Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Georgette Orski

This milliner really is obscure because I have never heard of her and everyone I have asked has never heard of her either. The information I found about her was from a newspaper article in the Globe and Mail dated March 27, 1969 that was on the back of a section that had been saved for another reason. Assuming the newspaper got the facts right, here is an outline of Orski’s career:

English actress Margaret Leighton, possibly wearing an Orski hat!

English actress Margaret Leighton, possibly wearing an Orski hat

Born in Belgium in 1915, Goergette Orski married and moved to London and in 1938 began making hats from her Georgian era home in Knightsbridge. Her husband’s connections brought her a number of society women as clients. Her most famous including Mary, Duchess of Devonshire, English actress Margaret Leighton, and French actress Francoise Rozay.

Orski was kept especially busy at the time of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1953. Alongside her increased orders for original hats, she was also kept busy making dozens of velvet and ermine caps worn by the peerage under their coronets for the event. Many of the women attending the coronation left their jewellery with her for safekeeping until they arrived the morning of the extravaganza to dress for the event. Orski, tried to sleep with the jewellery under her mattress for safekeeping, but her fear of being burglarized robbed her of any sleep that night.

French actress Francoise Rozay, possibly wearing an Orski hat

French actress Francoise Rozay, possibly wearing an Orski hat

In 1967 her daughter married and moved to Toronto, and Georgette closed her business and followed along with her nineteen year old son. She quickly found work making custom hats for a furrier, and by the time this article appeared in March 1969, she was mounting shows for charity events such as the Save the Children Fund. Hat fashion shows at these types of events brought Orski private clients.

If you have any further information about Orski, or images of Orski’s hats, let me know…

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Designer Pets: Lucile and Mahmud

I just read this great story on Randy Bryan Bigham’s facebook page and am reposting it in his words:


Here’s LDG with her heroic pup in 1916 soon after their reunion. He looks a little tired!

A DOG HERO STORY: The early 1900s designer Lucile (Lady Duff Gordon) had a Chow named Mahmud who was a WWI veteran. She left him with her chauffeur in 1914 when she gave over her Paris dress salon to the Red Cross. The chauffeur became an ambulance driver and Mahmud a depot mascot, sitting beside him and other drivers on their missions to the war zone to bring back wounded soldiers. On one trip the following year, the ambulance was fired on by the Germans and the driver was injured but Mahmud, also injured, limped all the way back, over many miles, to Paris to get help. He later rejoined his mistress in New York and accompanied her on a vaudeville fashion show tour, raising funds for the Secours Franco-American Pour la France Devastee which aided refugees.


Mahmud before the war, hanging out with one of Lucile’s beautiful models for a fashion spread in Les Modes magazine

Mahmud so missed his buddy, the chauffeur, who was disabled from the accident, (that) when Lucile came back to Paris after the war, she hired the man as a dog walker, and they all were together until he passed away in her shop… at the ripe old age of 12 in 1922, the news rated a front page obituary in the London Daily Telegraph!

Thanks Randy for the great story!

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Fred Slatten (1922 – 2015)

fullThere was a wave of innovative shoe designers who all opened for businesses in about 1970. In London it was Terry de Havilland, in Vancouver it was Peter Fox and John Fluevog, in Toronto it was Master John, and in Los Angeles it was Fred Slatten. Born 10 October 1922 in Kansas City Missouri, Slatten began selling shoes while he was still attending college. In the late 1940s he moved to California and began working as a shoe buyer for Bullocks department stores. Eventually he ended up in the wholesale shoe business, and in 1970 Fred opened his Los Angeles shop on Santa Monica Boulevard near San Vicente.

6073fe3ff2e59bd4961531572a63431aWhen platforms became popular in the early 1970s, Slatten became famous for his towering, eccentric styles. Celebrities came to buy: Liberace, Cher, Elton John, and Sally Struthers who wore her Slatten platforms on All in the Family. Slatten’s boots, shoes and sandals were embellished by artists who hand-painted, decoupaged, gold leafed, airbrushed, and bedazzled the platform soles for their clients, often in styles inspired by ‘Old Hollywood’. Slatten also took credit for creating the apocryphal live goldfish swimming in a see-through platform.

His shop window was known for the outrageous shoes revolving on mirrored turntables, illuminated by disco balls. When platforms fell from fashion Slatten then became known for his high heel styles instead. Slatten closed his shop in 1992, when he turned 70, and died on July 1 at the age of 92.

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Elio Fiorucci (1935 – 2015)

Italian fashion designer and entrepreneur Elio Fiorucci posing in his shop in Galleria Passarella. In the background, the shop assistant Cristina Bagnoli posing wearing a sexy gown designed by the fashion designer. Milan, 1970 (Photo by Giuseppe Pino/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

Elio Fiorucci in his shop in Galleria Passarella, Milan, 1970 (Photo by Giuseppe Pino/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

In 1979’s The Greatest Dancer, Sister Sledge sang “He wears the finest clothes, the best designers, heaven knows, from his head down to his toes – Halston, Gucci, Fiorucci…” Although I don’t believe Fiorucci ever made or sold men’s clothes, the song immortalizes how important the label was in the late 1970s.

Elio Fiorucci was born in Milan on June 10, 1935. He began his fashion career as a teenager, working in his father’s shoe shop. In 1967 he opened a boutique on Galleria Passarella in Milan, modelled after the lifestyle emporium Biba in London, with most of his stock coming from English designers like Ossie Clark and Zandra Rhodes. In 1970 Elio began styling his own eponymous line that mixed the spirit of Carnaby street with his Italian sense of colour and humour. He also kept his eye on trends, and popularized Afghani coats and Brazilian thong bikinis in his store. His approach was right for the times, and within a few years he was expanding his fashion empire, opening stores in London in 1975 and New York in 1976.

Fiorucci store on 59th street in New York

Fiorucci store on 59th street in New York

When Studio 54 opened in Manhattan in 1977 Fiorucci was hired to organize the grand opening. The clothes Fiorucci sold became associated with the disco scene. In 1980 when Warhol launched Interview magazine, the opening party was held at Fiorucci’s store. Fiorucci was more of a stylist and retailer than a designer – in 1978 he was the first brand to sign a collection of sunglasses. The Fiorucci logo became a pair of cherubs wearing sunglasses – an image that could be found on everything from T-shirts to key chains.

Advert for Fiorucci jeans, c. late 1970s

Advert for Fiorucci jeans, c. late 1970s

Although known for colourful, fun clothing, including clothes of vinyl and plastic, it was tight-fitting jeans that really established Fiorucci’s international reputation and set off the designer jean wars of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Tight-fitting jeans were a staple of the Disco scene and later, in the early 1980s, Fiorucci reportedly became the first to carry stretch jeans made from a mix of Lycra and denim. His skinny clientele loved them – Fiorucci only carried clothing for thin girls, explaining “To manufacture only small sizes is doing a favour for humanity. I prevent ugly girls from showing off their bad figures.’’

knapsack from the Fiorucci store in Rome, 1981, donated to the FHM by Liz Derbecker, 12.22.11

knapsack from the Fiorucci store in Rome, 1981, donated to the FHM by Liz Derbecker, 12.22.11

After meteoric success in the 1970s and early 1980s, Fiorucci’s fortunes began to turn. By the late 1980s his style had fallen from favour, he ran into distribution problems, and had to close his New York location. In the mid 1990s Fiorucci was up on charges of fraud for falsifying reports to increase the value of his company when it was sold to Carrera in 1989. He was sentenced by an Italian court to a suspended prison term of 22 months.

Fiorucci’s fortune eventually changed and in 2004 he founded the brand ‘Love Therapy’.

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Suite Française

A weird and completely believable hairstyle

What a strange feeling it must be to wake up one morning in your own bed in your own home in your own town, and yet nothing is familiar… Suite Française captures what it must have been like to live under occupation in France during the war. It is a captivating story about Lucille, a soft-hearted woman played by Michelle Phillips, whose husband is a prisoner of war. She lives with her severe, controlling mother-in-law, played by Kristin Scott Thomas. The two of them are in the middle of collecting rents from their tenants when the war suddenly comes to town. Over the next few months everything these people thought they knew about themselves and each other changes. German officers are billeted out to homes of villagers,  some of whom have vindictively written letters denouncing neighbours while others accuse sympathizers in the street of liaising with Germans. After Lucille discovers the truth about her husband she begins to fall in love with the sensitive music-loving german officer who lives under their roof until the self-centred mayor’s wife sets in motion a series of events that rips the town apart.


Note the heavy soled shoes – typical of early war footwear

At the end of the film a synopsis about the author is given that is difficult to read — it is based on an unfinished manuscript by Irène Némirovsky, a Ukranian Jew who died in Auschwitz. The hand written pages were rediscovered by her daughter in the bottom of a suitcase, and published in 2004.

This is a tale of everyday people trying to cope in their unrecognizable world. It is also one of the most beautifully authentic films I have ever seen of this era. Every aspect from costumes and hairstyles to sets and streetscapes captures occupied France in the summer of 1940. The costumer is Michael O’Connor (I’m a bit of a fan…), every film he has touched has become a work of art, and Suite Française is no exception.

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The Battle for Birds

Woman wearing a "Chanticleer" hat (rooster feathers), circa 1912.

Woman wearing a “Chanticleer” hat (rooster feathers), circa 1912.

Read this Great article by NPR on the history of feather fashion and early acts to save migratory birds. The FHM is planning an exhibition about endangered species used in fashion for winter 2017 entitled ‘Wild and Rare’. Some of the hats that will be on display will include feathers from Victoria Pigeons, Arctic Terns, Aigrettes, and even Humming birds!

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Fashion History with live models


Denise Lee, c. 1938

I am often asked what got me started in the field of fashion history. I blogged about this a few years ago but to be honest, I change my answer every time because there is no one reason. My interest in history is innate, I am fascinated by how people lived, what they wore, ate, read, and thought about…


Shirley Lee, c. 1966

When I was a child I loved watching historically set films but more for the costumes than the plot: Thoroughly Modern Millie, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, and my favourite, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with Anna Quayle singing ‘You’re my teddy bear’ while wearing a boned corset and teddy. I remember crying myself to sleep because I wasn’t allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch the Six Wives of Henry VIII.


Julia Pine c. 1944

When my family moved to Ontario from B.C. in 1972 I took every opportunity I could to visit the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto – the costume displays were my favourite. When we returned to Vancouver in 1975 I couldn’t find costume displays at any museum so I went back to watching television shows and films set in the past – The Duchess of Duke Street, Poldark, Barry Lyndon…


Liz Derbecker c. 1974

While we were still in Ontario we attended a Victorian-themed church picnic in Oakville (I was a choirboy at the local Anglican church…) and one parishioner wore her grandmother’s 1880s wedding dress of starched linen voile that rustled as she walked across the lawn. I was fascinated that such a thing had survived outside of a museum. My family weren’t keepers – I had grown up in a mid century modern house with Danish teak furniture. The only vintage clothing that had survived in our house was my mother’s wedding dress from 1952 and a beaded purse from the 1920s that had belonged to a great aunt. I had seen bits and pieces of antique and vintage clothing for sale in antique stores, but with an allowance of $5.00 per week buying anything was fiscally impossible and would have been difficult to explain to my parents.


Sheena Andrews, c. 1958

One day in 1976 my mother and I attended an historical fashion show held at a church in West Vancouver. Vancouver clothing collector Ivan Sayers, who had been acquiring vintage clothing since the mid 1960s, was presenting a fashion show of clothing dating from the 1860s to the 1960s. Every decade was represented by authentic dresses worn by models in period perfect underwear and accessories. The result was magical – history was alive and walking right in front of me.


Anne Keyes, c. 1959

In 1977 I began working part time at Heritage Village Museum in Burnaby – a recreated turn-of-the-century village. The costume supplied to me was simple and uninspired – a collarless shirt. I set about finding the missing parts to make it a real outfit – the collars and ties, caps and sweaters, knickers and suspenders although having size 11½ feet and a 7¾ head made finding real vintage a challenge. Every penny I made was plowed back into my costume, as well as some of those bits and pieces at antique stores and vintage clothing shops I had seen scattered about town. In late 1977 I bought my first garment for the collection – a black net dress from c. 1894 from Cabbages and Kinx, a vintage clothing store in Gastown.


Susie Jackson c. 1916

Over the next few years I frequented every charity shop and garage sale I could. A school friend of my mother gave me several pieces after her father died including his morning suit from 1921, three pairs of John Lobb button boots, and a 1930s lame evening gown worn by her mother on an Atlantic crossing of the Queen Mary. Other gifts came in and the collection grew quickly, filling the closet in the guest room, redubbed the ‘collection closet.’

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Kim Darby c. 1961

In spring 1980 I got my first behind-the-scenes job in a museum as a part time assistant curator at the North Shore Museum in North Vancouver, but before I left Heritage Village, I mounted my very first fashion show for the Easter weekend. That show started a twenty-seven year run of producing a hundred fashion shows (I counted – it was exactly 100) for a variety of clients including: University women’s clubs, colleges, museums, church and temple groups, and retirement homes. Most of the shows went well, only a couple bombed – the worst was a country club women’s group who were more in the mood for Chippendale dancers than a fashion show.


Erin Darby, c. 1934

A few museum professionals piously criticized how I was damaging original clothes in my presentation. I felt the educational value of seeing the clothes in movement outweighed the value of the clothes I had acquired for the shows, which were not considered museum quality garments (although since then, some have been upgraded to the museum collection.) I relied mostly upon durable cotton dresses, wool suits, as well as pieces that were altered/damaged but presentable from a distance, and worked well as examples of fashion when properly accessorized.


Julia Pine, c. 1901

In all the years of doing shows I had a surprisingly low amount of damage: 5 pairs of seamed stockings were ruined; a princess line slip from c. 1912 that saw use in nearly all 100 fashion shows had a lot of tears and repairs, one 1930s evening dress  got lipstick on it (it was already discoloured), and one pair of glass earrings got broken. I also had a model steal a pair of earrings…


Sarah Beam, c. 1942

We stopped promoting the shows in 1999 but took three more bookings before finally calling it quits in 2007. We needed to refocus our energy on the museum, and the clothes and accessories I was keeping for the fashion shows were taking up too much room. It was a lot of fun, but a LOT of work! Funnily enough, I got a call a few weeks ago from someone who had seen one of the shows in 1986 and wanted to book a show for her club’s anniversary in 2017! I will be going back but only to lecture. However, we have talked about creating a Youtube film of 20th century fashion on live models (not museum clothes obviously, but pieces acquired specifically for the project) so we may come out of retirement for one last project…

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The Hat Song…

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Fashion History Museum article in local paper


Alys Mak-Pilsworth (our summer student), Kenn Norman and Jonathan Walford adjusting mannequins in ‘Back to the Eighties’, now open at the Fashion History Museum, 74 Queen Street East

The first article about the Fashion History Museum’s new digs appeared on the front cover of our local Cambridge Times newspaper today. There was mention of a gala opening held on June 27 which was an error. There was no gala, only a preview weekend for ‘Fans’ – Friends of the Museum who had signed up to be notified of our events.

Although we have been open only 9 days, we are excited to already see a range of visitors from across the region and as far away as Australia and Serbia! It’s also satisfying to already see the museum bring business to Hespeler as guests head downtown to shop and eat before or after their visit. We even have our first wedding booked in gallery one! We have always felt the museum would become a major drawing card for any town where it was located and are happy to already see this happening.

Although we are still working on labels and have not yet had the time to update the website, we will be posting a complete list of every individual, business, and government source that has made the museum a reality. The FHM is entirely operated by volunteers and sometimes we just need a bit more time to make everything perfect.

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Praise for the costumer – criticism for the hairstylist…

The latest series Astronaut Wives is trying to be the new Mad Men — I don’t know if it’s succeeding because I cut the cable cord a couple of months ago and am enjoying a TV free summer. However, I just read an article about the costumer of Astronaut Wives and while I think the costumes look pretty good (judging by his recreation of this famous 1959 LIFE magazine photo), I can’t say the same for the hairdresser. I worry about any film or series that is supposed to be based on truth that doesn’t try to replicate what is known to be true.


Still from Astronaut Wives recreating the famous picture below


The real astronaut wives, 1959, photographed by LIFE magazine

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