Fashion in Song – Them Terrible Boots (1963)

The Orlons were formed in a Philadelphia high school in 1960. They called themselves The Orlons (after the synthetic fibre) because a popular group at their school called themselves The Cashmeres. After singing back-up for other performers, The Orlons recorded a few of their own songs including Them Terrible Boots in 1963. I haven’t been able to find a transcript of the lyrics, however, the refrain reprimands the subject of the song for wearing a ‘…bad shirt, skin tight blue jeans, and them terrible boots’.

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Archival Fonds – You Never Know What You Are Going to Get…

Fonds is a word borrowed from the French to describe an archival collection from a single source. It is the same in both singular and plural which is awkward because ‘a fonds’ doesn’t flow off the tongue as easily as ‘many fonds’, but you get used to it in the same way you got used to ‘moose’.

The FHM has acquired several fonds to date. The largest have come from: Estonian-born Canadian designer and fashion school founder Ellen Peterson; English-born Canadian boutique owner and fashion designer Pat McDonagh; and most recently, Canadian journalist David Livingstone. Each fonds is a collection of files, notebooks, photos and scrapbooks, but what is in each collection speaks volumes about the source.

Ellen Peterson was disciplined – she obviously ran a tight ship at her fashion school. Her scrapbooks were well trimmed and in chronological order. The student records were meticulously kept with grades and receipts for payments for courses filed alphabetically for each year. We retained the roster of students attending her school throughout the years, but it was heartbreaking to destroy the grade and payment records (for privacy reasons) because so much care had gone into their creation.

Pat McDonagh’s career was a forty-five year mix of feasts and famines and her archives reflected the up and down chaos that came from being either too busy scrambling to pay bills, or too busy filling high volume orders. Undated and unidentified sketches, fabric swatches, bank statements, tear sheets, business proposals, duplicate copies of articles, bills, videos and private correspondence were piled into boxes in no particular order. After an initial tidy up, the McDonagh fonds awaits a thorough archival shake-down.

The most recent addition is the David Livingstone fonds. Livingstone passed away a year ago at the age of 69 and his archives came to us via his daughter Alexandra Gair. Throughout his career, Livingstone freelanced articles about fashion, film, photography, literature and music to magazines like Saturday Night, MacLeans, and the Toronto Star. He also held down long-term writing and editorial positions, starting with TVONtario in the 1970s. In 1983 he joined the Globe and Mail as a fashion writer but left in 1996 to help launch Elm Street (he called it the thinking woman’s magazine). In 2002 he became the editor-in-chief of ‘ The Look’ a spinoff from Elm Street which, as the name implies, focussed on fashion. In 2011 he became the editor-in-chief of Men’s Fashion – a Canadian spinoff from Fashion (formerly Toronto Life Fashion). He left Men’s Fashion in 2016.

His fonds consists of huge research files that show Livingstone’s thorough journalistic approach to writing. The files are impressively thick, filled with tear sheets, barely legible hand written notes and quotes, and numerous printouts including dot matrix and faded thermal photocopies. The subjects of his research are varied, influenced largely, I think, by his personal interest in the person, style, or story: Tilda Swinton, William Klein, Linda Evangelista, A Space Gallery, Joseph Mimran, Raymond Chandler, Martha Wainwright, sunglasses, Vivienne Westwood, Comrags, Nan Goldin, Norma Kamali, Toronto punk bands, Buster Poindexter, Yves St. Laurent… Every file either became, or was intended to become, an article.

It will take some time to wade through the cartons of files, but amongst them are some real treasures – thank-you notes from designers and models, invitations to Paris fashion shows, snapshots of friends and colleagues like Isabella Blow and Polly Mellen, even a eulogy he must have read at a memorial for Alexander McQueen… A whole career that will be forever preserved at the FHM archives.

Invitations to Paris and New York fashion shows, 1980s – 2000s, including shows cancelled on September 11, 2001. From the David Livingstone fonds

For more information about David Livingstone see:

Remembering Canadian Fashion Legend David Livingstone

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Five Believers’ Batiks Ltd.

At first glance, this looks like a brown and yellow batik-print button-front maxi dress from the 1970s, but its much more than that…

In 1966 middleweight boxer Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter and his friend John Artis were driving in a car in Patterson, New Jersey when they were stopped by the police. Mistaken for two other men who had just shot up a bar killing three people, the two were taken into custody. Despite a lack of due process – no paraffin tests for gunpowder residue, no fingerprint evidence, as well as unreliable and changing eyewitness accounts, the two were convicted of the crime. Carter became a jailhouse lawyer, poring over the transcripts of his trial, gathering evidence of his innocence for retrial.

Carter found support from celebrities like Bob Dylan, as well as strangers, like a group of Canadian socialists who opened a boutique in Toronto’s Yorkville Village in the 1970s called Five Believer’s Batiks Ltd. to raise money for his defence fund. The group knew nothing about fashion, but raised the money by importing clothes made from Malaysian batik cloth. The business was in operation from about 1972 to 1979.

Carter’s association with this group eventually lead to a romance with one of the women in the group, and after 18 years in jail, and two trials, Carter was released. He immigrated to Canada, and died in Toronto in 2014 at the age of 76.

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The Collectors – a visit with Lizzie Bramlett

1960s/70s decorative clothes hangers – another one of Lizzie’s weaknesses…

Image of LIzzie Bramlett from her about page (the pics I took were all blurry…)

About 16 years ago I met Sharon Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bramlett online through the Vintage Fashion Guild, and I have been an avid follower of her posts and blog, The Vintage Traveller, ever since. Kenn and I were especially delighted to meet up with her in person for the first time last week on our quick trip down south to Asheville, North Carolina, and Tennessee, where we installed our Lucile dress at the Titanic Museum.

Looking at a Bonnie Cashin sketch that matches her Cashin suit – part of her collection’s catalogueing

After meeting at a restaurant for lunch we followed her to where she stores her collection — a ‘darling’ duplex cottage built in 1903 (darling is not a word I generally use, but there is no other word for the quaint southern charm of this little white wooden house.)

Upstairs, the racks are filled to capacity with riding habits, bicycling skirts, snappy suits and coats and sporty dresses; boxes are packed with woollen bathing suits and accessories.  She has assembled a tight collection of garments and accessories ranging from couture pieces to a selection of sportswear, both active and spectator, dating mostly from the 1870s to the 1970s. She is not apologetic for collecting what she likes – decorative hat boxes and hangers, 1920s/30s ensembles, disposition-printed 1950s skirts, and at least one example from couturiers and designers whose work she admires: Claire McCardell, Bonnie Cashin, Chanel…

Lizzie is a curator without a museum – her collection is meticulously tagged, bagged, photographed and recorded, with everything identified chronologically in a series of catalogues. Her memory snaps to attention when asked where something was found — a flea market in Savannah, eBay, the local thrift store… She remembers each piece like she acquired it yesterday.

Here, hanging on her racks and tucked away in boxes is a carefully curated exhibition that needs to be seen, and what better way than through a museum exhibition… hmm, sounds like an idea for the FHM!

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Fashion in Song – Bustle Fluffah (2012)

A fun video by the cast of Roundabout Theatre Company’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 2012

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Bill Cunningham – Fashion Climbing

I just found my must read for this fall – it turns out Bill Cunningham, the beloved New York street fashion photographer, left behind a memoir about his life in the fashion industry. Cunningham was notoriously shy about his own past when he was alive, but it seems he wanted the last word!

In a preview of the book in today’s New York Times, a quote from the first chapter touches upon Cunningham’s childhood and his stern Catholic mother: “There I was, 4 years old, decked out in my sister’s prettiest dress. Women’s clothes were always much more stimulating to my imagination. That summer day, in 1933, as my back was pinned to the dining room wall, my eyes spattering tears all over the pink organdy full-skirted dress, my mother beat the hell out of me, and threatened every bone in my uninhibited body if I wore girls’ clothes again.”

The balance of the book is more about his personal story of working through the fashion industry from stockroom boy, to milliner, to photographer of New York’s most fashion-conscious elite. Although a few characters don’t come off too well, like columnist Eugenia Sheppard, the book is less a tell-all tale than a personal memoir.

Penguin Press is publishing the book this year for a September release.

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What is Vintage?

Here’s an interesting article about how Chanel is suing the New York vintage clothing store What Goes Around Comes Around for selling ‘vintage’ Chanel. The company is citing unfair competition, false advertising, and trademark infringement.

What Goes Around Comes Around has been in business for 25 years and has a very chic looking online website where all their merchandise, by various makers, is sold with clear catalogue-quality photos. Everything is in top condition and appears unworn. It doesn’t look like your typical vintage shop, but that’s because the owners spend a lot of time making it that way. They are trying to make used clothing a viable part of the contemporary fashion market, and so the goods have to be fresh and wearable.

The shop’s goods mostly date from the last 25 years, which Chanel says isn’t vintage, citing the Federal Trade Commission as defining vintage as being at least 50 years of age. I looked it up and the Federal Trade Commission does say “A vintage collectible is an item that is at least 50 years old.” However, the trade commission’s concern is not with the definition of vintage, but rather confusion in the marketplace over what is an antique, vintage collectible and reproduction. The general thought is that something becomes vintage after about 20 years. eBay, Etsy, and the Vintage Fashion Guild all follow that idea of about 20 years to call a garment or accessory vintage.

The term vintage is loose. It is used in the wine industry to describe a particularly good year (not relevant to any particular age – last year could be vintage.) It is used by car collectors to refer to something similar, but does also require at least 25 years of age. The term is also used by Oriental carpet dealers to refer to non-antique carpets (a nice way to say used but quality). The term vintage in the used clothing industry is in itself a vintage term, popping up in the mid 1960s when vintage clothing boutiques started opening up for their hippy clients. However, the term is not set in stone — Patsy Stone in Absolutely Fabulous quips that her clothes are vintage as soon as they come back from the dry cleaner.

As for the rest of the claim by Chanel against the vintage clothing store. They cite finding one counterfeit Chanel bag amongst their stock, but that is why the shop has a guarantee of authenticity for their merchandise, so in case this happens, you can return the bag without problems. Mistakes can happen as there are some very good Chanel fakes out there, and the store obviously has a good reputation, otherwise it wouldn’t still be in business 25 years later. As Chanel is known to be uncooperative and will not authenticate any Chanel item unless there is also a proof of purchase receipt from a Chanel dealer, it seems Chanel itself isn’t exactly an expert at identifying their own goods.

This lawsuit is a case of David and Goliath. Chanel looks silly for making a big todo over one fake purse and the definition of vintage. Chanel says the store damages Chanel’s reputation, but I think silly lawsuits are doing that just fine.

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Fashion in Song – The Hat My Father Wore on St. Patrick’s Day (1909)

First recorded by Billy Murray, 1909, the song was revived 40 years later by Gene Kelly in the 1949 film Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

“Where did you get that hat?” folks ask me every day
“Isn’t it a nifty one?” I’ve often heard them say
“Keep it on, it’s funny! Can’t you see the people smile?”
It keeps me busy telling them the history of this tile!
The hat my dear old father wore upon St. Patrick’s Day
Talk about respect! with his head erect as he marched along Broadway
“Not a man in line looked half so fine,” my dear old mother used to say
“As your father did with that old-time lid upon Saint Patrick’s Day!”
The hat my dear old father wore upon St. Patrick’s Day
Talk about respect! with his head erect as he marched along Broadway
“Not a man in line looked half so fine,” my dear old mother used to say
“As your father did with that old-time lid upon Saint Patrick’s Day!”
I wouldn’t trade that hat for anything on earth
I keep it as a relic of the land of Daddy’s birth
A finer sky-piece never covered gray-haired, silvery locks

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Hubert de Givenchy, 1927 – 2018

In 1952, at the age of 25, Count Hubert James Marcel Taffin de Givenchy founded his house of fashion. Born in Beauvais, France, Givenchy studied law before entering the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.

The year after he opened his atelier, he met his longtime muse, Audrey Hepburn. The little black dresses he designed for her to wear in Breakfast at Tiffany’s became style icons of the era. “Givenchy’s creations always gave me a sense of security and confidence,” Hepburn once said. The two remained friends until her death in 1993.

Audrey Hepburn at a Givenchy fitting, 1959

His clothes are recognizable by their elegant simplicity — he is credited with introducing the chemise or sack dress, as well as the princess silhouette that molded over the bosom and swung outwards to the hemline.

In 1969, Givenchy began designing a line of menswear, and a year later branched out further into furnishing fabrics. In 1988 he sold his label to the French luxury goods group LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) for a reported $45 million, although he remained head of creative design until he retired in 1995.

His successors included John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Julien MacDonald. Riccardo Tisci, and Claire Keller, who took over as the label’s first female artistic director in 2017. Givenchy died March 10, 2018 at the age of 91. He is survived by his partner, Philippe Venet.

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What fashion cost in 1926 – Men

From the same 1926 Motion Picture Classic magazine series as Clara Bow’s oufit, comes this article with the breakdown for how Ramon Novarro’s evening suit cost $430.00 (not including shirt studs and cuff links, which could range in price from $25.00 to thousands – if studded with diamonds…) Translating $430.00 into today’s money would be about $6,000.00. Take away the hat ($10.00), cane ($12.00) and evening gloves ($5.00) as they are no longer worn, as well as the topcoat ($75.00), which is not pictured but included in the price, the adjusted value of the 1926 outfit in terms of finding a modern equivalent is closer to $330.00, which is about $4,600.00 in today’s money.

Today, a ready-to-wear tuxedo ranges between about $1,000 and $3,000 (up to $10,000, if custom made). Men’s evening shoes range from about $400 to $2,000, tuxedo shirts range between $60 and $300, bow ties cost $40 to $150, a pair of black silk socks range from $50 to $100, and a white linen handkerchief costs about $15 to $50. The total ranges from a low end of about $1,600 to a high end of about $5,500 (more if the tuxedo is custom made, as Ramon Novarro’s was.) In the picture it suggests Navarro’s suit would cost about the same as a flivver coupe, which was the cheapest car on the market in 1926. Today’s cheapest cars range between $9,000 and $12,000, which about equals the value of a custom made tuxedo in today’s money. It seems nothing has changed since 1926!

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