Fashion Humour

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The House of Eliott – 25 years later

I only saw parts of the House of Eliott when it was originally broadcast 1991 – 1994 because we lived in a building that didn’t have cable. I remember liking the series, and so when a copy of the DVDs came our way, I grabbed it for the museum’s library. We just finished a semi-marathon of watching the series over the past week and although I didn’t love everything, the series is good. The clothing is usually exceptional. Joan Wadge, who did the costuming in series one and three is especially good. There are some problems, especially with hats, in the second series when they brought in a different costumer.

In case you haven’t seen it, the story is about two sisters whose father dies in 1920, leaving them with little formal education and not enough money to survive without working or marrying. The two middle class women set about to ambitiously create a couture house, and, despite a few bumps in the road, their venture becomes prosperous and they become famous.

The series ran for three years but then ended, with no resolve after a season three cliff-hanger finale. The show did become soapier as it went along. The first year is the best in terms of being a really good history lesson about the post World War One world: the economy, society, role of women, and the couture industry. In series two and three, the story drifts at times, introducing characters and unexpected twists and deaths to keep viewers interested. The clothing industry and the two heroines are no longer always the focus. However, even though the two women are often shown as reactionary, quick to anger, and make egregious business mistakes, failing to take sage advice or hire lawyers when they should, you root for them, even when they are arrogant and unlikable at times.

The series is ripe for a reunion movie or series set in the late 40s that picks up the story, this time of middle-aged women in the clothing business in post World War II England. But if it does get revived, I hope they plan to resolve each season, so there are no cliff-hangers!

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When everything was Tango…

On September 15, the Fashion History Museum will be hosting a Tango Tea. A popular entertainment that developed during the years leading up to World War 1, and survived until the end of prohibition. The soiree allowed men and women to take afternoon tea in reputable palm-filled hotel courts where they could view and learn the latest dances.

The tango was a sensuous dance that originated in the brothels of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century. Sanitized of its overt salaciousness, professional dancers like Irene and Vernon Castle demonstrated the tango (as well as other novelty dances, often named after animals like the turkey trot, bunny-hug, and foxtrot) at Tango Teas. Although not everyone approved:

“Unspeakable Jazz Must Go! …We reprove those dances which are lascivious, such as the Fox-trot, the Tango, the Turkey-trot, and others of the same kind, by whatever name they may be called . . . Rapid and jerky music is condemned and with any form of improper dancing is disapproved of as degrading tendency.” Ladies Home Journal, December, 1921

Despite some pious disapproval, the tango became popular, and was not just the namesake for an afternoon dance, but also a style of footwear. Tango boots and shoes, brought attention to the ankle that was often extended during the dance, showcasing the colourful, footwear and highlighting the shapely ankle with criss-crossed ribbons or lattice-cutwork.

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The World’s First Booty Call

142 years ago, on August 10, 1876 Alexander Graham Bell received the world’s first long distance telephone call in Robert White’s Boot and Shoe store and Telegraph office. The one way phone call made 13 km away from the Dominion Telegraph office in Brantford, Ontario used the telegraph wires to transmit the sounds of musical notes and the human voice, both spoken and sung. This was one of many tests being conducted by Bell after he received the U.S. patent for his telephone in March of that year.

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Fashion in Song – Fashion (2009)

I am, I’m too fabulous
I’m so, fierce that it’s so nuts
I live, to be model thin
Dress me, I’m your mannequin
J’adore Vivienne habillez moi,
Gucci, Fendi, et Prada.
Valentino, Armani too.
Merde I love them Jimmy Choo

Fashion put it all on me
Don’t you want to see these clothes on me
Fashion put it all on me
I am anyone you want me to be

Oh oh, la la la
We love designer

I need, some new stilettos
Can’t walk, down the street in those
You are, who you wear it’s true
A girl’s just as hot as the shoes she choose
J’adore Weitzman habillez moi, .
Louis, Dolce Gabbana,
Alexander McQueen, eh oh
Merde love those Manolo

Fashion put it all on me
Don’t you want to see these clothes on me
Fashion put it all on me
I am anyone you want me to be

Oh oh, la la la
We love designer

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Casual Corner, 1950 – 2005

Founded in 1950, Casual Corner was an American retail clothing chain that operated stores under the brand names of Casual Corner, Petite Sophisticate and August Max Woman. The women’s sportswear store, founded by Charles Carples and Stanley Vogel in West Hartford, Connecticut, grew into a chain of 20 locations when it was sold to United States Shoe Corporation in 1970 (U.S. Shoe was diversifying outside of the footwear industry at the time.) By April, 1971, the chain had grown to 25 stores, and doubled to over 50 within two years – aimed at the junior and young woman’s market. By 1995, when U.S. Shoe was bought out by Luxottica, Casual Corner was just shy of its peak of 525 national stores offering clothes for the working woman’s wardrobe. Expensive mall rents, cheaper, off-shore manufacturing, and online shopping forced the chain into liquidation in 2005.

The following images are from an undated Casual Corner catalogue, c. 1974

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Rick Genest ‘Zombie Boy’ 1985 – 2018

Canadian model, artist, and tattoo world-record-holder Rick Genest, aka Zombie Boy’, has died from suicide. Quebec-born Genest came to fame in 2011 when he appeared for the first time as a model for Thierry Mugler menswear, shortly afterwards, Lady Gaga asked him to appear in the video for her song Born This Way.

Genest, whose body was covered 90% by tattoos, became famous for his extreme tattooing, and held the world record for the most number of insect, and bone tattoos.

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Tony Day Sweaters 1946 – 1970

In 1946, Bob and Mary Pritchard began making sweaters in a garage near their home in Kitchener, Ontario. They used a knitting machine Bob had purchased while serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force during the War. The company was officially called Keith-Day Knitwear Limited (Keith, Day, and Tony were relatives of the Pritchards), although they were best known by their product line – Tony Day Sweaters.  The company grew and was soon located in the upstairs of a building at 75 Queen Street South in Kitchener.

In 1954, the Pritchards sold their company to Richard Wurtele and the company moved to 210 Regina Street North in Waterloo, Ontario. According to a 1956 company profile, there was a staff of 136 who worked with 17 knitting machines to produce 6,000 sweaters weekly.

Interior of Keith-Day Knitwear, c. 1960

Tony Day sweaters were typical pullovers and ‘Perry Como’ style cardigans, often made up in bright colours in a washable wool/Orlon yarn. The sweaters were made cut out pieces with serged edges rather than the more labour intensive method of pieces knitted to shape with finished edges.

Although Keith-Day was a successful brand that employed about 300 people by the 1960s, the company couldn’t compete with lower priced imported sweaters. Peter Wurtele, who had inherited the company from his father Richard, was general manager in 1970 when he made the decision to halt operations.

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Savage Shoes

Saddle shoes by Savage, c. 1955

Founded in 1922, the Parker-Steel Shoes Ltd. company of Preston, Ontario, was bought out in 1927 by Laurence Melville Savage, his father, and a business partner. In 1936 Savage also acquired Hurlbut Shoes, and the Wragge Shoe Company of Galt, Ontario. On March 3, 1937, all three companies were combined into a new firm: Savage Shoe Company Limited.

Advertisement, March 1954

In 1946, a new plant was added in Fergus, Ontario, and more shoe companies were acquired soon afterwards, including Charles A. Ahrens Ltd. of Kitchener, and Lashbrook Shoe Co., of Preston Ontario. By 1953, when the company’s official name was changed to Savage Shoes Ltd., they were known for making children’s, girl’s, and women’s cement (glued), and goodyear welted shoes. They were Canada’s leading manufacturer of saddle shoes. By 1963, Savage had been acquired by the International Shoe Company, which included interests in McHale-Florsheim, Medcalf, and the Scroggins Shoe Co., producing popular brands such as: Hi-Lo; Jack & Jill; Jumping Jacks; Melody; Pussyfoot; Queen Quality; Red Goose; Vitality; McHale; Florsheim; and more…

In 1970, the company’s name was officially altered to Interco Savage Ltd., but the shoe industry was quickly diminishing in Canada, and in 1979 Savage closed its doors.

Savage Shoe employees, Fergus, Ontario, June 1960

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Costume Designer Piero Tosi

Death in Venice

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, I used to watch movies on T.V. that played into the wee hours of the morning. Many were melodramatic foreign films with fantastic sets and period costumes starring actors I had never heard of. They were usually badly dubbed or had that weird echoey sound like the actors were talking into a jar, but they were mesmerizingly beautiful films.

Ludwig

There was a time from the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s when period costumed films were sumptuously detailed – sure, the actresses almost always wore too much eyeliner and mascara, but the costuming often had meticulous recreations by designers like Piero Tosi – one of the best period costume designers ever (IMHO).

The Damned

Tosi was born in Florence in 1927, and in 1951 he became a costume designer for the film Bellissima, directed by Luchino Visconti. Tosi often worked with Visconti and some of his films, done in the 1960s and 1970s, were stunning. The Leopard (1963) set in Sicily in 1860; The Damned (1969) set in Germany in 1934; Death in Venice (1971) set in Venice in 1912; Ludwig (1973) set in Bavaria between 1864 and 1886; The Innocent (1976) set in Rome in the early 1890s… All of them were beautifully costumed.

Tosi never won an Oscar for a specific film, although he was given an honorary Academy Award in 2013, which he didn’t pick up in person because he fears flying. He did win many other awards for his work, mostly in Europe. Tosi is still with us, but he hasn’t worked in film since 2004.

The Leopard

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