The Canadian Queen – Canada’s first fashion magazine

jonathon 51 CANADIAN QUEEN DECEMBER 1890 1In print for about three years, the exact dates of publication for The Canadian Queen are not known because no library seems to own a complete run. However, calculating from what exists and the issue numbers that appear on the publications, The Canadian Queen debuted sometime in 1889 and ended in late 1892 or early 1893, possibly due to the  economic depression of 1893 (although it is not known if this was the cause.)

9801956634_057401ba5d_zLike most ‘fashion’ magazines of the time, The Canadian Queen was really a women’s magazine with a mix of fiction, travel articles, household advice and fashion. The fashions depicted in The Canadian Queen are really just a Canadian printing of Harper’s Bazaar fashion plates that appeared in several international publications. The drawings for Harper’s Bazaar were mostly created in Germany from French fashion reports. The Canadiana division of the Library of Parliament has 19 issues of The Canadian Queen scanned and available online to view.

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The Fashion of Politics

Paper dress with image of Pierre Trudeau, 1968

Paper dress with image of Pierre Trudeau, 1968

The FHM is loaning 13 pieces (including the Trudeau paper dress from the 1968 Liberal leadership convention shown at right) to the Toronto Design Exchange for their exhibition Fashion of Politics/Politics of Fashion, opening this Thursday. There was a great article in the Globe and Mail this weekend that featured highlights from the exhibition.

One of the best examples of fashion and politics is relevant to an historic vote happening this week that may result in Scotland becoming independent of England. In 1746 the tartan and kilt was abolished in Scotland in an attempt to subdue Highlander rebellion and bring them under government control. After the law was repealed in 1782, the wearing of tartan kilts became the national dress of Scotland.

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What I Did on My Summer Holiday – Part 2 – A Bit of Shopping…

After hitting several antique stores in Canandaigua, New York we headed off to Sturbridge.

Girl's straw hat, c. 1870 from Canandaigua antique store; Green mohair and embroiderd satin cloche, early 1920s, and Grape decorated Early Edwardian hat with New York label, c. 1905, both from Sturbridge sale.

I bought more than just hats, but they were a favourite this trip: Girl’s straw hat, c. 1870 from Canandaigua antique store; Green mohair and embroiderd satin cloche, early 1920s, and Grape decorated Early Edwardian hat with New York label, c. 1905, both from Sturbridge sale.

We had never been to the Sturbridge Antique Clothing and Textile Show, although we used to go to Molly’s vintage sale in Springfield, Mass in the late 1980s and early 1990s. After Molly retired the Sturbridge show sprang up in its place. Of the advertised 140 booths at the Sturbridge sale I would estimate there were about 90 dealers because many took double spaces. Although I spent the entire day at the sale thoroughly checking racks, there were a few booths I skipped over because I know from experience they rarely have the sort of things that appeal to me: The ‘Millennial’ dealers where 1997 is considered a good vintage year and all merchandise is priced under twenty-dollars, and the ‘Pristine’ dealers who only sell items in perfect condition at high prices to women with healthy chequebooks. These dealers are aimed at a demographic that isn’t me, and that’s fine – I get what they are doing. However, there is another type of dealer I don’t get.

Girl's embroidered straw cloche from Canandaigua antique store; Green felt hat trimmed with grapes and multi-coloured straw hat trimmed with red flowers and feathers,  both early Edwardian, from the Sturbridge sale

Girl’s embroidered straw cloche from Canandaigua antique store; Green felt hat trimmed with grapes and multi-coloured straw hat trimmed with red flowers and feathers, both early Edwardian, from the Sturbridge sale

These dealers rarely have any good merchandising skills, they cram far too many items onto their racks, don’t organize their stock by any visible means, and don’t let damage influence their asking price, which is usually not marked on a tag. Their booths have a jumble sale aesthetic but their prices are commensurate with the  ‘pristine’ dealers, except that nothing is pristine. One booth from this category had a white knit dress from the 1930s with a red, yellow, and green striped collar and cuffs. The belt was missing and there were three dark brown spots on the front of the skirt. It was priced at $500.00! Another dealer had a late 1890s pink brocade evening gown with a Henry Morgan, Montreal label. There was underarm damage and the dress was not what you could call ‘fresh’ – not surprising, as I am sure it had gone through many sales with its asking price of $2,800.00! I backed away from both those booths as there was no point in even attempting to negotiate since I would value their items at a fraction of their asking price. Aside from these booths there were many dealers who had wonderful things at fair market prices. For some reason I bought mostly hats that day but I got other items too, from some early Vogue magazines to a fantastic 1880s parasol.

Gingham mob cap, c. 1910, from Canandaigua antique store; Gold silk caleche, c. 1830s, from Sturbridge sale; and man's riding hat, c. 1920, from Brimfield antique show

Gingham mob cap, c. 1910, from Canandaigua antique store; Gold silk caleche, c. 1830s, from Sturbridge sale; and man’s riding hat, c. 1920, from Brimfield antique show

The next day it was off to Brimfield. It has been twenty years since I have been to Brimfield and the differences between then and now are conspicuous. The eBay factor has changed everything, made evident by the amount of ‘junque’ on the fields geared more for decorating chic than antique collectors. There were far too many birdhouses made from vintage license plates, bulk tribal ware imports, as well as non-trendy collectables such as Depression glassware and china head dolls. Most of the few in-demand and quality vintage and antique items I saw were not priced for their rustic venue but rather a Manhattan antique shop, like a pair of garnet suede shoes from the late 1930s I found in one booth priced at $235.00. Brimfield used to be a wholesaler’s marketplace, but that isn’t the case anymore.

It didn’t help that day (Tuesday, September 2) was the hottest day of the summer. We were 3 1/2 fields into the sale with three purchases in total when we decided to call it quits – it was already 97 degrees Fahrenheit, not including  humidity, and only 11 a.m. In retrospect I was happy with Sturbridge and look forward to coming back, but I don’t have the stamina for Brimfield anymore – it ain’t what it used to be.

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What I did on my Summer Holiday – part 1 Genesee Country Village

Display cases on top of pull-out storage drawers

Display cases on top of pull-out storage drawers

Between working towards getting the museum open and caring for geriatric cats it has been 6 1/2 years since we have had a holiday. We broke that streak last week when we took a five-day car trip to Massachusetts, ultimately to attend the Sturbridge Antique Textile and Vintage Clothing sale, as well as the Brimfield Antique Show. We used to go to Brimfield all the time but the last time we were down was 1993 but more about that later.

To break our journey in two we stopped at Canandaigua New York on the way down to do a bit of antiquing, and take in Genesee Country Village and Museum. The recreated village of 19th century historic buildings also maintains a massive textile and clothing collection acquired from private collector Susan Greene, who recently authored a book on American printed textiles.

The Virginian and Ebenezer Scrooge, obscured by glare and reflections from light (we didn't use a flash)

The Virginian and Ebenezer Scrooge, obscured by glare and reflections from light (we didn’t use a flash)

Despite an oversight at the entry gate to inform us the restaurant would be closing at 2 p.m. that day (just as we stopped for lunch), we did enjoy our visit, especially to the gallery of costume. Their exhibition featured fashions from literature, with  garments that resembled what would have been worn by characters from novels such as: Pride and Prejudice, Tom Sawyer, and Sleepy Hollow. The concept and clothes on display were great (I am totally going to steal this idea), however, despite my admiration the display itself failed on technical merit.

One of the pull-out drawers featuring a man's summer jacket made from pina cloth

One of the pull-out drawers featuring a man’s 1850s summer jacket made from pina cloth

I can overlook the cases for being too narrow for full crinoline dresses, and I can’t fault the exhibition for its less than perfect mannequins because I know how hard it is to find suitable, versatile, and affordable mannequins. The real problem comes from the ill-conceived idea of making the gallery an open-storage style presentation with display cases set on top of the pull-out drawers that house the open storage artifacts. The display cases are far too high to comfortably view any garment above knee level, and most of the drawers don’t pull out sufficiently enough to view the artifacts in the back row. The worst issue caused by this arrangement is the glare created by the gallery lighting in the glass that extends all the way to the ceiling. A dark purple background inside the case makes it even more distracting by turning the glass into almost a mirror. To solve this problem the artifacts need to be lit from inside, and the backgrounds painted  a light colour to downplay the ‘glaring’ problem from gallery lighting.

Had this been a small museum that was just trying to do its best the problem could be overlooked, but the building this gallery is housed in recently underwent a 2.7 million renovation! If you can overlook the presentation, the treasures within are superb…

To be continued…

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Dye Bleeds – Shazbot!

T-shirt featuring Robin Williams as Mork from Ork, dated 1978, Paramount Pictures Trademark

T-shirt featuring Robin Williams as Mork from Ork, dated 1978

A few days ago I decided to clean-up the storage room as too many things were in need of being put away in their proper boxes. In the bottom of a plastic bag I rediscovered this 1978 T-shirt featuring Robin Williams as Mork. I bought it at an ‘antique mall’ at the beginning of the summer and completely forgot about it.

Although I watched a few Mork and Mindy episodes when it was originally aired (1978-1982), it was not one of my favourites. I always thought the wardrobe for Mork was a bit past its ‘best before’ date — that disco-hobo look was a little more mid 70s Shields and Yarnell or Godspell, as I remember it. Regardless, thirty-five years later the T-shirt now appealed to me so I bought it for three dollars to use in some future 1970s exhibition.

Close-up of the bleed along the collar

Close-up of the bleed along the collar

This was before the sad news of Robin William’s death, so when I rediscovered the shirt I thought I might feature it on Facebook, but it needed a freshening up as it smelled from decades of being stored in a musty basement. Unfortunately, even though I thought I had been careful testing the blue dye on the knitted collar and cuffs for fastness, after a quick wash with PH balanced soap in cool water, a cold water rinse, then a roll-up in a bath towel to remove excess moisture and hanging to air dry, a small amount of the blue dye still migrated into the adjacent white cotton. I should have known better as I have noticed that dyes on items that have been stored in a damp place seem to be more migrant than if they had been stored in a dry place. I have rarely had a bad experience with washing things because I am usually very careful, (ever since an unfortunate event when I was a young collector involving a 1940 rayon dress with gelatin sequins…) but I should have been more vigilant in testing the blue dye on the collar – as Mork would say – Shazbot!

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Agnew-Surpass Shoes 1928-2000


Brown snakeskin shoes labelled ‘Fashion Plate – styled exclusively for Agnew-Surpass’ c. 1950

Founded in Brantford, Ontario by John Agnew in 1879, his shoe store grew to include three locations before merging in 1928 with Surpass stores. Agnew-Surpass Shoe Stores Ltd. soon grew to become Canada’s largest national footwear chain.

In 1962 the chain was acquired by American footwear retailing and manufacturing giant Genesco. In 1987 the chain was resold to Vancouver entrepeneur and former Bata Shoe executive Michael Graye for 89 million. It was discovered in 1996 that Graye had laundered money through the Cayman Islands during the deal, which lead to a 4 year jail sentence for Graye in 2003.

Shoe sales for Agnew-Surpass dwindled under competition from big-box discount shoe sellers that entered the Canadian market in the 1990s. In August 2000 Agnew-Surpass declared bankruptcy and closed its 223 stores across Canada.

Agnew Surpass Shoe Store, Fairview Mall, Toronto, 1972

Agnew Surpass Shoe Store, Fairview Mall, Toronto, 1972

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Same fabric, same year, different designer

aldrich 1966IMGP9923_2The c. 1966 dress and coat at right, from the FHM collection, is labelled by the Parisian designer Jacques Heim, but the dated 1966 fashion image to the left shows a model wearing a dress of the same material by American designer Larry Aldrich.

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Lauren Bacall’s shoes

Rene ManciniLauren Bacall’s passing today reminded me that although the FHM doesn’t have a lot of famous people’e clothing, one of the celebrity items we do have is a pair of shoes from the personal wardrobe of Lauren Bacall from about 1956. These navy blue kid leather shoes with almond shaped toes and slim, stiletto heels are about a size 9 but very narrow and look like they were worn a half dozen times at most. There is no sizing on them because they are custom made by Rene Mancini – the Parisian shoemaker who takes credit for designing the classic Chanel pump with black toe cap in 1957.

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Hitler’s hat


Marowitz holding his souvenir in 2003

An article caught my eye yesterday about the late Richard Marowitz who was with the reconnaissance unit of the 42nd Infantry Division during World War II. When his unit was in Munich cleaning out Hitler’s apartment he came across the former Führer’s top hat and “smashed the hell out of it” Marowitz told the Associated Press in 2001. It was April 30, the day Hitler died in his bunker in Berlin. “When he heard some skinny Jewish kid stomped all over his favourite hat, he committed suicide,” Marowitz joked in the 2001 interview. The story was featured in the 2003 documentary “Hitler’s Hat”. Marowitz died earlier this week in Albany, New York. His family will be donating the hat to a museum.

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Why is this piece of rusty junk so important to fashion history?

nikewaffleironjpg-e73d3769cd58db34In 1971 Bill Bowerman was tinkering with the idea of how to make track or football shoes without spikes that could be worn on blacktop or artificial turf but work equally as well on grass or gravel. His eureka moment came one Sunday morning at his home in Oregon when he sat down to a plate of waffles. After breakfast he made a cast of the waffle plates to create soles with protruding nubs that provided traction like a tread on a tire.

At the 1972 Olympic trials in Oregon, Bowerman and his business partner Phil Knight persuaded some of the marathon runners to wear samples of his waffle-soled shoes. Convinced they had a winning style, the two founded their company ‘Nike’ while they refined the waffle sole. In 1974 they launched their track shoes with the ‘swoosh’ trademark onto the market, and by 1979 Nike held a 50% share of the American sneaker market.

The original waffle iron and experimental versions of his shoes were thought to have been thrown away, but in 2010 a rubbish pit was unearthed on Bowerman’s property that contained the original Art Deco 1930s waffle iron, and some of the early shoe prototypes. The original waffle plates that Bowerman had used to cast his sole mold are still missing. However, the unearthed collection was conserved and now resides at Nike headquarters.


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