which the ROM would not have been able to predict at the time of their order, but has no doubt added value to the garment as a result). The first video, also commissioned by the ROM, follows the creation of the dress in the Paris ateliers of Christian Dior, as well as the pleating atelier Lognon and embroidery house Hurel. Beautiful shots of the Dior seamstresses at work are interspersed with footage of the dress being modelled on the catwalk. The second video briefly shows the curators at the ROM unpacking the delivery of the Dior dress and its accessories to a small, anticipating audience. The museum’s acquiring of this piece raises questions surrounding motives for collecting. The ‘Passage #5′ dress was created specifically for the ROM in standard judy measurements and traveled directly from Dior’s ateliers in Paris to the museum store room, scarcely inhabiting the ‘outside’ world and never worn by an actual person. Does this lack of provenance diminish the historical significance or value of the object, or is the ROM making a statement regarding fashion’s place in the museum, as a work of art and craftsmanship worthy of just as much admiration as a painting?

2. Rapid Response Collecting at the V&A

This Lighthouse Arts Monthly Talks video features Corinna Gardner, curator of contemporary product design at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Gardner discusses the museum’s recent ‘rapid response collecting’ strategy and its reception by the public over the past year. Seeking items that represent ‘material evidence of social, political, economic and technological change,’ the museum has acquired the world’s first 3-D printed gun, a pair of Primark cargo pants that may have been made at the Rana Plaza factory in Dhaka and Christian Louboutin’s Nudes Collection high-heeled shoes. Gardner states that the V&A wants to generate ‘discussions and debates about objects in the institution while they’re still ongoing,’ but the museum has been accused by some of collecting sensationalized objects based solely on their headline-grabbing status.

Read more reactions to the V&A’s rapid response collecting from The Guardian and The Independent.

3. Sherlock Holmes Tweed for the Museum of London

Coinciding with the exhibition Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die, the Museum of London has commissioned the creation of a Sherlock Holmes Tweed fabric, as well as a deerstalker hat and three-piece suit made from this tweed. Designed and created by Lovat Mill of Hawick, Scotland, the tweed is intended to represent the city of London while incorporating colours that feature prominently in the stories of Sherlock Holmes. After a series of mesmerizing shots of the tweed in production through warping, drawing, weaving and finishing, the finished textile is cut and sewn into the detective’s iconic deerstalker hat. Meanwhile, the second video takes the newly created Sherlock Holmes tweed to Savile Row tailor Norton & Sons to create a three-piece suit for British rapper and 2015 London Collections: Men ambassador Tinie Tempah. Like the ROM’s Dior dress, the tweed fabric, deerstalker hat and three-piece suit were commissioned specifically by the museum and will enter the museum’s collection after the exhibition – however, the museum is also selling Sherlock Holmes Tweed merchandise to its visitors, adding a commercial element to the discussion surrounding these objects’ places in a museum collection. According to the press release, the entire project is ‘another milestone in the GLA and BFC supported project to position London as the home of menswear,’ but should these commissioned objects also be collected by the Museum of London to represent today’s British menswear industry?

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You Should Be Reading: Significant Sweaters

This week, as much of the U.S. was hit with an arctic blast, I found myself drawn to readings on sweaters. Sifting through the hundreds of stories on the prominence of the non-ironic “ugly Christmas sweater,” I was pleased to find several recent journal articles on truly iconic knitwear, sweaters that are culturally and nationally significant in their construction and patterns. In the most recent issue of Costume, the history and legend of the Aran jumper or Irish fisherman’s sweater, is investigated; a 2011 article in Formakademisk examines the Icelandic sweater, one that has its origins in the twentieth century but that is often believed to be traditional; and an in-depth 2013 article in Material Culture Review discusses the Cowichan sweater of the Pacific Northwest Coast Salish peoples, recently designated historically significant by the Canadian government.

1. Carden, S. (2014). Cable Crossings: The Aran Jumper as Myth and Merchandise. Costume, 48(2), 260-275.

The article presents an anthropological study of the Aran jumper, an Irish garment made of wool which is also known as the fisherman’s sweater, with a focus on the sweater’s representation of Irish national identity. Topics include the jumper’s myth of origin involving a fisherman lost at sea in the Aran Islands of Ireland who was identified by his sweater, Irish emigration, and symbolism in the designs of the jumpers. Irish folk art and demand for jumpers by Irish Americans are also mentioned. – Full Article Abstract

2. Helgadottir, Gudrun. (2011). Nation in a Sheep’s Coat: The Icelandic Sweater. FORMakademisk, 4(2), 59-68.

The Icelandic sweater is presented and received as being traditional–even ancient–authentically Icelandic and hand made by Icelandic women from the wool of Icelandic sheep. Even so, the sweater type, the so-called ‘Icelandic sweater’ in English, only dates back to the mid-20th century and is not necessarily made in Iceland nor from indigenous wool. Nevertheless, the sweater is a successful invention of a tradition (Hobsbawm & Ranger, 1983), popular among Icelanders and tourists alike since its introduction in the mid-20th century. It has gained ground as a national symbol, particularly in times of crisis for example in the reconstruction of values in the aftermath of the Icelandic bank collapse of 2008. I traced the development of the discourse about wool and the origins of the Icelandic sweater by looking at publications of the Icelandic National Craft Association, current design discourse in Iceland and its effect on the development of the wool industry. I then tied these factors to notions of tradition, authenticity, national culture, image and souvenirs. – Full Article Abstract

3. Stopp, Marianne P. (2013). The Coast Salish Knitters and the Cowichan Sweater: An Event of National Historic Significance. Material Culture Review 76, 9-29.

Long before the arrival of Europeans, the Coast Salish First Nations of southwestern Vancouver Island turned mountain goat wool, dog hair and plant fibres into woven textiles of great value among the peoples of the Pacific Northwest. Around 1860, Coast Salish women in the Cowichan Valley were introduced to European two-needle and multiple-needle knitting and began to produce what came to be known as the Cowichan sweater. Preparation combined ancient fibre processing and spinning techniques with European knitting to produce a high-quality, iconic garment. Profit margins for the knitters were minimal, but knitting provided an economic foothold in a new and challenging market- based economy. In 2011, the Government of Canada designated the Coast Salish Knitters and the Cowichan Sweater as an event of national historic significance on the advice of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. – Full Article Abstract

Image credit: Jean Seberg in an Aran jumper, via Irelandseye.

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You Should Be Reading: Fashion and Literature

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In the absence of surviving garments, or to support their analysis, a form of primary source material available to fashion historians and one being explored with increased frequency in academic study is works of literature. In her book, The Study of Dress History, Lou Taylor comments that ‘novels can identify through subtle textural nuances how each stratum and member of society, male or female, rich or poor, young or old, enjoys, flaunts, defies or denies their social place through dress.’ (150) The following books and articles represent some of the most recent studies of fashion in works of literature.

1. Joslin, Katherine and Daneen Wardrop, eds. (2015). Crossings in Text and Textile. Durham: University of New Hampshire Press.

This is a collection of essays about how we dress, what it costs, and how we read it. Writers look at fabrics and designs from the early nineteenth through the early twentieth century, a period of remarkable change in textiles, production, labor, and fashion, especially in the reform of female dress as a sign of modernity…We’ve labeled the study Crossings in Text and Textile to announce up front the cross-disciplinarity that combines prose writing with clothing style, text with textile. This combination offers a fresh twenty-first century emphasis on the overlap between verbal workings and material culture. – Excerpt from Introduction

2. Rieger, K. Irene (2014). ‘Garment No. 5: The New Woman Novel and the First Maternity Clothes.’ CEA Critic 76(3), 259-266.

Attitudes toward maternity in the nineteenth century varied, but there were numerous reasons why many expectant mothers, particularly of the upper classes, wished to hide their growing waistlines. The most obvious reason was that the belly of the pregnant woman was the literal embodiment of sex…However, there were other reasons aside from propriety. Perhaps the most mundane is one still heard today, that the fat belly was simply considered unattractive. In Women, Marriage, and Politics: 1860–1914, Patricia Jalland quotes a diary of a pregnant woman who decides not to travel anymore once she no longer “looks decorative” (143). Another reason, still common today, was fear of miscarriage and the disappointment to follow…One of the few people who did have to know was the dressmaker. Maternity clothing as such did not appear until 1904 (Wertz & Wertz 148), and thus it is during the time of the New Woman that attitudes toward maternity and pregnancy saw a sea change. – Paraphrased Article Excerpt

3. Redmond, Moira. ‘How Nylons Changed Literature.’ The Guardian. 18 October 2014.

In honour of the 75th anniversary of the first limited production of nylon stockings by DuPont, Moira Redmond, a journalist who blogs at Clothes in Books, covers the history of hosiery throughout the twentieth century. Using references to works by Agatha Christie, James Joyce and others, Redmond traces the symbolism of stockings as markers of class and aspiration in the early twentieth century, to a rationed luxury during the Second World War, to an everyday item of clothing by the 1960s.

Image Credit: Girl Reading by Charles Edward Perugini, via Wikimedia Commons

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From the Archives: Scottish for Christmas

For Christmas Eve day, and because I’m neck deep in my phd applications on the topic of Scottish dress, here is my post from two years ago examining the use of tartan/plaid in American Christmas-time decorations. Enjoy!

Vintage Christmas Card

It’s a rare serendipitous moment for me when fashion seems to line up perfectly with something I’m working on in a positive way. In this case, I was several weeks into re-researching tartan as a Christmas-time stateside appropriation when Chanel showed its glorious pre-fall 2013 collection. To save any confusion, I use the Scottish terminology – tartan for the pattern, plaid to refer to a wide-width of fabric, or blanket.

    

Chanel Pre-Fall 2013, photos by Giovanni Giannoni, via WWD online.

In looking at the history of tartan and fashion, tartan seems to lend itself to borrowing by anyone and everyone. Vivienne Westwood’s famed use of the Royal Stewart as protest in punk clothing was her first use of the pattern and has been long-lasting up through her use of it in runway collections like Anglomania. Several books have been written on the long and continued use of it in fashion, including Jonathan Faiers’s contribution to Berg’s “Textiles That Changed the World” series. Worn Through‘s own – Monica has a whole section on Westwood’s and latter-day punks’ use of tartan in her soon-to-be-published book on punk style. Burberry is recognizable through its trademark check, Ralph Lauren makes free use of tartan in many of his collections, and Alexander McQueen challenged the beatific Scottish stereotypes through his Widows of Culloden and Highland Rape collections which made use of the sett – the technical term for a specific tartan’s colors, way, and check – he himself designed. Isaac Mizrahi, Marc Jacobs, even Jean-Paul Gaultier and Yves Saint-Laurent have featured it in their designs.

Kate Moss as the Bride for Westwood’s A/W 93-94 Anglomania collection

Tartan is in Catholic school uniforms, Japanese school uniforms, table linens, even Scotch tape. But what started my latest research endeavors into one of my favorite textiles were the American Christmas decorations, wrapping paper, and dresses – mostly for little girls – made of or featuring tartan. I have no idea exactly how the tradition started, but there is something about red & green tartan – sometimes with white or black thrown in – that seems indelibly linked with December and Christmastime in America. My hypotheses, which have not been proven in any way, shape, or form, is that seeing Scottish émigrés in the Royal Stewart – one of the “free” tartans, which like the strictly “fashion” setts are open to everyone – with its red and green colors (or a clan tartan with similar colors) other Americans thought it looked festive, and so copied it. Or that perhaps it was copied by their descendents who forgot in time that it was traditional Scottish dress, instead associating it with Christmas because that’s when they saw it. I’m basing these theories on the fact that most traditional Scottish dress has only been worn for special occasions since the end of proscription in 1782. Having been banned by law in 1746 after the final failed attempt by the Jacobites to regain the crown for Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Stewarts, most Scots forty years later were accustomed to wearing the same style of dress as everyone else for everyday.

Vintage Pendleton Advertisement, via Pinterest

Contrary to popular belief, there is not a tartan for every clan. In fact, most registered clan tartans have only been around for the last two centuries or so, and the tradition is largely an invention of Sir Walter Scott’s novels and the Victorian vision of a romantic Scotland. Tartan’s proliferation through souvenirs purchased by tourists during the nineteenth century, when travel first became popular, was the first exposure most people had to real tartan. Until then, sketches alone had been available since the first examples of what we today would recognize as tartan first began to appear in Scotland itself in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

It was around this time that the first western European dress histories were compiled as records of the exotic and strange things people in far off places wore. They were collected by the upper classes to shock and titillate, or to prove that they were cultured and worldly to their acquaintances. Scotland was considered as far away and exotic as China. But what truly warranted Scottish dress a place in these early histories was not actually the plaid they wrapped around their waist before draping over their shoulder, as can be seen in the below portrait of Lord Mungo Murray, but the pattern of the fabric. Until the sixteenth century, Scottish fabric had been simple stripes and checks, such as what is known as the Shepherd’s tartan, a Lowland sett and possibly the oldest one, with an example dating from the third century on display at the National Museum of Scotland. In the sixteenth century the more complex tartan began to emerge and its bright colors and unusual pattern as much as the manner of wearing it was what made it “exotic”.

John Michael Wright, Lord Mungo Murray, the Highland Chieftan, c. 1680.

This is one of the things that I absolutely adore about the latest Chanel collection. It combines Scottish patterns with styles inspired by mainstream European fashions of the same century in which tartan acquired its modern form.

    

Chanel Pre-Fall 2013, photos by Giovanni Giannoni, via WWD online.

But what do the Scots think of fashion’s appropriation of not only tartan, but their national dress? I asked my friend, Michelle Irvine, a Glaswegian who actually has an ancient clan tartan – one that began before tartan was tartan and evolved into the beautiful sett you see below. Michelle loves seeing Scottish and Scottish-inspired patterns and dress in fashion, or in American Christmas decorations. What she doesn’t like is when tourists of Scottish descent, typically from America – she apologizes, but it’s true – come to Scotland, discover they do not have a clan tartan, and have someone design one for them on the spot. There are thousands of Scots without clan tartans, so they where the free tartans, such as Black Watch or the Royal Stewart. They don’t have someone create one for them. There are also, thanks to tartan’s ongoing popularity in fashion, hundreds of fashion tartans, such as McQueen’s or the setts seen in the Chanel show last week, which can be worn. Having one designed for you denigrates the tradition and the history. Especially since another friend of mine who is an Edinburgh native, Amy Porteous, doesn’t believe people should be bound to wear only their family tartan. Her father has and wears a traditional kilt, but prefers the Ancient Baird to the Porteous family tartan. Amy really loves kilts made from Harris Tweed, since they create a modern, updated version of the kilt, but still out of a (gorgeous) traditional Scottish fabric. She also told me that one of her sisters married an Englishman, with no right to tartan at all, but that she wanted him to wear a kilt for the wedding. He and his father and best men settled on contemporary black kilts as a compromise.

Irvine Tartan

Harris Tweed

Tartan entered fashion fully in 1822 after George IV (formerly the Prince Regent) visited Edinburgh – largely because he wanted to be loved by someone and no one was going to love him in England – and the attention paid to the traditional Scottish dress worn to receive the king created a craze for all things tartan. Its popularity can be seen in this tartan turban from 1829 0 1835 at the V&A. There are earlier examples. While I was doing research on banyans for my presentation in Brighton last year, I discovered a man’s gown from about 1770 – 1810 in the Colonial Williamsburg collection made with tartan-patterned silk. The adaptation of existing or creation of new setts exclusively for fashion is nothing new.

Tartan: Romancing the Plaid describes tartan’s allure as “… both democratic and noble, establishment and antiestablishment, high and low …”. Perhaps that’s why it appeals to both punks and haute couture designers: tartan’s versatility of interpretation and redesign. I found myself wondering, as I received Michelle and Amy’s endorsement of Scottish-inspired fashion or the general wearing of tartan: is appropriation always a bad thing, or can it sometimes actually be cultural exchange? Is America’s use of tartan at Christmas, without realizing its history, or fashion’s continued use of it really appropriation? Many Americans do have Scottish heritage because this is where the Scots re-established themselves during the Clearances, but does that matter? Perhaps it is that fabric is less political than many other aspects of fashion. Perhaps its because when done with respect the end results are true evolutions of an ancient tradition.

Meaning I can covet the new pre-fall Chanel without any guilt at all.

Please share your thoughts.

 

Further Reading:

Banks, Jeffrey & De La Chapelle, Doria. 2007. Tartan: Romancing the Plaid. New York: Rizzoli.

Cheape, Hugh. 2006. Tartan: The Highland Habit. Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland.

Faiers, Jonathan. 2008. Tartan. London: Berg Publishers.

Faiers, Jonathan. 2011. McQueen and Tartan. June 30. Now At the Met blogpost: http://www.metmuseum.org/about-the-museum/now-at-the-met/Features/2011/McQueen-and-Tartan Accessed 10 December 2012.

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You Should Be Watching: The Future of Fashion

Fashion is by its very nature obsessed with the future. An ever-accelerating cycle of seasons and trends encourages constant innovation and an obsession with the ‘new.’ With the advent of new wearable technologies like Google Glass and the hype surrounding new production techniques like 3-D printing, the future of fashion has never been more exciting as designers look to incorporate these elements into their work. At the same time, the fashion industry is slowly becoming aware of its impact on the environment and its responsibility to work towards more sustainable models of production and consumption. The following three videos explore the future of fashion with a particular focus on issues of sustainability and technology.

1. The Next Black – A Film About the Future of Clothing

A fascinating documentary from an unlikely source (home appliance company AEG), The Next Black is a series of profiles of designers and other innovators in the fashion industry, all of whom are working towards their vision of the future of fashion. From Studio XO and Adidas’ wearable technology to Biocouture and Patagonia’s work towards an increasingly sustainable industry, all of the interviewed subjects passionately convey their vision for the future of the industry.

2. SHOWstudio: Sustainable Fashion Panel Discussion

Lou Stoppard of SHOWstudio is joined by Dilys Williams and Renee Cuoco of the Centre for Sustainable Fashion, Katherine Poulton of The North Circular, jeweler Michelle Lowe-Holder and Abigail Murray of Designer Jumble in this thoughtful panel discussion on developments in sustainable fashion. The panelists discuss the inherent difficulties faced by an industry that is notoriously unsustainable while acknowledging the many larger issues that are at play. Countless interacting spheres of production, distribution and consumption influence each other, while sustainability is not a fixed point – how a consumer engages with and uses a product after it is purchased is a major factor in its overall sustainability. The panelists conclude that the future of sustainable fashion lies in convincing consumers that true luxury is about integrity and encouraging people to question their purchasing decisions, suggesting that everyone can enjoy fashion without necessarily having to buy more.

3. Has Technology Changed Pattern, Colour & Cloth in Fashion? Digital Talks from London Fashion Week SS15

Simon Hopkins of the Knowledge Transfer Network chairs this panel discussion at London Fashion Week with Francesca Rosella of CuteCircuit, Lauren Bowker of The Unseen, Nancy Tilbury of Studio XO, Cher Potter of London College of Fashion and contemporary ‘cyborg’ artist Neil Harbisson. A lively discussion covering many aspects of fashion and technology, the panelists share their successes and visions of the future while acknowledging the difficulties faced in creating innovative wearable technologies. The need for new training for designers as well as increased collaboration and a shared vocabulary between designers and engineers and coders is identified as crucial to the development of the industry. Possible negative side effects to these wearable technologies are also touched upon, from the risks and repercussions of being constantly connected to technology through our clothing, to issues of privacy and data protection.

Bonus: Clothing of the Future! 

And finally, just for fun, a video from the archives of British Pathe Studios foretelling the future of fashion, as predicted in 1939 by a few unnamed American designers. A reminder that despite our best informed predictions, it will always be impossible to predict what the future holds for the fashion industry.

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Book Giveaway 3 – Punk Style

punk style

We’re feeling generous this months and have been giving out a book a week!
U.S. replies only please–sorry I need to save on postage fees

In this post we’re giving away:

Punk Style by me(Monica Sklar)

The first reader to email me with the correct answer to the following trivia question about Worn Through question can have this book!

Here is the question. The answer can be found reading previous blog posts.

What Parisian design house is in the process of digitizing and sharing an extensive online archive?

Thanx for playing! Look for more giveaways in 2015.

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Research Award Guest Post: The Fashions of Early Modern London

Worn Through Research Award winner, Sophie Pitman is a second year AHRC-funded PhD student of History at St. John’s College, Cambridge, supervised by Ulinka Rublack. Her dissertation, ‘Tailoring the city: the making of clothing and the making of London, c.1560-1660,’ uses material, visual, literary and archival sources to explore the ways clothing contributed to the development of early modern London and, in turn, how London’s rapid growth changed the making, wearing, and meaning of clothing. Her methodology is based on interdisciplinary approaches to visual and material culture that she developed during her Frank Knox Fellowship at Harvard (2010-11) and her Master’s at the Bard Graduate Center (2011-13).

Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg, Civitatis Orbis Terrarum, (c.1574), MAP L85c no.27. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg, Civitatis Orbis Terrarum, (c.1574), MAP L85c no.27. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Early modern London was full of clothing. Fabric-laden boats traversed the Thames, bringing textiles in and out of the city to customers hungry for a wide-range of colours, textures, and patterns. Young apprentices wearing large ruffs were disciplined by their masters for their transgression, merchants imported and exported textiles which were then sold in new shopping spaces such as Thomas Gresham’s Royal Exchange, actors wore sumptuous costumes on the public theatre stages, and cast-offs were re-sold in the second-hand shops of Long Lane. This was a city growing rich from the trade of textiles, and on whose booming streets an ever-increasing range of fashions could be seen.

I am attempting to study the growth of early modern London through the ways clothing was made, worn and understood by inhabitants and visitors to the city. As Vanessa Harding has explained, “historians of early modern London do not expect to find new caches of unknown documents.”[1] Most of the manuscripts and printed books that I pore over in the archives have been consulted, discussed and debated by generations of scholars fascinated with the history of London. But when I embarked upon a PhD focusing on clothing in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century London, a period of rapid and uncertain change in which London grew from a small European outpost into one of the continent’s largest cities, I decided to not limit my search to textual sources alone. In addition to consulting archival documents, I look to images and – most excitingly – to extant objects. 

The Museum of London is widely celebrated for its vast costume collection, containing over 24,000 objects. But while a handful of its earliest pieces from the Tudor period have been well-preserved and are well-known, particularly through Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion books[2], most of the early clothing collection is under-represented in the online catalogue and little has been published on it. Though not a completely unknown cache, the collection is certainly a promising trove waiting to be explored, and provides much exciting material for my research.

 

Until recently, the Museum of London’s walls were decorated with a huge sculpture based on a diamond and emerald studded salamander brooch, part of the Cheapside Hoard, a cache of sixteenth- and seventeenth century jewels found in the City of London 1912.  Photograph by Sophie Pitman

Until recently, the Museum of London’s walls were decorated with a huge sculpture based on a diamond and emerald studded salamander brooch, part of the Cheapside Hoard, a cache of sixteenth- and seventeenth century jewels found in the City of London 1912. Photograph by Sophie Pitman

The costume stores under the galleries of the Museum of London are as tantalising as any other museum I have visited. Rows of umbrellas, concealed with protective white covers, hang from a rail, their horn handles peeking out. One apparently unpromising cupboard, which could be confused for a filing cabinet, opens to reveal shelves full of children’s shoes – rows filled with tiny pairs of Victorian boots and leather slippers which give a slightly eerie feel to one corner of the collection. But most of the objects I consulted were carefully laid out for me on large tables in the centre of the room.

This is where I was able to view the Isham doublet (A7577) – a black silk cut velvet piece dated to the first quarter of the seventeeth-century. The doublet, one of the most common forms of male upper-body wear, is much degraded, but this deterioration enables a close examination of the tailoring techniques used in this fashionable garment’s construction.[3] The silk, patterned with leaves and scrolls, covers a layer of dark brown wool fabric, underneath which is a coarse linen interlining. The doublet has been quilted with wool, the neat ridges of which are covered with an inside lining of pink silk. The collar, now coming away from the body of the doublet, is constructed of four layers of stiff canvas. The doublet was fastened with thirty-four buttons constructed of wood and wrapped in black and silver gilt thread. Similar buttons are at the collar neck and the lower sleeves. The metal hooks along the waist of the doublet show how it could be attached to a pair of breeches or hose. Around the lower edge of the doublet at the waist there are small tabs or ‘laps’ made from different felted brown fabrics. We can almost imagine the thrifty tailor at work, selecting off-cuts from previous commissions to line these small decorative flaps. Though this doublet is said to have been worn by a wealthy nobleman – either 1st Baronet of Lamport John Isham (1582-1651) or his son Justinian (1610-1675) – it bears evidence of quick and economic manufacture. This branch of the Northamptonshire Isham family gained their fortunes in London in the cloth trade, and so this doublet contains many threads (please pardon the pun) of the development of the city – as a site for the dynamic and lucrative commercial trade in textiles, as a centre full of quick and clever tailors, and as a stage upon which the well-dressed could show off their new silk velvet doublets tailored to the most fashionable shapes.

While most of the pieces I was able to consult were laid out carefully on tables, I had the most fun rifling through the storeroom drawers. These wide and shallow wooden trays are filled with fragments carefully protected with foam and card supports. Excavations of London sites over the past century have furnished these draws with pieces – laces, shoes, belts, codpieces, hats, decorative bands, cloth fragments. Unlike the Isham doublet, we have few clues as to the identity of the original owners of these pieces. But as an historian, I have long been fascinated by the way that clothing carries the imprint of its former owner. Sweat stains, rips and tears, even deposits from a decaying body all give us insights into the life (and sometimes death) of the body beneath the clothes.

One brown and black cloth slipper, (A.26847) heavily patched and pieced together with large clumsy stitches, suggests many days of pounding the streets of London. Possibly a lining for a pair of outer shoes, this well-worn piece was found in Worship Street and brought to the museum in 1924. When the former owner of this slipper was busy repairing another hole or tear, this area lay outside of the city walls and was mainly fields. Close by, London’s first theatres – The Theatre (1576) and The Curtain (1577) were drawing audiences from across the urban area. Why this slipper was left behind and who took such care to patch and repair it, we will probably never know. But it does demonstrate how early modern Londoners valued their clothing, which bore the brunt of the climate, the urban environment, and the demands of labour on the body. 

But the feather in the cap of the Museum of London’s collection of sixteenth-century clothing must be its unparalleled collection of knitted hats worn by non-elite men. As John Stow explained in his Survey of London (1598), such hats were ubiquitous in the city, ‘the youthful citizens also took them to the New fashion of flat caps, knit of woollen yarn black.’[4] In 1571, the Cappers act even made it obligatory for men from the middling and lower end of the social spectrum to wear an English-made knitted wool cap on Sundays and holy days. It was said that there were over eight thousand people in London alone occupied ‘in the trade and science of capping’ and this act attempted to ensure continued business and stability in a city rocked by fashion trends and imported goods.[5] Fifty-seven knitted caps, all found in excavations within the City of London, demonstrate the range of knitting, dying, and finishing techniques and suggest that many wearers attempted to personalize their headgear with ribbons, slashes and tabbed brims.[6] It was these individual efforts that I was most fascinated to see up close, to witness how early modern Londoners attempted to stand out, adapt and make even the most humble and necessary items of clothing fashionable in a city bustling with dressed bodies.

Unknown, Portrait of Edward Courtenay, 1st Early of Devon (1526-1556), c. 1555, oil on panel: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Edward_Courtenay_1st_Earl_of_Devon.jpg

Unknown, Portrait of Edward Courtenay, 1st Early of Devon (1526-1556), c. 1555, oil on panel, via Wikimedia Commons

As I am particularly interested in the manufacture of clothing, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to see evidence of craftsmanship in the Museum of London’s collections. One dark brown leather jerkin (36.237) on display in the ‘War and Fashion’ section of the Medieval Gallery, is decorated all over with scored diagonal and vertical lines and diamond, heart and star pinking.[1] Sized for a young man and dated to the second half of the sixteenth-century, the jerkin shows how even a relatively mundane item of outerwear could express the emotions and decorative interests of a young man. In conjunction with my trips to the museum, I have been learning the techniques required by the tailors and other makers in the period, and during a weekend course on ‘Historical Stitching & Decorative Techniques on Leather Clothing, 1400-1800’ at the School of Historical Dress, I was able to recreate this punched and scored design myself. In doing so, I realised that such effects could be achieved quickly with fairly simple punching and scoring tools, requiring no more than the patience and eye accuracy of a leatherworker.

A detail of the star punch and my sample reconstruction of the Museum of London Jerkin. Photograph by Sophie Pitman

A detail of the star punch and my sample reconstruction of the Museum of London Jerkin. Photograph by Sophie Pitman

I am very grateful to Worn Through for the support that enabled me to make research trips to London, and to discuss my research in this blog. I would also like to thank Tim Long, Curator of Fashion and Decorative Arts at the Museum of London, for his help and assistance. Thanks also to Hilary Davidson for her kind generosity – electronically and in person – of information and encouragement. I would also like to thank Karl Robinson and The School of Historical Dress, and my supervisor Professor Ulinka Rublack for their support and interest in the academic value of historical reconstruction. I have much more work ahead of me, especially with regard to the archaeological provenance of many of the pieces, but I am sure that these investigations and the photographs that I was able to take (though unfortunately not able to share online at this stage) will form a central part of my PhD thesis, which – in due course, will hopefully be adapted for publication.

If you have any suggestions, comments, or tips for Sophie, please feel free to leave a comment!

[1] For images and information, see ‘Jerkin, 36.237’: http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/object.aspx?objectID=object-118831&start=474&rows=1

[1] Vanessa Harding, ‘Recent Perspectives on Early Modern London,’ The Historical Journal, Volume 47, Issue 2 (June 2004), pp 435 – 450, 447

[2] In particular see Janet Arnold, Patterns of Fashion 3: The Cut and Construction of Clothes for Men and Women, c1560-1620. London; New York: Macmillan ; Drama Book, 1985 and Janet Arnold, Jenny Tiramani, and Santina Levey, Patterns of Fashion 4: The Cut and Construction of Linen Shirts, Smocks, Neckwear, Headwear and Accessories for Men and Women C. 1540 – 1660. Unabridged edition. (Hollywood, CA: Macmillan, 2008).

 

[3] For photographs and close examination of the Doublet, see ‘Early Doublet in The Museum of London,’ (9 December 2011) http://thegoodwyfe.blogspot.com.es/2011/12/early-doublet-in-museum-of-london.html

[4] John Stow, A Survey of London ed. H. Morley, (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1997), 445-6. As quoted in Maria Hayward, Rich Apparel: Clothing and the Law in Henry VIII’s England (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), 122.

[5]1571 13 Eliz. cap, 19 as in George Nicholls, A History of the English Poor Law in Connection with the State of the Country and the Condition of the People, (reprint Clark: The Lawbook Exchange, 2006), 173-4.

[6] Fortunately, many of these caps have been photographed and documented in the online catalogue: http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/. Thanks to Hilary Davidson and Jane Malcolm Davis for sharing their prepublication copy of ‘“He is of no account … if he have not a velvet or taffeta hat”: A survey of sixteenth century knitted caps’ which is forthcoming….

 

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You Should Be Reading: Fur in Fashion

In one of my favorite holiday films, the 1945 classic “Christmas in Connecticut,” viewers are first introduced to Elizabeth Lane (played by Barbara Stanwyck) as she receives an exciting delivery at her New York City apartment – her first fur coat. She tells her friend Felix that she needed the coat, despite it costing six months of her salary. “You need it?” he asks. “Nobody needs a mink coat but the mink.” In that era, it was a lighthearted line for laughs and not a condemnation. In the twenty-first century, there is more attention on the ethics of wearing fur and its potential environmental impact. Designer Pamela Paquin of Petite Mort has her own idea of ethical fur: roadkill pelts. Luxury consumers may not attribute the same level of glamour and status to a raccoon muff that Paquin refers to as “accidental fur,” but the price is still high, with pieces starting at $1,000 each. The more popular ethical alternative to fur, synthetics, are often constructed of materials that are harmful to the earth. Despite increased discussion of these issues, the International Fur Federation reports that sales are at an all-time high of $14 billion worldwide. For many designers and shoppers, fur still signifies elegance and extravagance. Three articles below discuss fur in the fashion industry. The earliest examines the conflicting representations of Victorian women adorned with animal skins in public spaces and in the paintings of John Collier; next, an overview of key ethical issues in fur production; and, conversely, a final look at the negative consequences a decline in the fur market would have on indigenous economies. What’s your stance on fur in fashion? Let us know in the comments.

1. Gauld, Nicola. (2005). Victorian bodies: The wild animal as adornmentBritish Art Journal, 6(1), 37-42.

Victorian artists’ representation of women adorned with animals is examined. In the late 19th century, the wearing of animals was an increasingly integral part of wealthy fashion and undoubtedly evident in the art of the period, but with very different meanings. In fashion, animal products signified wealth and status while symbolizing Victorian power over nature, which was also intimated in representations of men and animals in art. In John Collier’s paintings Maenads, Lilith, and A Priestess of Bacchus, which show provocative images of women covered by animal skins, the inclusion of the animal suggests the much more disturbing idea of female sexuality, however. These images clearly show the Victorian perception of the female as, in the words of Edward Carpenter, “more primitive . . . more intuitive and . . . more emotional” while suggesting the presence of “a separate species from men.” – Full Article Abstract

2. Sorenson, John. (2011). Ethical fashion and the exploitation of nonhuman animalsCritical Studies in Fashion and Beauty, 2(1-2), 139-164.

Fashion theorists have largely ignored ethical concerns about the industry’s exploitation of nonhuman animals. While critical theory and political economy approaches stress the centrality of animal exploitation to global capitalism, an animal rights perspective critiques the fashion industry’s use of nonhuman animals as a ‘theatre of cruelty’ which turns them from living beings to mere products, or raw materials. Adopting these perspectives, the article provides a brief survey of some key issues, and examines the resurgence of fur sales and fur industry rhetorics. The evidence and the arguments presented illustrate why a critical approach to ethical issues in fashion and beauty cannot exclude nonhuman animals. – Full Article Abstract

3. Strege, Gayle. (2014). Fur as fashion in AmericaFashion, Style and Popular Culture, 1(3), 413-432.

Animal skins and furs are some of the earliest clothing items worn by humankind and the practicality of their toughness and warmth is one of the reasons why they are still worn today. Beyond its practical use, fur acquired the added appeal of decoration and luxury throughout fashion history, and its wearers, criticism via accusations of ostentation. With the rise in the late nineteenth century of a middle class with economic means, greater demand for luxury fashions such as fur ensued. To meet market and fashion trend demands, overharvesting of fur species led to rapid declines in animal populations. This in turn resulted in industry regulations protecting endangered species and domestic farming of fur animals. Aggressive activities of animal rights organizations in the late twentieth century resulted in devastating consequences for indigenous economies dependant on fur hunting. These peoples in turn organized to counter misinformation and promote fur as the ultimate natural fibre contrasted to fake furs that are petroleum by-products with their own harmful environmental harvesting issues. – Full Article Abstract

Image credit: Still frame from Christmas in Connecticut via Movie Star Makeover.

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Research Award Guest Post: Discovering Bob Bugnand

Costume and textiles scholar, and Worn Through Research Award winner Susan Neill has eighteen years of experience as a museum curator and has also practiced independently. She holds an M.A. in Cultural Anthropology; has curated more than a dozen exhibitions of textiles, ethnographic dress, and historic fashion; and has presented her research at national and international symposia including the Costume Colloquium in Florence, Italy. Her current research interests are couturier Bob Bugnand and the American textile designer Mary Crovatt Hambidge. She works at the Field Museum as an exhibition project manager.

Discovering Bob Bugnand

First Encounter

No matter how long I work in museums or how many costume collections I visit, I get a thrill every time I enter one of those exalted closets. There is a mix of pleasant anticipation – of encountering old friends like a 1960s paper dress or a full-skirted antebellum gown – and the promise of discovery – of garments that spark questions I never thought to ask before. So it was in February of 2012, as I began selecting objects at the Western Reserve Historical Society (WRHS) for an exhibition of twentieth-century dress that became Dior & More – For the Love of Fashion (closed May 24, 2014).

Having worked with the treasure-trove of WRHS in the past, I expected the major challenge would not be in selecting garments so much as it would be paring down a long list of worthy candidates until the most compelling cast remained. Such an exquisite dilemma! As the days passed and haute couture designs by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Pierre Balmain, Christian Dior, Jacques Fath, Hubert de Givenchy, Madame Grès, Lucien Lelong, Jeanne Paquin, Callot Soeurs, and others began to fill out the ranks, I turned my attention to lesser-known couturiers to add dimension to the story. And that is when I met Bob Bugnand.

Paris label, ca. 1960, author photo, Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.17

Paris label, ca. 1960, author photo, Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.17

Evening dress, ca. 1960, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.17

Evening dress, ca. 1960, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.17

Ultimately, eight Bugnand designs were located in the collection and two were featured in the show. These evening dresses were made for Elizabeth Parke Firestone (Mrs. Harvey S. Firestone, Jr.), a discerning client who began buying made-to-measure clothing in Paris in the 1920s and amassed an extensive wardrobe by leading designers. Writing exhibit labels proved challenging, since references to Bob Bugnand were cursory. Some basic facts were repeated: 1) he designed for Jacques Heim and Robert Piguet before going out on his own, and 2) Jacqueline Kennedy and the Duchess of Windsor were both his clients. The tidbit that stayed with me came from a letter Firestone wrote in 1970, saying Bugnand had relocated to New York, where he “makes only for a very few people, [and] does all my work” (Orr 2006: 80). (Let’s hear it for graduate research – thank you, Lois Orr!)

Evening dress, ca. 1959, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.16

Evening dress, ca. 1959, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.16

Still wondering about Bugnand several months after the exhibition opened, I inquired about pieces in other collections containing Firestone garments and soon a dozen more had surfaced. When I learned his papers had recently been made available through the Special Collections at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT),I knew I had stumbled onto a topic worthy of exploration.

Thanks to the Worn Through research award, I was able to go to New York to examine the Bugnand archives and begin piecing together the arc of his career. Though it is tempting to craft a research melodrama of alternating dead-ends and puzzle pieces fitting together, instead what follows is more straightforward and, I hope, somewhat more useful. These paragraphs offer a basic chronology of Bob Bugnand’s career and my initial assessment of his work, which helps situate him in the context of twentieth-century fashion and can assist in dating his surviving fashions.

The Garments

To date, 75 Bugnand designs have been identified in 15 collections and I have personally examined 37 of them. Nearly all of the designs are complete garments or ensembles, but the number also includes a few separates. Fully half of the pieces were made for Firestone.

Limited information about additional Bugnand garments is available in a 1991 Sotheby’s catalog featuring pieces from Firestone’s estate. Images and descriptions of several other garments are available through auction house websites. Garments with Bob Bugnand for Sam Friedlander labels are beyond the scope of my current research and are excluded from the data set.

Additional Sources

This preliminary study has also been informed by Bugnand’s archives in the Special Collections at FIT and Firestone’s papers at the Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford. Women’s Wear Daily, newspapers, and magazines further document the designer’s life and work.

Early Career

Fashion designer Bob Bugnand was born Antoine Bugnand in France on Feb. 23, 1924. The city of his birth is unknown, as is the source of his seemingly American nickname. He studied architecture at the Beaux Arts before focusing on couture, then apprenticed with Lelong, and was chief designer for both Piguet and Heim (New York Times Oct. 3, 1958). An undocumented press clipping reports Bugnand also worked with Alwynn Camble, another young designer, for several seasons.

In 1954, Bob Bugnand “opened a Couture house [in Paris] based on the formula of original designs which will not be repeated” (Women’s Wear Daily May 21, 1954). The venture was unusual, if not entirely unique. Rather than presenting traditional collections and incurring the associated expense of production and showings, he instead presented to private clients and buyers original sketches from which they made selections. The press described Bugnand as a “personable young designer” (New York Herald Tribune Feb. 25, 1959). His early enterprise had the capacity to produce fifty original models per month.

Bugnand apparently met Firestone, one of his most important clients, in May of 1956, after which she commissioned this evening dress now in the collection of The Henry Ford. In a letter the following spring, Firestone told the designer the red evening gown was her favorite and ordered a second version in white, which resides at WRHS.

Evening dress, 1957, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.19

Evening dress, 1957, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.19

Draping, 1957, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.19

Draping, 1957, courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society, 89.83.19

By the summer of 1957, Bugnand expanded his business from sketch-based exclusive designs to include traditional seasonal presentations (Women’s Wear Daily July 23, 1957). Though Firestone did not attend the showing of forty models in his fall collection, she did place a significant order while in Paris that September. She commissioned a black velvet dress called Blackmail; the Florence dress of blue wool; the Jaguar coat ensemble; and Platinum, a gray flannel suit with embroidery, mink trim, and a matching chiffon blouse. Regrettably, none of these have been identified in collections.

Paris Without a Passport

Bugnand opened a custom-order salon in New York on East 62nd Street in the fall of 1958. This additional location enabled him to better serve existing American clients while also making his designs accessible to women who did not make seasonal trips to Paris to have clothes made. With another unconventional strategy, Bugnand simultaneously reinforced the allure of French fashion – the cachet of garments designed in Paris, constructed of French fabrics, and made in the couture tradition – while removing the obstacle of transatlantic travel.

According to the press, Bugnand seemed to have found “a magical formula for selling made-to-order clothes to American women,” though it was actually more of an innovative business practice than alchemy or even sleight of hand (New York Times Feb. 25, 1959). The “magic” happened by making and fitting a muslin of the desired dress in New York, flying the muslin to the designer’s Paris workroom where it was used to make the dress, and then flying the finished model back to New York for final fittings – voila! The entire process took only about three weeks. To uphold their prestige, Bugnand collections were shown first in Paris and presented again several weeks later in New York.

Jacqueline Kennedy (Mrs. John F. Kennedy) was a Bugnand client during this period, though whether she placed orders in Paris or New York is unknown. The future First Lady used his fashions helped shape her public image. She chose a simple pink wool dress by Bugnand for the Life magazine cover story, “Jackie Kennedy: A Front Runner’s Appealing Wife” (Life August 24, 1959). Numerous photographs demonstrate his black-and-white houndstooth wool suit with black braid was a workhorse on the campaign trail during her husband’s presidential run in 1959 and 1960. The graphic, easy-to-wear combination was featured in the popular exhibition, Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years, and is the sole Bugnand design in the Kennedy Library. Notably, the catalog for the Hamish Bowles-curated exhibition contains the only scholarly reference to Bugnand published to date (Metropolitan Museum of Art 2001: 47).

Haute Couture Years

In the summer of 1960, Bugnand’s reputation advanced considerably when he was recognized with membership in the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne and opened his salon at 372 rue St. Honore in Paris. Women’s Wear Daily anticipated his inaugural showing could “be the big opening of the year,” noting the designer “already in New York has a fine reputation for elegant young clothes which have a sophisticated zip” (July 25, 1960). Though the collection received mixed reviews, the New York Times lauded his “trompe-l’oeil tricks” – reversible jackets and overskirts that transformed dresses for wear after five. Remarking on his evening clothes, the paper reported, “Bugnand can be aptly called the bead boy. His lady-like dazzlers included one hound’stooth [sic] check done in jet, another in a fabric patterned like an old Victorian rose wallpaper and covered with shining bugle beads” (July 28, 1960). Sparkling eveningwear was the designer’s hallmark and featured prominently in all his collections.

Evening dress, ca. 1965, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.25

Evening dress, ca. 1965, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.25

Beadwork, ca. 1965, author photo, The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.25

Beadwork, ca. 1965, author photo, The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.25

Burchard Galleries auctioned one of Bugnand’s characteristically brilliant confections in 2012 (below). The calf-length gown commissioned by Firestone may well have been from the designer’s Spring 1959 collection, about which the New York Herald Tribune reported his “[s]hort evening dresses sparkle like the ceiling of the Hayden Planetarium. They’re almost all bare topped with semi-full skirts and what appears to be the labor of forty seamstresses worked into their elaborate surfaces” (Feb. 25, 1959).

Evening dress, ca. 1959, courtesy Burchard Galleries

Evening dress, ca. 1959, courtesy Burchard Galleries

Many fashion-conscious women in the United States learned about Bob Bugnand in the pages of Vogue. The magazine first mentioned him in its April 1960 issue. A larger feature two months later called readers’ attention to his design for a new night look described as “a plaid overlay of baguette beads, worked on Argyll [sic] lines in navy-blue and clear crystal on a dress of white silk net” (Vogue June 1960). Also noted were its navy blue patent leather belt and “underplayed shaping….” This dress survives – albeit unlabeled and without the belt – in The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection.

Evening dress, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.15

Evening dress, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.15

Firestone ordered an iteration of the design with short sleeves and a more conventional gathered skirt. In December of 1961, a Bugnand design graced the Vogue cover, accompanied by enchanting copy, “In a season of stupendous night-looks, one of the greatest: a rangy net sweater, beaming with glitter and crystal, and pulled down on the hipline of a long white silk satin dress.” This garment also resides at Ohio State.

Evening overblouse, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.24

Evening overblouse, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1986.162.24

Broad Base

Despite having salons on both sides of the Atlantic, a growing list of clients, and accolades from the fashion press, Bugnand did not rely solely on custom-made clothes to make ends meet. He also sold designs to manufacturers, though there is minimal documentation of those transactions. Some American department stores prided themselves on selling faithful copies of the latest Paris fashions. For example, at a fall 1960 event, Orbach’s showed “translations” of styles by Bugnand, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Grès, Nina Ricci, Cardin, Fabiani, and other designers, claiming they were “so exact…done with such unhurried perfection…they’re actually re-creations” (New York Times Sept. 14, 1960). A few months later, Bugnand announced his own ready-to-wear line named for the French national flag, the Tricolor Collection, which was targeted to select stores (Christian Science Monitor Nov. 7, 1960). When Bugnand began designing cocktail and evening dresses for the wholesale house, Sam Friedlander, in 1962, he stayed true to himself as a designer. According to the New York Times, “The beading and jet trim usually reserved for couture fashions trimmed moderately priced clothes” (June 12, 1962). Other designs for the manufacturer even included fur trim.

Consolidation

As the fashion world evolved, Bugnand continually revamped his business strategy to keep pace. Sometime in the mid-1960s, he closed the doors of his Paris salon and moved his entire business to New York, presumably to be closer to loyal clients such as Firestone and the socialite and philanthropist Judith Peabody (Mrs. Samuel P. Peabody). In 1965, the New York Times reported that Peabody –an avid supporter of the American Ballet Theater, New York Shakespeare Festival, and the Dance Theater of Harlem – had single-handedly “boosted the stock” of couturier Bob Bugnand by invariably appearing in his designs at parties and premieres (New York Times June 7, 1965).

Though it is unclear how Bugnand felt about leaving Paris to work full-time in the United States, the designer seems to have approached his work with good humor. The earliest dated garment with his signature New York label is the sequin-covered minidress dubbed Scuba Duba from 1968. [Image 11 WRHS 92.43.45a label] [Image 12 OHCT 1990.576.3]

New York label, author photo, Western Reserve Historical Society, 92.43.45

New York label, author photo, Western Reserve Historical Society, 92.43.45

Scuba Duba evening dress, 1968, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1990.576.3

Scuba Duba evening dress, 1968, courtesy The Ohio State University Historic Costume & Textiles Collection, 1990.576.3

He continued to create and show collections and worked closely with long-time clients. Bugnand sent Firestone sketches of new collections and custom designs and often offered suggestions, which she sometimes heeded. [Image 13 WRHS 92.43.46] In the summer of 1975, Bugnand shifted his course again by opening a shop in Westhampton, Long Island, where he sold ready-to-wear resort clothes along with his custom designs. He continued to create collections as late as 2001 and he died at age 81 in 2005. No obituary has surfaced.

Day coat, ca. 1971, author photo, Western Reserve Historical Society, 92.43.46

Day coat, ca. 1971, author photo, Western Reserve Historical Society, 92.43.46

Summary

This preliminary investigation shows that designer Bob Bugnand’s career reflects the changing realities of Paris couture from its “golden age” in the decade or so following World War II through the end of the century. Although he was steeped in the couture – or perhaps because he understood its realities – Bugnand committed himself to the world of fashion and all its unpredictability. His longevity seems to be due to a combination of passion, flexibility, resourcefulness, and a commitment to his clients, to whom he gave what they wanted and needed, in a way they felt good about. His designs never shock, occasionally amuse, and invariably appear effortless. “I am always happy,” he said, “when I have succeeded in making a woman look her best. I consider it a personal victory…” (Christian Science Monitor Nov. 7, 1960). Making a woman the focal point – rather than her clothes – earned Bugnand earned a loyal following.

Once again, I am grateful to Worn Through for the research award that facilitated my inquiry into designer Bob Bugnand. Likewise, I appreciate the dozens of generous individuals in museums, archives, auction houses, and vintage sales who fielded my inquiries and provided information and access to materials. I intend to publish an article on Bugnand’s career and would appreciate any additional leads you can provide. It is my hope the overlooked designer will soon receive the attention he deserves.

 

Sources

Bowles, Hamish. 2001.Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bugnand, Bob Collection. Special Collections and FIT Archives, Gladys Marcus Library, Fashion Institute of Technology.

Firestone Family Papers. Benson Ford Research Center, The Henry Ford.

Orr, Lois. 2006. “Elizabeth Parke Firestone: Her Couture Collection and Her Role as a Woman of Influence.” M.A. thesis, University of Akron. http://sc.akronlibrary.org/files/2010/12/Elizabeth-Parke-Firestone.pdf

Sotheby’s. 1991. Collectors Carousel: Including Couture Clothing from The Elizabeth Parke Firestone Collection and The Lydia Gordon Collection. Auction catalog for Dec. 19, 1991. New York: Sotheby’s.

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