Fashion News, 1931 (ignore the 1933 on the film – they’re wrong…)

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Miss Canada 1986 Fashion Show

The presentation is cringe-worthingly cheesey, but the Canadian Fashions from Pat McDonagh, Welly, Kentsou, Norma, Tom D’Auria, and Christine Morton are worth seeing.

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Fast Fashion Footwear – Jeffrey Campbell

Recent acquisition for the FHM - Jeffrey Campbell Lucite shoes, c. 2010

Recent acquisition for the FHM – Jeffrey Campbell Lucite shoes, c. 2010

I try not to blog about contemporary brands because there are plenty of other blogs that already do that, but Jeffrey Campbell is a bit of a mystery and it took a while to piece together the backstory. Little information is divulged about Jeffrey Campbell – either the man or his company. The secrecy, likely intentional, adds mystery to the brand. My first thought was that there was no Jeffrey Campbell and his name was made up in the same country as the shoes, but a few writers insist he exists.

From what is written about Campbell, it seems he is in his late 40s, has a brother named Dean, and lives in Los Angeles with his wife Christine and three children. Campbell apparently had a long career in sales at Nordstrom’s before starting his own shoe company in 2000, although few people had ever heard of him or his brand before 2010. The company employs less than a dozen people, including his family, and his shoes, inspired by vintage and leading designer styles, are made in China.

The Lita, in brown suede

The Lita, in brown suede

The brand’s best seller ‘Lita’, is a lace-up ankle boot with snub toe, sturdy heel and thick platform sole curved on the ball so it rocks with every step. Over 175,000 pairs of Lita (in a variety of colours and materials) have been sold since their introduction in July 2010. Campbell’s inventory is not collection based – the designs are launched as they trend, sold mostly through online sites like Nasty Gal, and are available for as long as they remain popular.

You would be hard pressed to find a pair of Jeffrey Campbell shoes on the feet of any woman over the age of 40 – the styles are extreme and not in the best of taste, but they are fun – intended for Lady GaGa type fashionistas who want statement shoes.

For more information about Jeffrey Campbell see: Life Below the Ankle and The J.D. Salinger of Platform Shoes

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The Poppy – 100 years ago

Today is the centennial of the poem ‘In Flander’s Field’ written by John McCrae, a Canadian gunner and medical officer from Guelph, Ontario. McCrae was in the second battle of Ypres, in the Flanders region of Belgium when Alexis Helmer, a former pupil and close friend was killed in battle on May 2, 1915. The next day McCrae composed this poem:

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Poppy trimmed hat by American milliner Keneth Hopkins, c. 1945

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The poem was first published in December 1915 and was immediately popular. McCrae himself didn’t make it home, dying in a military hospital of pneumonia in January 1918.

The origin of wearing a poppy to remember the war dead began in 1919 when American Moina Michael campaigned to make the poppy the official symbol of the American Legion. In 1921 Mme Guerin, a French woman, was promoting the sale of silk poppies as a way to raise money for war orphans. By World War II, when this hat was made, the red poppy was a common symbol of remembering those who died while in service to their country. Today in the U.S., the yellow ribbon has taken the poppy’s place, but the poppy remains a popular motif in Canada and the U.K.

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Joseph Ribkoff

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Pink suit by Joseph Ribkoff, c. 1990, available from FashionPuss on Etsy

Joseph Ribkoff dropped out of school at age 15 to work in Montreal’s garment industry. He worked his way up to the head of a garment manufacturer’s shipping department before going out on his own in 1957, at the age of 20. His first business was financed with money he and his bride had earmarked to buy furniture for their first home.

Typical of most Canadian dress manufacturers of the time, his company made clothes styled after established trends.  His biggest competition was the long-established manufacturer Algo, which produced a similar kind of line for Canadian department stores and independent dress shops.

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Joseph Ribkoff

In the late 1960s Ribkoff was looking to Europe for inspiration – Kenzo was a favourite. He also followed a younger aesthetic spurred on by his friendship with American dress manufacturer Jack Litt whose company Arpeja created the clothing lines Young Edwardian, and Young Innocence.

Over the years Ribkoff’s business shifted towards an older clientele. Ribkoff’s market is now mostly mature women (over 40) but he must be doing something right because Ribkoff remains one of the few Canadian companies still making clothes in Canada, and exporting lines to 55 international markets. For more information about Ribkoff read this interview from Dress to Kill.

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The Girl with the Facial Tattoo

Olive-2At the age of 14, Olive Oatman (1837 – 1903) was part of a wagon train from Utah to California that was attacked by a band of Apaches or Yavapais. Her parents and four of her siblings were killed, her brother Lorenzo was left for dead but survived, and she and her sister Mary Ann were abducted and later traded to the Mohave as slaves.

The Mohave tattooed both Olive’s and her sister’s chins, a fairly standard practice amongst the Mohave. In 1855 Mary Ann died and soon afterwards Olive was discovered and reunited with her brother at Fort Yuma. In 1857 the book Life Among the Indians was written about her experience and soon Olive was promoting the book on lecture tours. In 1865 Olive married and she immediately stopped her lectures and book sales. I was just alerted to a more detailed version of the story here.

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On Another Street Where I lived…

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1690 Mathers Avenue, West Vancouver, September 1975

As a matter of interest I thought I would check out my other childhood homes and sure enough, I found another one had recently sold! We left Vancouver in September 1972 when my father was transfered to the head office of Simpson Sears in Toronto. Three years later my father was transfered back to Vancouver and we moved into this west coast modern built in 1974.

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Me in a tan corduroy suit for the junior prom, spring 1978, and no, I don’t have the suit anymore.

Although not true post and beam construction, the expansive glazing (on the south face), flat roof, natural materials, decks and semi-open floorplan, were in keeping with the tradition of west coast modernism. The house was below the street level and was five sided to fit the oddly shaped lot through which a creek ran across diagonally. There was a fantastic view of towering century old cedar and fir trees, wild blackberry bushes and foxgloves. Unlike our North Vancouver home, that was furnished in Danish modern, by 1975 we had inherited my grandmother’s eclectic mix of antique furniture. Some of the antiques looked great in the West Van house but there were too many styles and it made for a cluttery look that didn’t suit the modern interior.

Some owner since we sold the house in 1983 has done a major renovation, transforming it into more of a California Contemporary than a West Coast Modern.

While I like the addition of the hardwood floors (we had wall to wall brown carpet), I am a bit shocked that the good architectural elements have been obliterated. The mansard roof is gone – the cedar shakes and fir plank siding displaced by vinyl shiplap. The plate glass windows are now double pane thermals in pre-made frames, and every room has had coving added to the ceiling – a very traditional style for what was intended to be a modern interior. As well, the original natural wood front door has been replaced with what looks like a painted metal panel door. The only elements I recognize from our time at the house is the  bridge my father built over the creek, and the original stone facing of the fireplace (although the mantle has been truncated and it looks like they lowered the height of the fireplace, reusing the same facing stones.)

As for a good clothing story related to this house… I do have a couple of dresses worn by my disco-dancing sister Sue (but no pictures of her wearing the dresses I have), and a Welsh tapestry suit my mother got for Christmas 1977 that there is a photograph of her looking at on Christmas morning, but I can’t find it at the moment. Although my tan corduroy suit is long gone, I did keep my slubbed grey silk YSL grad suit for twenty years before donating it to the Society for the Museum of Costume in Vancouver about 15 years ago. I should have kept it, but this was before the FHM was founded and I was downsizing at the time and sold off or donated my men’s collection to other institutions – a collection I have been rebuilding ever since.

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Rosy the Riveter dead at 92

Rosy the Riveter by Norman Rockwell, Saturday Evening Post cover, May 29, 1943

Rosy the Riveter by Norman Rockwell, Saturday Evening Post cover, May 29, 1943

Mary Doyle Keefe was 92 when she passed away today. Keefe was 19 when she was paid $10.00 to pose for two mornings in Arlington, Vermont for the artist Norman Rockwell. Working as a telephone operator, Mary had no idea that when her image was printed on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, on May 29, 1943, that she would become a wartime symbol of the American woman on the home front.

Image often incorrectly cited as 'Rosy the Riveter'.

Image often incorrectly identified as ‘Rosy the Riveter’.

“Other than the red hair and my face, Norman Rockwell embellished Rosie’s body, I was much smaller than that and did not know how he was going to make me look like that until I saw the finished painting.” Keefe said in a 2012 interview with the Hartford Courant.

Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter” is often confused with the popular image created to sell war bonds of a woman flexing her arm with the slogan “We Can Do It.”

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On the street where I lived…

banner_image.phpI try to stay away from getting too personal here, but this is hard to keep to myself: I found out my childhood home, where I lived from 1961 to 1972, just sold for over a million dollars!

876 Canyon Blvd. North Vancouver, spring 1961

876 Canyon Blvd. North Vancouver, spring 1961

Although I look back fondly at the 1958 west coast modern post and beam home now, at the time, it was not ideal for raising a family.

My sisters were in semi-basement bedrooms with cold, terrazzo floors, and the front door was at the back of the carport and opened onto a dark hall with a flight of stairs to go up to the living area. The panoramic view of the Vancouver skyline was already mostly hidden by trees when we sold and left in 1972.

Lance LayoutThe siding was originally dark chocolate brown (almost black) with white trim; my parents repainted the siding olive green in the late 1960s. The lower floor, which is now a separate apartment, was originally my sisters’ bedrooms and the family room where we watched Saturday morning TV on the big, old 50s set with rabbit ears that you had to turn on early to warm up the tubes. There was a portable black and white TV upstairs where the family watched Star Trek, Dick Van Dyke, the Jackie Gleason Show, Ed Sullivan, and Twilight Zone (the episode with the gremlin on the wing is probably the reason I hate flying today!)

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Vertical panelling in the living room, Christmas 1962

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horizontal panelling was added in the 1970s, but the fireplace remains the same

Upstairs, the pegboard cabinet kitchen with peninsula table and laundry is now a family room. Some owner along the way has transformed what used to be the dining room into the kitchen, making the living space a little squishy. I’m not a fan of open concept kitchens – I don’t want bacon grease spitting across the room onto my sofa, and if I drop the roast on the floor I don’t want anyone to see because I am still going to serve it. Besides, I can’t drink and visit while I cook – unless you want something burnt.

The only other major change to the interior of the house is the panelling, which used to be wide and vertical, typical of the 1950s, but is now narrow and horizontal, typical of the 1970s. I like both but prefer the 1950s for its originality.

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In front of the fireplace, December 31, 1964

IMGP0120It’s great to see the original fireplace in situ, with its floating hearth – and that brings a fashion angle into this reminiscence. In December 1964 my father photographed my mother and me on New Year’s Eve in front of the fireplace. My mother was wearing a gold thread embroidered black silk top that was already a couple of years old in 1964. That top, by Charles Dumas, remains in the collection.

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Back to the Eighties…

Satin suit by Cache, c. 1984

Satin suit by Cache, c. 1984

linen jodhpurs and blouse, by Bern Conrad, c. 1981

Jodhpurs and blouse, by Bern Conrad, c. 1981

The Fashion History Museum’s inaugural exhibition at our new gallery in the former Hespeler post office (74 Queen Street East) in Cambridge, will be all about the 1980s. This show will explore 80s fashion in a thematic survey under topics such as: glamour; power; shock; innovation; and romance. The show opens June 27 and runs until the end of the year.

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