The Sock Exchange…


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Canadian Fashion Connection – R.M. Wanzer & Company

littleA-OWhile searching for what information I could find about the history of the Hespeler Sewing Machine Company I kept running into R. M. WANZER & Co., a longer lasting and far more successful Hamilton Ontario based sewing machine company.

In 1860, American born Richard Mott Wanzer began manufacturing the first sewing machines made in Canada. Prior to the Patent Act of 1872 in Canada, manufacturers could copy or incorporate American patents into their own machines, and Wanzer did just that, producing machines with patented features by the American Wheeler and Wilson, and  Singer companies.

View possibly of Richard Wanzer's daughter modelling the Little Wanzer, c. 1870

Advertisement for the Little Wanzer sewing machine, c. 1870 The model is possibly Wanzer’s daughter

In 1862 Wanzer and Company produced their own product, the “Family Shuttle Sewing Machine”, which combined the best features of the Wheeler and Wilson, and Singer machines. Two years later Wanzer’s 70 employees were producing 60 of these machines per week. In 1868 Wanzer introduced the “Little Wanzer”, a compact, simple machine with the affordable price of $25.00 (about $650 in today’s money.) More than 4,000 were sold in the first year.

By 1871 Wanzer was producing 1,000 machines a week in a new factory as well as machine parts for shipping to foreign markets where the Little Wanzer was assembled for resale in the U.K., Australia, South Africa, Turkey, Egypt, and Brazil. After 1881 the company’s fortunes turned as increased competition, overproduction, and a soft economy ate into profits. Wanzer closed in 1890. Ten years later Richard Wanzer died and his body lay in state in Hamilton City Hall before burial.

14185065132_145f5641df_zIMGP8186View of R.M. Wanzer’s original factory at the corner of James and Vine streets in Hamilton (left, c. 1860s, right, 2014). This factory was in use between about 1862 and 1878. A much larger factory on Barton street was in use by 1871 to produce Little Wanzer machines. However, that factory burned down in January 1892, a little over a year after the company had closed. There is more information about Richard Wanzer and his company here and on other sites.

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Early Sewing Machines

With the news of the Fashion History Museum finding a home in the former town of Hespeler, I was recently asked if we had a Hespeler sewing machine in the collection (if you have one let me know, I would like to acquire one for the collection.) I had never heard of the brand before and began looking online to see what I could find.

i156bIt turns out that the machines were not made in the town of Hespeler, but the company was founded by the same man for which the town of Hespeler is named. German born Jacob Hespeler was an entrepreneurial industrialist who in 1845 began building mills along the Speed River. The village that grew there was named in his honour in 1859 and Jacob became its first reeve. In 1871 Hespeler founded his eponymous sewing machine company, but the factory for making the machines was located in the more populated and industrialized city of Hamilton, 30 miles south.

The "Little Wanzer" Polka named after the Wanzer sewing machine, c. 1874

The “Little Wanzer” Polka named after the Wanzer sewing machine, c. 1870

Canada was a prolific sewing machine manufacturer in the 1860s and 1870s because it could bypass American patent protection. The City of Hamilton was the hub of sewing machine production that in 1871 accounted for 14% of the city’s industrial output. The first company to set up in 1860 was created by Richard Wanzer who made four machines per week. Wanzers was followed by Wilson, Bowman & Company in 1868; Gardner Sewing Machine Company in 1870; and the Hespeler Sewing Machine Company in 1871.

View of the Nine-hours, May, 1872, that included delegations from all of Hamilton's sewing machine companies.

View of the Nine-hours parade, May 15 1872, that included delegations from all of Hamilton’s sewing machine companies.

Little is known of the Hespeler Sewing Machine Co. however, its factory was built by Albert Hills, an important Hamilton architect. In 1872 a delegation of workers from the factory marched in the Nine Hours Parade – a demonstration in support of the nine hour work day. This historically significant parade was one of the first in the history of organized labour. Six bands and hundreds of  delegates from industries in and around Hamilton carried banners identifying their work place, including representatives from all the sewing machine companies.

Ownership of the Hespeler Sewing Machine Company changed in late 1872 or early 1873. Jacob Hespeler was facing financial troubles and the Patent Act of 1872 ended the loophole that allowed Canadian manufacturers to copy or incorporate American patents without paying royalties to the patent holders. Even worse for business was the ‘Panic of 1873′ – an economic depression that began in Europe and lasted until 1879. Hespeler left Canada, probably to avoid creditors, but returned to Canada a few years later, and died in 1881. Under new ownership, the Hespeler Sewing Machine Company lasted until 1875 or early 1876 when the factory was sold and retooled, becoming a clock manufacturer producing 3,000 clocks per month.

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Join us November 22 at our new home for a special sale


(November 10/Cambridge, ON) – For the first time, the Fashion History Museum (FHM) and The Vintage Marketplace are partnering to provide a truly unique vintage holiday shopping event! Having found a new, permanent home at the Old Post Office in Hespeler, the Fashion History Museum is hosting a special edition of Hamilton’s popular vintage shopping consumer show.

On Saturday, November 22nd, holiday shoppers will be treated to the unique offering of vintage clothing, jewellery, accessories, books, décor and collectables, with 11 vendors from across Southern Ontario bringing their one-of-a-kind finds. There will be something for everyone on your holiday list!

Pop in early to have the first pick of must-haves, or make a day of it and listen to DJ Donna Lovejoy spin vinyl records of days past, while enjoying some great local flavours.

“We’re excited to have a new partner in the Fashion History Museum and bring a special holiday edition of our show to a new audience and city, “says Andreana Hudson, Producer of The Vintage Marketplace.

The show runs Saturday, November 22nd from 11AM TO 6PM, with an entrance fee of $5 at the door. The Old Post Office in Hespeler is located at 74 Queen Street East, Cambridge, ON.

Visit or follow @TheVintageMP on Twitter.

For more information contact:

Andreana Hudson, The Vintage Marketplace (905) 975-8055 or

FHM Holiday Postcard_proofb

FHM Holiday Postcard_proof

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Elena Lily Jamon – Toronto Milliner

Elena Lily Jamon in her atelier, 1950s

Elena Lily Jamon in her atelier, 1950s

L’airs du temps has been working overtime this week. The name ‘El Jamon’ keeps coming up – not as in the literal Spanish translation ‘The Ham’ but rather the Canadian milliner, Elena Lily Jamon, who labelled her hats ‘El Jamon’. ‘Lily’ as she was known, was born in Winnipeg in 1918 and by the late 1940s was making hats in Toronto.

Square hat 'El Jamon' c. 1964

Square hat ‘El Jamon’ c. 1964

In 1953 Lily was hired to supply historic hat styles for the production of Richard III – Stratford Festival’s inaugural performance starring Alec Guinness. She maintained an association with the annual festival until at least 1963 where she is identified as E.L. Jamon in playbill acknowledgments.

Sheepskin hood by 'El Jamon' c. 1966

Sheepskin hood by ‘El Jamon’ c. 1966

Over the years I have seen several El Jamon labelled hats at sales and have acquired a couple for the collection, including a black felt pillbox with grosgrain ribbons wired into square shaped trims from about 1964, and a sheep or goatskin hood from about 1966 (that was originally worn with a Pucci apres-ski tunic and tights.) Elena’s millinery business faded during the 1970s, along with the general fashion for hats. Although examples of El Jamon hats exist in several Canadian collections, little else is known of Elena Lily Jamon; her career as a milliner was not even mentioned in her October 31, 2009 obituary that appeared in the Toronto Star.

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It Came From Hollywood!

The Fashion History Museum has partnered with the Grand River Film Festival again this year, this time with a display of fashions by Gilbert Adrian (1903 – 1959). While he was the head designer at MGM studios Adrian costumed over 230 films including: Mata Hari (1931), The Women (1939), Wizard of Oz (1939), Philadelphia Story (1940), and Woman of the Year (1942). He influenced fashions by promoting a broad shouldered silhouette that would become the dominant style of the 1940s. From 1942 to 1952, Adrian reduced his costuming work to concentrate on mainstream fashion, creating suits and dresses for high-end department stores.

Adrian suit and hat, mid 1940s, and beige silk jersey and chiffon evening gown, c. late 1940s, all by Adrian, on display now until November 7 at Landmark Cinema in Kitchener.

Adrian suit and hat, mid 1940s, and beige silk jersey and chiffon evening gown, late 1940s, by Adrian. On display November 3-7 at Landmark Cinema, Kitchener, ON.

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Waist Management Opens at PAMA November 1

photo 1Waist Management opened this weekend at the Peel Region Art Gallery, Museum, and Archives, and runs until February 16, 2015. Click here for more information.

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Fashion museum styling a permanent home in Cambridge

Waterloo Region Record, November 1, 2014
By Barbara Aggerholm

CAMBRIDGE — For an all-too-brief moment, the iconic ruby slippers from the “Wizard of Oz” movie were in Jonathan Walford’s sights.

Walford, who was then founding curator of Bata Shoe Museum, had placed a telephone bid of $25,000 to Christie’s auction house on behalf of the Toronto museum. The heady moment didn’t last however. The winning bid was more than three times that amount.

It was a long time ago, but Walford, curatorial director of the Fashion History Museum, laughs at the memory.

There were several pairs of ruby slippers made for the film, he says. One pair was for promotion, but four other pairs were duplicates in two sizes — 5½ for close-ups with actress Judy Garland and Size 6 for faraway camera shots at the end of the day when her feet were starting to swell.

Walford has had more than a few memorable moments like that one over his career as a fashion historian who, with his partner Kenn Norman, is accumulating an impressive collection.

While such high-flying bidding wars aren’t all that typical for him, they’re definitely memorable, he says.

Once, Walford made a $13,000 eBay bid on a hat that had been worn by actress Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With The Wind.”

The green velvet hat with cock’s feathers matched the famous green velvet dress that Scarlett had instructed “Mammy” to make out of curtains before she visited Rhett Butler in jail.

It was a nail-biting, four-day wait until someone else topped their bid for the hat. “I knew it would be flying,” Walford says.

Over the years, Walford, who has also written several books about fashion history, and Norman, chief executive officer and financial wizard of the Fashion History Museum, have amassed more than 10,000 items of historic fashion, outfits and footwear. The items date from the mid-17th century to the present.

Except for a temporary location at Southworks in the Galt area of Cambridge, the museum hasn’t had a home.

The collection has been kept in storage units and at Walford’s and Norman’s red-brick house in Galt. It has travelled in exhibitions throughout Canada and as far away as Hong Kong and Bahrain.

The collection continues to grow.

Recently, a respected costume designer, teacher and author donated 400 books and 100 garments to the museum.

And the museum is receiving about 250 pieces from the collection of the late Alan Suddon, who is considered “Canada’s premier collector of vintage history,” Walford says.

These days, Walford and Norman have been working on several projects, including an exhibition of fashion designed by the Hollywood costume designer widely known as Adrian. His birth name was Adrian Adolph Greenberg.

“It Came from Hollywood” will run Monday, Nov. 3 to Friday, Nov. 7 to accompany the Grand River Film Festival at Landmark Cinemas at 135 Gateway Park Dr. in Kitchener.

Adrian designed all the costumes, including the ruby slippers, in “The Wizard of Oz” and in many other successful Hollywood films, including “The Bishop’s Wife” and “Philadelphia Story,” Walford says.

At the same time, Walford and Norman are putting the final touches on a lease on a building in Cambridge that will give their collection a home for the first time.

By fall next year, Walford and Norman are confident that their collection will be housed in a privately owned former post office in the Hespeler part of Cambridge.

It will be “the only single building devoted to fashion history in Canada,” Walford says.

They’ve worked toward this dream since they founded the museum in 2004. The museum, which has a board of directors and advisory committee, became a federal non-profit corporation in 2008 and was granted charitable status in 2009.

“You refuse to let it die,” Walford says. “We believe in it. It will work. People are excited about it and want to come.”

The lease is conditional on the project receiving public and private funding, Walford says, adding they’re still assessing the total cost.

Hespeler is a good location for the museum, Walford says. The American Standard building is going to be transformed into upscale condominiums and the main street is getting a facelift, he says.

“Hespeler is in the process of a renaissance.”

Plans are for the museum to be located on the main floor of the 1922 building, which served as a post office until it was decommissioned in 1993. The basement will provide much-needed storage space for the collection, which is now kept in storage lockers.

“We’ll restore the 1922 terrazzo marble floor at the front,” and do other renovations to keep the character of the building in the galleries, Walford says.

As a way of introducing the museum to the community, it’s hosting The Vintage Marketplace, a shopping event with dealers in music, fashion, collectibles and other items at the old post office, at 74 Queen St. E. at Cooper Street.

One dealer, Ian Drummond of Ian Drummond Collection, provided vintage clothing for films such as “Hairspray.” Drummond is also on the museum’s advisory council, Norman says.

While the Fashion History Museum doesn’t have any of Adrian’s film costumes, the museum owns several other pieces designed by Adrian after he left film to enter high fashion in 1942. Adrian died in 1959.

“A lot of his clothing in films, he also made for sale,” Norman says.

One outfit owned by the museum belonged to the late Nancy “Slim” Keith, a New York socialite and friend of Truman Capote.

“We found it at auction and managed to buy it” about 10 years ago, Walford says. It was “luck” to find it reasonably priced, he says, adding that he watches buying trends.

A woman’s woollen, chocolate brown suit designed by Adrian featured in the upcoming exhibition is typical of his work, Walford says. The suit has large padded shoulders, which Adrian originally created to accentuate actress Joan Crawford’s strong shoulders, he says.

Meanwhile, Walford and Norman have hardly had time to see a movie recently, though it’s one of the pastimes they love — unless the costuming doesn’t suit the period in which the film is set.

When that happens, Walford might write about the film’s failings in his informative blog, “A Fashion History Perspective.”

He once criticized James Cameron’s 1997 movie, “Titanic,” for its use of black instead of pastels on the female star, and for her inappropriately dyed henna red hair.

His comments unleashed an Internet backlash from “Titanic” lovers.

More recently, he weighed in on the subject of the 2013 remake of “The Great Gatsby.” He and Norman could barely watch the movie, he says. They fast-forwarded through the film, which later won an Oscar for costume design.

The costumes were “nonsensical” because the dresses, with their waists and focus on cleavage, had nothing to do with the 1920s, which did not highlight such features, Walford says.

“I’ve stopped commenting as much as I used to,” he says. “I get in trouble.”

But if you’d like to know a costume designer who stays true to the periods, Walford suggests you look for Michael O’Connor. For example, his period costuming in the film “The Invisible Woman” about Charles Dickens and his secret lover, Ellen Ternan, was “amazing,” he says.

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Three exhibits and a horrible restaurant…

View of Blow exhibition

View of Blow exhibition

Yesterday we had a PD (professional development) day in Toronto – the first in a very long time.  Our first stop was the Isabella Blow exhibition at the Hudson’s Bay Company department store. I only have praise for what is one of the best fashion exhibitions I have seen in Toronto in years! This exhibition of over forty garments allows visitors to study some fantastic designer pieces from all angles in good light – something that never happens in a museum.

Although Blow was aristocratic she was not rich, but her love of fashion was so great that she dressed up, even to wash the dishes. The result of her living in her clothes is apparent in the occasional cigarette burn or broken zipper – damage that strangely adds value to the collection because it tells the story of Blow’s love affair with fashion. Her passion is contagious as you examine the exquisite creations by McQueen, Chalayan, Watanabe, Treacy, and others.

Blow 2

McQueen and Pugh from Guinness collection

After Blow’s death, her wardrobe was to go to auction until fellow fashionphile Daphne Guinness bought the collection to keep it intact. This travelling exhibition of a portion of Blow’s wardrobe is only in its second venue. As a bonus, Guinness included some pieces from her own closet, adding more McQueens, a Chanel, and several pieces from Gareth Pugh in an adjacent display. Museums can’t have clothes accessible like this in well-lit galleries, so if you can, take advantage of the opportunity of seeing this exhibition before it closes November 1. It’s worth it.

Close-up of a McQueen coat with an unfathomable construction pattern

Close-up of a McQueen coat with an unfathomable construction pattern

Our next visit was to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) to see the Alex Colville show as well as revisit favourite galleries like the Henry Moore sculptures. I have no complaints about the AGO’s exhibitions, but I really hate the building. Although I normally admire Frank Gehry’s architecture, the AGO is not his finest work – it’s a second rate retrofit that  reminds me of a European castle that was rebuilt and added to so many times you can’t determine when the building was originally built or in what style. Gehry’s inverted ship’s hull front adds nothing but a giant hallway that creates a dark, uninviting entrance to the building below.

VIew of the Grange and the looming back of the AGO

VIew of the Grange and the looming back of the AGO

In the back, the building looms over the now closed Grange – Toronto’s oldest extant brick residence dating from 1817 and the original home of the AGO. The Grange now looks like an ill-chosen vintage brooch on a post-modern Gehry façade. I am tired of architecture that screams how important it is by overshadowing adjacent structures, and destroying neighbourhood scale and character.

After being told we couldn’t get a cup of tea or coffee at 4 o’clock at the AGO café, because the gallery would be closing in an hour and a half (if that makes sense to you…) we went across the street to the Art Square Café and Gallery for the worst restaurant experience I have had in years. Instead of a long rant, suffice it to say that they were out of what we wanted (including cream for coffee), failed to bring to our table what we needed (sugar, milk, fork), and charged incorrectly for what we got. How do some restaurants stay in business?

The dated looking All About Shoes gallery

The dated looking All About Shoes gallery

To end the day off we headed to the Bata Shoe Museum for their ‘pay what you can’ Thursday evening. As always the treasures the Bata holds are phenomenal. I was especially excited to see so many new acquisitions to the collection since my tenure as curator. However, like a choice garment, the museum has aged over the past twenty years from its debut as the exciting new addition to Toronto’s cultural wardrobe through becoming a comfortable favourite to an outdated standard that could use some freshening up. The ‘All About Shoes’ feature gallery and ‘Star Turns’ mezzanine presentation of famous people’s shoes are especially out of step. Jewel tone coloured walls, blonde wood floors and cases, and sand blasted glass look like something designed by Frasier Crane’s interior decorator. The only thing that has significantly changed since the 1995 installation is the fibre optic lighting that makes many of the artifacts difficult to see and most of the labels impossible to read (except for those that inexplicably have no labels.) The storyline is also stale – I know because it’s the one I wrote twenty years ago. It’s time for a new look in that gallery, especially as the staircase does not meet the AODA code for accessibility in public buildings that comes into affect in 2015.

View of Fashion Victims - arcade inspired installation

View of Fashion Victims – arcade inspired installation

The real purpose of our visit was to see Bata’s latest display, “Fashion Victims: The Pleasures and Perils of Dress in the 19th Century”. Like elsewhere, the artifacts are fabulous, but overall the exhibition fails. Money used to be recklessly spent on exhibitions (once an entire pueblo was created for the cost of three times my annual salary) but now economy seems to be an important consideration at Bata. I admire frugality, but an exhibition shouldn’t look like it ran out of money half way through its installation. Fashion Victims begins in a shopping arcade set inspired by the Vero-Dodat gallery in Paris but then you turn a corner and enter a concrete bunker. This last section deals mostly with the production of footwear, from cottage industry to mass manufacturing, and I am guessing the stark cold room is supposed to represent some kind of bleak Dickensian working class experience, but if that’s the case it’s a weak design statement that looks more like a lack of ideas or funds were the problem.

The last gallery in Fashion Victims - I don't get the inspiration - basement or prison?

The last gallery in Fashion Victims – I don’t get the inspiration – basement or prison?

I also had issues with the considerable text, which is not easy to read due in part to a serif-heavy font and white lettering on brown background, but also because of the academic tone, non-sequitur titles, repetitive content, and 19th century satirical quotes that make little sense to today’s audience. The show was promoted as an expose of the underbelly of 19th century fashion – from poisonous dyestuffs to harm-inducing fashions, but the buffet of topics tackled in the show focusses mostly on arsenic-laden green dye as the dominant issue of the era. Other arguments are not as convincing, especially one regarding shoeshine boys being poisoned by their polish, supposedly laced with nitrobenzene. All 19th century polish recipes I found consisted of only natural ingredients, usually some mixture of soot, beeswax and turpentine, although a Regency recipe reputedly used by Beau Brummell consisted of egg whites and champagne. As far as I can tell nitrobenzene only became a common additive to shoe polish and other household products during the 20th century.

It was a long day with a lot to see, and all things considered, the simplest and smallest exhibition not in a museum was the most memorable.

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1950 German commercial from Felina – maker of foundation garments

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