Canadian Fashion Connection – Alan Cherry

Alan Cherry with his daughter Lisa and wife Rosalyn 1988

For over 35 years, Alan Cherry was a Toronto fashion retailer known for his upmarket eye-catching fashions.

His grandparents immigrated from Russia to Toronto in 1906 and began a dry cleaning and tailoring business. His mother started her own women’s clothing store years later.

Despite dreams of becoming a hockey player, Cherry followed in the family business, opening his own eponymously named store at 711 Yonge St., just south of Bloor, in 1970. Cherry competed with high end clothiers like Creeds and Holt Renfrew. He carried expensive European imports, bridal wear and fur coats, and for several years, a line designed by his first wife, Rosalyn.

Cherry with his mannequins, 1982

Cherry made news in 1978 when 20 Saudi princesses visited his store – an event that incited wrath from the Jewish Defence League. Controversy surfaced again a few years later when he was confronted by anti-fur protestors. In response, Cherry handed out flyers from his store from the Humane Society and made a generous donation to the organization, but continued to sell furs.

His business was at its pinnacle in the 1980s. In 1982 Cherry commissioned an artist to sculpt his likeness that he used to create four mannequins for his storefront window. Later in the decade he opened another store at 55 Avenue road in Toronto’s fashionable Yorkville Village.

After a bout with cancer and a stroke, Cherry retired and closed his store in 2006. He died at the age of 80 in 2015.

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Fashion in Song – Shoe Shopping (2017)

A Country song this time — Shoe Shopping by Old Dominion was released this year on their album Happy Endings.

Some don’t last the way they should
Some make you feel good for a little while
And then you throw ’em away
Some are up on a shelf for some other time
Some are high dollar, some ain’t worth a dime
But you keep ’em anyway

Yeah, everybody’s looking for something
So how do I catch your eye, eye, eye?

If you’re shoe shopping, walk a mile with me
Slip a Cinderella slipper right on your feet
Take my arm, strut down the street tonight
(Strut down that street tonight)
If you’re downtown on the browse about
Looking for the perfect fit, how’s about
Some high-heel, high-top, pump ’em up, flip-flop
Heads-up, lucky penny loafer on a sidewalk
Patent leather, blue suede, tailor made, whatever you like
If you’re shoe shopping, try me on for size

You’re stepping on cracks, you’re breaking your back
You’re working so damn hard just to make it look easy (easy)
Come dance with me ’cause dancing’s free
Let me sweep you right off your feet
Whatever your style is, girl, that’s what mine is
I could go good with your eyes

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Film and Fashion: Tulip Fever

It has been a LONG time since I reviewed any period film costuming. I found dissing popular films stirs up a lot of controversy (I was not a fan of The Great Gatsby or Titanic…) however, I think Tulip Fever is important to mention because the costuming is superb.

The film takes place somewhere between 1634 and 1637 (it’s never clear exactly when, but the tulip mania bust of February 1637 is referred to after the bulk of the film’s storyline has taken place.) There is then a followup at the end of the film that takes place in the mid 1640s (again no specific date is referred to – only ‘8 years later’.)

The storyline is odd – a bit of a bedroom farce drama with a happy-ish ending, I didn’t hate it but the plot was somewhat inevitable. I’m not going to say anything else because the reason you should see this film is not because of the story – it’s because of the costuming and set dressing. The furniture, carpets, oriental porcelain, and pewter set off every scene like its a painting. Early 17th century Amsterdam is delightful to watch recreated here in all its glamour, grime and Vermeer lighting.

Michael O’Connor is a fantastically good period costumer. He took care in reproducing the fashions of every character, from tradesmen to lady, with a sense of flair and authenticity – nothing looks grabbed off a ’17th century’ rack at a costume rental shop. Lace edging, starched ruffs, embroidered bodices, suede boots – everything is exquisitely reproduced.

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Canadian Fashion Connection – The Great West Felt Company

In the days before down-filled nylon and double walled synthetic rubber boots, keeping feet warm in cold, snowy weather was made possible with thick felt boots. Felt is an excellent insulator, but only when the weather stays below freezing, its hygroscopic qualities kick in when the ground becomes slushy.

Girl’s boots, 1940s

The Great West Felt Company was one of many felt companies located near woollen mills in Southwestern Ontario. The company was founded in Elmira, Ontario by Oscar Vogt, born 1868. He had worked 25 years as a travelling representative for Shurly & Dietrich, a tool manufacturer in Galt, Ontario, before incorporating the Great West Felt Company in June 1910. The plant began operation in January 1911.

The principal market for their felt boots was Canada, with some exports to Manchuria and Russia until unsettled political conditions hindered trade. In 1923, the company boasted it employed 100 people and could produce up to 1000 pairs of boots per day. Brand names for their products included ‘Great West’, ‘Coldproof’, ‘Polar King’, ‘Snow Queens’, and ‘Bonspieler’ (a line of curling boots).

Mr. Vogt married at the age of 57, and died in 1927, at the age of 59. The company continued on successfully until after World War II, but when new materials like nylon and neoprene began to enter the market, sales began to faulter. It was also by the late 1940s that salting icy roads and sidewalks became common, creating wet, slushy conditions, unsuitable for felt footwear. The Great West Felt Company closed its doors in 1951.

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Fashion Faux Pas — Inappropriate Appropriation by Raf Simons of Calvin Klein

The Debrief recently uncovered a rip-off look at New York’s SS 2018 fashion week. A zippered cape-jacket with a drawstring waist ‘designed’ by Raf Simons for Calvin Klein looked remarkably like a line for line reproduction of Bonnie Cashin’s Body Container jacket that the late Cashin had designed for Saks Fifth Avenue in 1978.

Stephanie Lake, Cashin’s former protege and heir to the Cashin archive (and author of the recently published book about Cashin), reposted The Debrief’s comparison images and included a copy of the original design notes, saying “One of the very first things Bonnie told me, the first day we met, was “I did everything for a reason”.” Lake continues “Of the color, she described it as “bright, visible, and unafraid.” It was her answer to contemporary safety concerns, specifically thinking about riding a bike / skating around NYC, and also in terms of having large pockets in lieu of a purse. High crime rates at the time!”

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Exhibition: Mode Canada 150 September 13 – November 10

The FHM Pops Up in Toronto with an exhibition for Mode Canada 150 – Then, Now, Next.

Fifty garments from the FHM are currently on display in the new Yorkville Village in downtown Toronto (second floor overlooking Whole Foods). We are part of an exhibition honouring Canada’s contribution to the world of fashion (design, journalism, modelling, beauty…) along with the Fashion Incubator, and Ryerson University (who are handling the Now and Next part of the show). The exhibition is open to the public from September 13 until November 10. The hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, admission is free. If you haven’t come to the FHM because we are in Cambridge – now is your chance!

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Pierre Berge, 1930 – 2017

Pierre Berge, the driving force behind Yves Saint Laurent, died earlier today at the age of 86. Berge built the YSL fashion empire and went on to become one of France’s most influential figures in the worlds of fashion, art, business, and even politics.

Pierre and Yves’ tumultuous love affair ended in a civil union a few days before Yves died of a brain tumour in 2008.

Two museums founded by Berge dedicated to the work of Yves Saint Laurent are scheduled to open in Paris and Marrakesh, later this year.

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Celebrity Fashion Brand – Betty Wales

A recent article about celebrity fashion brands brought to mind a number of names from over the past 150 years. However, a few names came to mind that are also not real people – Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima are some of the fictional celebrities used to sell food, but fictional characters have also sold apparel.

Betty Wales was a character from a series of novels written by Edith Kellogg Dunton under the nom de plume Margaret Warde. The novels in which the college-aged Betty Wales appears were published between 1904 and 1917. The books were immensely popular with teens and collegiate aged women.

In 1915 a line of ‘Betty Wales’ dresses were created in conjunction with Dunton’s publisher – the purchase of a dress entitled the buyer to a free book from the series. Advertisements for Betty Wales dresses appear frequently in the late 1910s and 1920s when the company grew from its New York origins into the midwest, with a line of Betty Wales dress shops.

The Chicago Tribune reported in their January 21, 1931 edition: “Betty Wales Dress Shops Inc., now at 67 East Madison Street and 4601 Sheridan road, and with a store in New York City, have leased the entire four story building at 172 North Michigan Ave. for twenty years at a net term rental of $400,000 annually. The building formerly was occupied by the National Cash Register Company… A new front will be built throughout the entire building of black and white marble, with all outside metal work satin finish cast aluminum in modern design… Mundie & Jensen, Chicago architects will represent the owner… David Baer, president of the Betty Wales Dress Shops, Inc., states that since the opening of their first store in Chicago in 1919, their business has enjoyed a steady growth until today the quarters at 67 East Madison street – has become entirely too small.”

The company continued on well after the death of Edith Dunton in 1944 when the identity and origin of Betty Wales was all but forgotten. The most recent example of a Betty Wales labelled dress I could find was a little black dress from the mid 1960s.

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Montreal in two days and six exhibitions – Exhibits 4, 5 & 6 in Old Montreal

Montreal History Centre

Day two in Montreal was spent walking until chafed — mostly in Old Montreal. This historic area is a strange mix of beautiful architecture and tourist hell. Many buildings are empty of tenants and endless shops of ‘Canadian’ art and souvenirs seem to be the only businesses, other than restaurants that, if our lunch is any measure, offer only adequate quality cuisine.

Amazonian headdress decorated with parrot feathers


Our first museum visit was the Montreal History Centre, located in a beautiful Beaux Arts style fire hall built in 1903. Like many other museums, they also had an exhibition about Montreal in 1967 (this is where I found a second example of a Quebec hostess uniform on display after the first one I saw at the McCord.) The exhibition was not artifact rich, and used films and various computer presentations instead. My favourite was a virtual reality ride on an Expo monorail. Another was a touch screen mosaic with dozens of stories about everything from political unrest to pop songs in Montreal during the era. The best story was a recollection by a man who was 13 when he bicycled from Michigan to Montreal to see Expo 67 – with his parent’s blessing!

MASSIVE hat/masks used for dancing

Our second exhibition was a random surprise. I had forgotten to check the Point-à-Calliere Archeology and History Museum to see what they had on display, so it was a pleasant surprise to find a superb exhibition of Amazonian Native dress and tools on loan from the Ethnographic Museum of Geneva, and the Royal Museums of Art and History of Brussels. The exhibition included colourful parrot feather-trimmed headresses, decorative arm bands, and woven loin cloths, baskets, and masks. The presentation used stunning lighting and sound effects to evoke the Amazon river and heavy tree canopy. This is not a part of the world I know much about, so it was a great learning experience and visual treat. Amazonia is on until October 22.

Our final museum visit was to the Bonsecours market where the Musee de la Mode has 3,000 square feet of exhibition and administrative space – the same size as the FHM. Their current exhibition is called Established in Montreal and is about Montreal manufacturers and retailers. There are plenty of examples in their department store inspired presentation, but the majority of artifacts date after 1965. I know one of the biggest problems of having a small space is trying to keep a balance of artifacts on display that appeal to the broadest market, and I would have liked to see more older items mixed in. This exhibition continues until the end of the year.

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Montreal in two days and six exhibitions – Exhibits 2 & 3 – Musee des Beaux Arts

Paco Rabanne outfit for Jane Fonda in Barbarella

The Musee des Beaux Arts has created some phenomenal fashion exhibitions in the past. This is where the amazing Yves St. Laurent retrospective was launched in 2008, as well as where the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibition was conceived and began its long world tour in 2011. This summer it has two exhibitions I wanted to see, although the first was not strictly a fashion exhibition.

Revolution was created in collaboration with the Victoria & Albert museum (modified and expanded for the Quebec audience.) The exhibition looks at consumerism, protests, drugs, concerts, civil rights, sex and everything else that was revolutionary about the late 1960s. Several galleries tell parts of the story in a categorical approach to the topic. The artifacts were spectacular – ranging from John Lennon’s suit from the Sgt. Pepper album cover to the chain mail outfit made by Paco Rabanne for Jane Fonda in Barbarella… really iconic pieces.

The dress on the left is by Thea Porter, but I couldn’t read anything more about it or the caftan next to it because the labels were either illegible or inaccessible due to the crowds in the Woodstock gallery standing in front of the cases

However, this exhibition had some organizational issues. Firstly, the audio sets were just music and added no further information to the show. The labelling was largely unreadable – dark text was often applied to vertical glass, becoming illegible in the dimly lit galleries. Some label information was missing or wrong: A Wiccan robe decorated with silver lurex was identified as dating from 1953 – unlikely as lurex was barely available in 1953, and besides the show was about the 60s, not the 50s. I could find no label to identify a peacock chair, and Greenpeace was not founded in California, but in Vancouver B.C. in 1971.

The show was also not well laid out for accessibility. In the second to last gallery, a massive wall projection of scenes from Woodstock was playing and the floor scattered with large pillows so that visitors could lie down to enjoy the projection. This left a narrow walkway at the back where other visitors stood to watch the film. The problem is they stood in front of the glass cases that had the REAL artifacts worn to Woodstock! Why anyone would waste their time watching clips they can see on Netflix while ignoring the actual garments worn by Roger Daltry, Jimi Hendrix, and Janice Joplin is beyond me!

A variety of Carnaby street fashions including Mick Jagger’s stuffed jumpsuit

Fortunately an exhibition of wedding attire by Jean Paul Gaultier downstairs more than made up for any complaints I had about the Revolution show.

Love is Love is a spectacular exhibition of wedding attire created by Jean Paul Gaultier that includes pieces he has designed over the last twenty-odd years. A massive tiered wedding cake in the middle of the gallery holds the bulk of the dresses and suits, shown in non-traditional pairings, while other unusual wedding outfits line the outer walls that have been covered with a scrim creating ghostly 3D images of chairs and picture frames – the presentation is fantastic.

In one corner is a mannequin on a swing with a massive train that had been the backdrop for the duration of a fashion show, until the wedding dress (traditionally the last image in a fashion show) appeared and the backdrop turned into her train. Gaultier’s clothes always surprise you – there is nothing typical about his work. Superb tailoring stands next to patchwork frou-frou and while some garments appear to be original ideas, others are unapologetically appropriated and reinvented.

The artifacts in Revolution, and the artifacts and presentation in Love is Love are worth seeing. Revolution concludes October 9, and Love is Love ends October 22.

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