Canadian Fashion Connection – Potbelly Boutique (c. 1965 – 1978)

Le Hibou (The Owl) was Ottawa’s first coffee house, founded in 1960 by Denis Faulkner, a student from the University of Ottawa who wanted a place where young Ottawans could meet, listen to music, play chess, and drink coffee. The club became a popular night time meeting place – Denis even met his future wife Penny Knight at the club.

fashiionbottomcentreOne summer, the newlyweds took a trip to Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador in a Volkswagen van. They bought hand-woven shawls and cloth from a seller who would become their supplier, sending shipments to Canada on a regular basis. Upon returning to Ottawa, Penny started her ‘Chac Mool’ boutique, selling her finds out of Le Hibou on Saturday afternoons.  At first only the shawls and cloths were sold, but then Penny started to make dresses from the material. On later trips to New York to visit her brother, Penny also bought textile remnants for her designs.

After Le Hibou moved to a larger location on Sussex Drive in the late winter of 1965, Penny found a small space for a boutique on the Sparks Street Mall, around the corner from Elgin Street. She acquired an old potbelly stove, which she painted bright pink, and called her shop the Potbelly Boutique.

fashionabledress220Potbelly became the first boutique in Ottawa geared for the younger generation, and Le Hibou served as a location for numerous fashion shows. For one of the shows a film was shown concurrently that included a shot of a model dressed in a Potbelly original, barbequing a hot dog over the Centennial Flame. They got the shot before a Mountie could rush over to admonish and banish them from the Parliament building’s lawn. On another occasion a new type of light show that originated in San Francisco was used. It consisted of cooking oil and water-based food colouring in a glass baking dish that when tilted and turned on an overhead projector created a psychedelic show of colourful swirling globules. “The combination of large, loosely crocheted dresses on braless models, Mondrian style dresses, and the vibrant colours combined with the light show so impressed an Ottawa television producer that he did a half hour show, touting it as an “avant garde” fashion show for Ottawa.” recalled Denis Faulkner on his blog Recollections.

Denis Faulkner sold Le Hibou in 1968, and the coffee house closed in May 1975, but Potbelly boutique remained in business until at least 1978. Ottawa articles credit Penny’s boutique with styles ranging from Medieval inspired silk velvet evening dresses to terry-velour pant suits. I can find no articles about Potbelly Boutique or Penny Faulkner dating after November 1977.

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How to destroy an ego…

Ada Hopkins, who I used to work with at the Bata Shoe Museum, brought my attention to this photograph in the National Library and Archives of Canada. It is identified by the archives as:

“Kate Bush and unidentified man holding a pair of red ballet shoes…”


Yes, the “unidentified man” is me and the photo was taken in late January 1994 in the foyer of the Bata Shoe Museum’s pilot gallery located on the second floor of the Colonnade in Toronto (there was an exhibition of Native Footwear, which is why we are standing in front of a tipi). Kate Bush was in Toronto promoting her album Red Shoes, which had been released the previous November.

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Whoopi’s Shoes

I guess I am the last to know — Whoopi Goldberg apparently loves weird shoes. There’s a Pinterest Board of her shoes here:

A reference to some custom shoes she had made by American Duchess:

A photo board of some of her more unusual shoes worn on The View:

And this peak at her shoe closet at The View:

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Erata – 1950s American Fashion

1950s-usa-fashionPlease note that in my book 1950s American Fashion I made a stupid mistake – probably caused by my brain, eyes and fingers not listening to each other. A friend of the family of designer Helga Oppenheimer wrote to tell me that Helga was married to Walter Oppenheimer, not Robert – who was, of course, the father of the atomic bomb…  Walter was not just Helga’s husband, he was also her business partner and fabric importer.

My apologies.


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On My Shopping List… James Smith & Sons


Some day I will go into and buy myself an umbrella — without looking at the price (They range from $100 – $500 dollars)

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Shiffer-Hillman

f49-s3-f105_i3-1Toronto’s garment district developed along Spadina Avenue in the 1920s adjacent to ‘The Ward’ – Toronto’s version of New York’s Lower East Side where recent (primarily Jewish) immigrants lived. In 1929, a handsome 12 story building, that looked like it had been transplanted from Seventh Avenue, was erected at the corner of Spadina and Adelaide as the gateway to the garment district. The building was commissioned by the tailoring firm of Shiffer-Hillman, and was designed by one of Toronto’s first successful Jewish Architects, Benjamin Brown. The building was dubbed the Balfour building, named for Arthur Balfour, author of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, whose goal was for the British government to support the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Elsig Shiffer and Benjamin Hillman who commissioned the building in 1929, founded their tailoring firm by 1925 (at this time I can find no reference to the company prior to that date.) Their Balfour building was home to their own and other Jewish clothing manufacturing firms. Shiffer-Hillman made men’s suits and coats for wholesale through independent stores across the country. Elsig Shiffer died in 1949, and Benjamin Hillman died sometime between then and 1962. Shiffer-Hillman remained in business until 1981 when it filed for bankruptcy.

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Eighth Annual Bulletin Board

That time of year again for things that strike my fancy for no reason…

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Store Windows – Musée Grévin, c. 1921

Not really a store window but rather a tableau from the Parisian waxworks Musée Grévin of fashions, decorations, and furniture from an undated spring… I am guessing it’s probably 1921. The museum thought the clothes were by Poiret, and one of them might be, but the central figure looks more likely to be by Lanvin to me.


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Bijoux Electriques!

crownIn 1879 Scientific American reported “…there is nothing more curious than electric jewellery.”

A Parisian watchmaker who enjoyed creating mechanical birds, Gustave Trouvé also invented the Lilliputian battery that could be tucked inside a pocket or hidden within an evening coiffure to power-up various forms of illuminated and mechanical jewellery. Trouvé’s bijoux electriques made their debut in 1879 at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Ecole Centrale des Arts et Metiers at the Hotel Continental in Paris. A journalist from La Nature that attended the event reported:

bird“Some of the guests are wearing Trouvé’s charming electric jewels: a death’s head tie-pin; a rabbit drummer tie-pin. Suppose you are carrying one of these jewels below your chin. Whenever someone takes a look at it, you discreetly slip your hand into the pocket of your waistcoat, tip the tiny battery to horizontal and immediately the death’s head rolls its glittering eyes and grinds its teeth. The rabbit starts working like the timpanist at the opera. The key piece, a bird, was a rich, animated set of diamonds, belonging to Princess Pauline de Metternich…the princess could at will make the wings of her diamond bird flap.”

In 1884 The Folies Bergère commissioned Trouvé to create illuminated crowns and brooches for twenty flower costumed dancers for their Le Ballet des Fleurs. In England, Trouvé provided illuminated helmets, shields and spears for 50 Amazon women costumes for London’s Empire Theatre’s production Chilpéperic: Grand Music Spectacle. The audience, which included a young Oscar Wilde, burst into deafening applause in the final act when the Amazons appeared on stage.

Most of Trouvé’s bijoux electriques were destroyed in 1980 when the building in which his archives was held burned to the ground. For more information about Trouvé and his electrical jewellery see this article:

Electric Jewellery and the Forgotten Genius who Lit Up Paris

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Fashion in Song – The Tattooed Lady, 1959

Sung by Paddy Roberts, this 1959 comic song may have been more comical  when it was recorded and tattooed women were only seen in circuses…

Oh, I was a bit of a lad, I admit:
My past was a trifle shady
Until in the end, I went right round the bend
And married a tattooed lady
I immediately saw there were pictures galore
Round every available corner
As I studied her frame, very soon I became
An expert in flora and fauna
On the back of each knee was a small chimpanzee
On her thigh was a Knight of the Garter
And, just for a laugh, they had put on her calf
Eight bars of the Moonlight Sonata
One evening I found as I ambled around
I was feeling an absolute Charlie
‘Cause I couldn’t be sure if the sketch on her jaw
Was Picasso or Salvador Dali
Some things I found out, I just won’t talk about
I find it’s inclined to embarrass
But I give you my word, though it may sound absurd
It was just like the Louvre in Paris
On one of her feet, you were liable to meet
A master of hounds in his habit
And right round her waist, in impeccable taste,
Was a python devouring a rabbit
I loved all the ships on one side of her hips
The view in Peru on the other
But I was struck dumb when I found on her tum
A caricature of her mother!
For this was much more than a man could endure
Though I made the most earnest endeavour
So I scuttled away and I’m happy to say
It was ta-ta tattoo forever
Ta-ta tattoo forever
Ta-ta tattoo…

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