Tie Silk Swatches, 1926 (Part I)

March 26th, 2015

And now… a interlude featuring the fabrics a tie might have been made of in 1926. Getting a feel for what early 20th century ties looked like can be tricky, to say the least, since for one thing the illustrations of neckwear options in period catalogs and magazines rarely (if ever) in color. But a sample book containing, on its brittle, crumbling pages, hundreds of tie silk swatches and dated, ever so helpfully, “1926″ on the badly faded, lopsided spine? That’s a giant leap in the right direction, not to mention a mouthwatering feast for the eyes.

Most of the pages in this sample book are marked either “Switzerland” or “Italy”, so I’m guessing those countries were the big tie silk manufacturers of the day. Each page shows a different design, in roughly 4 to 6 color options, with the color variations often impressively subtle. Also, the book begins with elegant but less distinctive striped designs before exploding with some wildly colorful and intricate brocades, so I’ll show the opening pages as collages to keep the overall picture-heaviness down. (As with the Globe Tailoring book, I’ll be sharing the book in–hopefully-more manageable installments).

So without further ado (and with the self-evident observation that textile manufacture just ain’t what it used to be), here goes. Enjoy!

The next couple of pages also feature stripes, but the silks were woven in Italy and with far more complexity and beauty than anything out there today; the chevron-like effect within the stripes is IMO superb:

This brocaded striped design hails from Switzerland:

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The Globe Tailoring Co. Sample Book: Spring/Summer 1926 (Part II)

March 15th, 2015

First in today’s lineup, a  young man’s “two button soft roll sack”, and the fabric options he could have it made in: Serges, silk mixtures, herringbone weaves, and tartans:

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The Globe Tailoring Co. Sample Book: Spring/Summer 1926 (Part I)

March 9th, 2015

Today has been outrageously warm and sunny, with streamlets breaking through the ice on the streets and the snowbanks beginning to recede at long last. To celebrate, I’m posting the first several pages of The Globe Tailoring Company’s spring/summer 1926 sample book. Since, opposite the oversized illustrations, the book features dozens upon dozens of amazing fabric swatches that beg to be seen in close up, I’ll need to break this project into chunks. Even so, the posts will be picture-heavy, so pour yourself a cuppa before settling in to enjoy!

(I’ll be interspersing the Globe Tailoring posts with ones showing silk tie swatches from a 1926 sample book, so you’ll have some idea of the cravats a gent might have worn with his “needle molded” suits…:)

Here’s the front cover of the book, which at a whopping 22″ x 17″ makes modern catalogs look hopelessly puny:

The”Fabric Index” and some introductory remarks, on the “Economy of Good Tailoring” and the launch of the “Deluxe Department”:

And the catalog itself (with each pair of pages followed by some closeups):

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The Mad Men Tie Gets Festive: Cerruti Designs from the Holiday 1960 Collection

December 23rd, 2014

Nothing makes my heart sing louder than a beautifully jacquard-woven necktie, whether it be a jazzy pre-WWII damask or an MCM skinny with heraldic designs. Recently I was fortunate enough to acquire swatch books with woven tie silk samples from the late 1920s and the early 1960s, and though I plan to share the contents in their entirety here over the coming months, since the more recent one—from Nino Cerruti’s early days—features some fabulous holiday designs, I’ll start with those.

In 1950, the 20-year-old Cerruti became head of his family’s textile factory (founded in the 1880s) upon his father’s sudden death. More on Cerruti’s bio to follow in subsequent posts; for today, what’s important to know is that the tie designs he created in 1960, either for his own company (presumably to be sold with his “Hitman” label) or for other companies such as Charvet and Damon, appear to have been manufactured by a Swiss textile concern, Naef Freres. I haven’t been able to find out exactly what the relationship was between Cerruti and Naef Freres  (which seems to have had a satellite in upstate New York), but I do know that Lanificio Cerruti was at that point just what its name indicates—a woolen mill, so tie silks needed to be made elsewhere. Cerruti established a knitwear factory in Scotland in 1961, but I don’t know whether he also owned or just subcontracted work from Naef Freres, which  goes back at least to the 19th century.

Without further ado, in any event, let me present the designs from Cerruti’s Holiday 1960/1 collection. Here is the book itself:

I was surprised to see how many of the designs were produced for legendary haberdasher Charvet. Unsurprisingly, they were tres elegant. The first is called “The Ring”:
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Which? Both!

June 8th, 2014

With the D-Day 70th anniversary celebrations just past and the post-WWII Paris souvenir handkerchief  below settling into its new home, I find myself with some nagging questions about it:

As you can see, it bears a Galeries Lafayette tag and depicts a young woman being courted by two uniformed GIs who present their  hearts to her like nosegays (and it looks as though she may be clutching a previous floral offering to her chest). The hankie has two text captions on it, the identifying phrase “Souvenir de Paris” and the question/answer “Which? Both!!”

Jonathan Walford, author of “Forties Fashion: From Siren Suits to the New Look”, kindly deciphered the hankie for me a few weeks back, explaining that the English text on it, together with the woman’s Phrygian cap and the French flag colors (red, white and blue) of her outfit, suggest that it would have been marketed to souvenir-hunting American soldiers at the end of the war. It does indeed seem to capture the jubilant mood of post-liberation Paris. But…

Who was the intended recipient of this slighly quirky bit of printed silk? The GI’s mother, sister or sweetheart, like other WWII–era souvenir hankies (often embroidered or printed with the helpful designation “mother”, “sister”, or “sweetheart”, like these examples from the  Handkerchief Heroes blog)?

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Vintage Fashion Malady #38: Ad Location Syndrome

May 10th, 2014

If you’ve been bitten by the vintage collecting bug, chances are you’ve gradually become symptomatic with a slew of related ailments. Perhaps you’ve heard of and actually experienced “Set Completion Syndrome”, where a lucky find of sparkly brooch with matching earrings leads you to obsessively seek out the matching necklace (and bracelet, and ring…)

Maybe you find yourself getting up at the crack of dawn (after tossing and turning all night with nightmares about your personal Holy Grail slipping repeatedly out of  your grasp) to put your name on a list to get in line for a high number at an estate sale (“Elbowing Others Out of the Way Syndrome”).

Maybe you return multiple times to a vintage clothing shop or antique mall till you finally break down and purchase something that leaves you without money to pay the phone bill, because it has been “calling” to you for days (“Siren Song Syndrome”).

Well, there’s a new one to add to the vintageaholics diagnostic manual. It involves a compulsion to pore over old magazines or catalogs as well as online till one finds a period advertisement for a vintage item one has taken a shine to, it’s called “Ad Location Syndrome”, and I’ve contracted a terminal case of it.

I’m not seriously complaining, though, because despite how time-devouring the endless trips down twisty garden paths can be, the thrill when I do happen upon what I’m in search of is beyond incomparable. Case in point: I just found the ad to go with a L’Aiglon dress with matching scarf I was preparing to list in my Ruby Lane shop, and learned things from it I would never have figured out on my own.

My dating hunch said the dress was a late 40s/early 50s cusper; turned out it was from summer 1950 on the dot. I didn’t congratulate myself too much, though,, since left to my own devices I would have never have surmised the scarf (called a “kerchief” in the ad) was intended for double duty, either on the head or on the shoulders. And I certainly wouldn’t have known that it wasn’t meant to be tied under the chin á la 1960s convertible-riding bombshell with sunglasses.

I also wouldn’t have tied the sash in back, creating the illusion of an apron (the ad describes the dress as having a “flower-strewn apron effect and camisole top”). Basically, the ad suggests the dress was meant to have a kind of “Country Miss” vibe, which I did not pick up from it as it dangled before me on the hanger mocking my descriptive skills.

Sometimes a picture—or an ad—really is worth a motherlode of syllables!

Ralph Rucci’s Tour de Force Costumes for “Close to Chuck”

February 24th, 2014

Just had to share my overwhelmed response to designer Ralph Rucci’s costumes for the ballet “Close to Chuck”, which I saw performed at the Boston Ballet yesterday.

Choreographed by Jorma Elo to a musical “portrait” of disabled artist Chuck Close by his longtime friend, composer Philip Glass, it premiered at the ABT in New York seven years ago but has been tweaked since by Elo to better incorporate the costumes in the choreography (they apparently weren’t done until the last minute in 2007). Here is a picture of one of Rucci’s costumes from the ABT premiere; the dancer shown is Vivienne Wong:

The costumes combined a black leotard with illusion panels and a taffeta wrap skirt horizontally corded in leather, under one corner of which was a silkscreened (I assume) version of the Chuck Close self portrait used as a backdrop for the second part of the ballet. (The male dancers wore the skirt also, though minus the leotard!)

The beginning of the ballet used a black/white/grey backdrop identical to the luminous red one reproduced in miniature on the skirts, save for the colorway; both backdrops consisted of a grid of hundreds of tesserae-like squares that appeared to contain abstract or amorphous forms, but which “from a distance” crystallized into an image of the upper 2/3 of the artist’s face. I’m not sure whether the backdrops were a full (or partial) blowup or scale copy of a Close painting on canvas, or whether Close (who designed the sets for the ballet) created them specially for the occasion. Here’s a scene from the Boston Ballet production with a view of the red backdrop:

When the dancers raised the corners of their cage-like skirts to reveal (or, literally, to unwrap) the image underneath, the combination of  lustrous fabric and mosaicized image combined to shimmering effect, almost as if it were composed of sequins, which perfectly captured Close’s pixellated artistic technique.

Rucci’s brilliant costumes were not only an essential part of the set (because of the way they linked to the backdrop), but also of the ballet’s thematic content; they symbolically represented the physical limitations the paralyzed Close has had to transcend in order to keep creating his art. (After all, when’s the last time you saw ballet dancers perform in stiff, floor-length skirts?)

Rucci is a true artist (he’s actually an accomplished painter who exhibits his work and designs all the prints for his clothes). I’ve gasped in awe at garments of his on display in museums (where they are the very definition of “museum-worthy), but my admiration for him has just increased tenfold. Bravo!

The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part IV

December 17th, 2013

For my winter vacation this year, I’d like to slip inside the December 1948 Ladies’ Home Journal and visit for awhile. The issue captures a seemingly idyllic moment in US history when the nation was really beginning to enjoy its post-WWII boom. It opens with an editorial by none other than First Lady of Journalism Dorothy Thompson on the importance of expanding and strengthening the economy as the only true protector of our national security. And it is a veritable feast for the eyes—page after page of gorgeously executed Christmas ads and features that make me want to buy everything, cook everything, sew everything it suggests.

I apologize for the awkward cropping of many of the pictures in this post; the LHJ was too wide and too long for my scanner bed, and there were a LOT of full page ads! But the images speak for themselves regardless…

Needless to say, there were a slew of appliance ads, beautifully illustrated to depict their knack for leading to domestic nirvana:

This Norman Rockwell-ish if rather quirky ad (which I think is much sadder than it means to be)  depicts the impact of Plymouth ownership on one family (or specifically, on one poor kid), without even bothering to flaunt that year’s Special De Luxe Coupe in it!

The pages are bursting with images of delectable looking Christmas hams and baked goods, whether homemade from the ingredient being hawked or store-bought in a final state, such as this Jane Parker fruitcake:

The magazine itself has a spread on Christmas entertaining, with menus (and recipes, in the back) for a party for 25, a breakfast, and a dinner:

One of the most artistically done ads is for Coke; I wonder what my young father, who at the time was in his early years as a Maspeth, NY Coke bottling plant manager, would have thought of it:

As far as the LHJ features, in addition to beauty advice:

and tips on the latest party frocks to sew (with patterns available for purchase, natch), LHJ did a spread with socialites and celebrities modelling the latest in hostess fashions, including one of Rosalind Russell in a ruby pink moire and green taffeta creation from Joseph Whitehead:

Coty’s attempt to garner a chunk of the Xmas market for its perfumes included both a letter from its president explaining the art of fragrance selection and, many pages later, a full page ad displaying the options to choose from (the model’s red gown is from Traina-Norell):

Here’s another perfume ad, from Bourjois (I remember my mother, a schoolteacher, regularly being given Evening in Paris as a holiday gift in the 1960s):

This ad from Bretton watch bands offered a “Peewee” version of the “sweetheart” expansion bracelets so popular throughout the war:

The kiddie set above came in a lucite-look pocketbook; Pro-phy-lac-tic offered lucite (or “Jewelite”) dresser sets for both men and women:

Don’t know whether this Textron slip ad nods more to “A Christmas Carol” or to Salvador Dali:

Of course, there were ads for products to help with seasonal decor (and giftwrapping):

And ads for year round home goods, as well:

This Community silverplate ad couldn’t decide if it was holiday- or wedding-themed:

LHJ offered ideas for making your own gifts (more patterns to buy), from cloth blocks, dolls and stuffed animals for children:

to quilted satin slipper-and-pouch sets, or leopard velveteen belt-and-mitten sets, for adults and teens:

There was even a column on ideas for gifts kids, from tots to teens, could make/give to Mom:

And though there were no ads for liquor as the ideal gift, there was more than one that proposed sticking a carton of cigarettes under the tree:

However and whatever you celebrate this time of year, may it be filled with the calm and peace of a Victorian Christmas. And, among the delights 2014 holds in store for you, may at least one of them be vintage 1940s and tied up with an enormous bow!

The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part III

December 16th, 2013

America’s postwar economic boom meant that by the late 1940s seasonal marketing had really elbowed its way into women’s magazines, taking up as much or even more space than the “regular” features–many of which were not just Christmas-themed but concerned with directing the American family’s shopper-in-chief on how best to transform the disposable dollars in her pocketbook into coveted, practical, and colorfully foil-wrapped parcels of domestic holiday joy.

Though Christmas-linked advertising didn’t really shift to bombardment mode till the December issues, the rollout did in fact get underway in November, just as it does today. Though most of the full page ads in the November 1949 issue of Harper’s Bazaar don’t promote their products as holiday gift options, the magazine itself organized pages upon pages of smaller ads into shopping guides or editorial features.

A 4 page color feature entitled “It’s a wonderful present if…” included cobra covered smoking accessories from Evans, 14K hatpins set with gemstones, and Lucien Lelong lipstick:

An 11 page black and white eponymous “Bazaar” spread had sections for men, children, and women. The “Men’s Bazaar” (which also included ads for cameras, coasters, and a sterling monogrammed pipe) had an ad for spectacular leather and silk suspenders from “Calvin Curtis, Cravateur”:

as well for an A. Sulka & Co. reading jacket:

I got a kick out of finding an ad for a leather tie travel case identical to one I have in the Waltham shop:

The “Children’s Bazaar” featured an ad for the FAO Schwartz catalog, and the ladies’“Christmas Bazaar” included these tempting possibilities:

A black and white spread entitled “60 Beautiful Ideas”,  devoted to the kinds of cosmetic and fragrance indulgences contemporary department stores pile sky-high near the near mall entrance this time of year, grouped its suggestions into price tiers; under $2, $4, $5, $10 and “exactly $10”.

Highlights included Charles of the Ritz perfume in a Christmas tree ornament, a Hattie Carnegie perfume burner complete with her “Golden Lotus” scent, a white faux fur pouch with John Frederics talcum powder inside, and an Evans fish compact with cultured pearl bubbles and ruby chip eye.

Unfortunately, the artist-rendered sketches aren’t very good resolution, so I’ll just show you this stocking from Elizabeth Arden, filled with various forms of her “Blue Grass” fragrance (it was in the “exactly $10” tier):

A predecessor to those really long advertising spreads you can barely distinguish from actual magazine copy, Lord & Taylor had a 20 page black and white “Christmas Is Here!” spread that included gift ideas for the whole family:

As I mentioned above, only a few of the full page ads (like the one for a “Christmas white” slip that opens this post) link explicitly to the holiday. But simply placing a full page ad for a luxury good in the November issue was savvy marketing in and of itself, as this was evidently a very good year to be a conspicuous consumer, and hence also to entrap one. The full page ads, which include some pretty heady brands, fall for the most part into 6 main categories: Sterling silver flatware; nylons/lingerie; fur (including Revillon & Maximilian); perfume (including Chanel No. 5 & Schiap’s latest, Zut); fine jewels (including Cartier & Harry Winston); and…everything else.

Here’s the issue’s lone Christmas-linked perfume ad, from Elizabeth Arden (1949 appears to have been a banner year for new fragrances; down the line, I’m going to have to do a blog post solely devoted to them):

And here’s a full-paged ad for Hudson’s “Sheer Witchery” nylons—possibly the most glamorous Christmas ad I’ve ever seen (I WANT that hostess robe!):

The last post in this series will share images from the December Ladies’ Home Journal from the previous year (1948), an issue overrun with the exact same marketing approach to Christmastime we know and love today, except… the ads (and the stuff they promote) are SO much better. Here’s the cover, to whet your appetite:

The Ghost of Christmas (Retail) Past… Part II

December 11th, 2013

Next stop: The twentieth century, or more precisely, 1923. The decade may not be roaring yet, but the economy has shifted to peacetime and if conspicuous consumption as we know lies safely in the future, according to the November 1923 Ladies Home Journal the wintry landscape is sprinkled here and there with prospective Christmas presents.

Perhaps a fur for milady to tuck under the “magic tree” this year?

For the newfangled appliance lover, how about a “table stove” (the ancestor of today’s toaster oven, it would seem)?

The most “useful” and “appropriate” gift out there—a  matched towel set from Martex:

Even the Fuller Brush man gets in on the Xmas fun…

“Thoughtful men & women are beginning earlier each year to plan the greetings they want to send at Christmastime”:

The thoughtful person who is also crafty can opt for making homemade cards; all they need (besides the transfers for the designs pictured below, sold by the Home Pattern Company) are: Manila wrapping paper, tinted coal paper, chamois board, parchment, India ink, and watercolor paints:

But that’s it for holiday-targeted advertising in the issue; I’m guessing retailers in 1923 tended to do their Xmas promotions in December back then, when folks still spent the day after Thanksgiving travelling home from Grandma’s instead of rising at cockcrow or earlier to queue outside a big box store.  (As I write this, an early 1930s December LHJ is speeding towards my mailbox, and I will certainly report back on how extensive a glut of Xmas ads it does or does not contain).

To sum up: From the perspective of someone who deplores mass production and consumption but also happens to be in retail, this issue is soothing as well as mind-boggling. So welcome to see a ladies’ magazine geared primarily to informative articles that have nothing to do with weight loss or cosmetic surgery and which gives pride of place to a story by Edith Wharton. But wow, the pages are jam-packed with missed opportunities to start emptying the nation’s holiday pocketbook!

This mouthwatering Jello ad, for instance, could easily have substituted poinsettias for the pink roses on the table, and framed the whole scene in holly:

And check out the lack of enterpreneurial spirit in these perfume ads, which substitute gorgeous graphics (and hyberbolic text) for today’s requisite stacks of wrapped presents and artfully strewn Christmas ornaments:

It’s one thing to know in the abstract that in days of yore the nation didn’t devolve into consumer frenzy this time of year, quite another to see the actual proof in black, white, and color!

Next post will share some holiday ads from the post-WWII period (and likely make you very sad you can’t buy what’s in them). Stay tuned…