A must see film – Falbalas 1945

Rooster feather trimmed sleeves and turban hat, from Falbalas, spring 1945

Rooster feather trimmed sleeves and turban hat, from Falbalas, spring 1945

This film should be required viewing for students of 1940s fashion! The title Falbalas, which means frippery (ostentatious decoration), is translated into ‘Paris Frills’ on IMDB. The film was released in France in June 1945, shortly after European hostilities had ceased but before WWII had ended in the Pacific. The film must have gone into production shortly after Paris was liberated in June 1944 and completed with the final outdoor scenes filmed on a warm late winter or early spring day in 1945.

The clothes and hats are, in a word, fabulous. There are bustled Victorian ball gowns that would have contravened wartime fabric restrictions in all other countries in 1945, novelty trims, like rooster feather covered sleeves, and endless silly hats resembling mad medieval headdresses and Dr. Suess-like top hats. The entire film looks like the Theatre de la Mode has come to life.

The wedding dress in the finale, spring 1945

The wedding dress in the finale, spring 1945

The clothes for this film were designed by Marcel Rochas and the hats by Gabrielle. Neither designer are well-remembered today, although Rochas had a brief resurgence of fame under the fashion direction of Olivier Theyskens in the early 2000s. However, during the occupation and in the postwar, pre-Dior 1940s, Rochas and Gabrielle were leading fashion houses  heavily featured in French fashion magazines, along with other less-well remembered labels like Lelong, Ricci, Saint-Cyr, and Valois.

A fitting of a model, with the head vendeuse in black

A fitting of a model, with the head vendeuse in black

What makes this film so special is that the entire storyline takes place almost entirely in the fictitious fashion house of Phillipe Clarence (loosely modelled after Marcel Rochas). Clarence is a bounder – he has a series of girlfriend/muses until he falls in love with his best friend’s fiancee. This drama unfolds at fashion shows and fittings, in scenes where he has temper tantrums while draping creations onto models, or while ‘baptizing’ dress designs (giving numbered designs names for the fashion show like ‘Aphrodite’ and ‘Antigone’.)

This film is a document of how a fashion house worked in 1945. As a story, its okay, the film opens with six women standing around a man who is lying dead on the ground with a wax mannequin in his arms, and then rewinds to a few weeks earlier to show the journey of how this came about. The strength of this film is not in the plot, it is in the documentary of Paris fashion in 1945. You can watch the film here on rarefilmm.

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Bill Cunningham – 1929-2016


Fashion photo-journalist Bill Cunningham, pictured here pointing his camera while wearing his signature French workman’s jacket, tried to be an inconspicuous observer of New York fashion, but he was as well known to New Yorkers as the naked cowboy. He passed away yesterday at the age of 87. I never met the man, and yet I feel like I lost a friend.


Although not in the Facades book, this is one of the many photographs Cunningham took of his friends dressed in period clothing around New York

I first became aware of Cunningham when I found a copy of his book Facades for a couple of dollars in a used book store in the early 1980s. The book of fashion photographs documents historic styles, as modelled by his friend Editta Sherman, in front of period buildings around New York. The photographs were taken between 1968 and 1976, when New York was crumbling into disrepair, and was published in 1978. It was a precious addition to my library that I looked at often, and it even became an inspiration for my exhibition Street Style at the Waterloo Region Museum in 2014.

Marilyn Monroe photographed by Bill Cunningham wearing a Cunningham hat

Marilyn Monroe photographed wearing a Cunningham hat

Cunningham began his fashion career as a milliner in the 1950s, turned to journalism, including W magazine, but left after an argument with publisher John Fairchild over who was the more important designer of the time – Yves St. Laurent or Andre Courreges. In 1967 Cunningham began taking pictures of Hippies, which lead to his photography for the book Facades. In 1979 he began working for the New York Times as a freelance fashion photographer and only after being hit by a truck in 1994 did he agree to become a member of the staff for health insurance benefits (Cunningham treasured his freedom over financial success.)

He lived in a rent controlled artist’s studio at Carnegie Hall most of his adult life. The 2010 film Bill Cunningham’s New York documents his daily work as the city tries to find rent controlled premises to relocate the last tenants of Carnegie Hall, including Cunningham and his long time friend and muse Editta Sherman, who died at the age of 101 in 2013. Despite the upheaval, Cunningham was one of those people for whom the glass was always half full, and in his weekly On-The-Street reports for the New York Times, he always brimmed with enthusiasm for whatever style he captured on film.

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Fashion in Song – Sharp Dressed Man – 1983

You knew it was coming…   Sharp Dressed Man from ZZ Top’s 1983 Eliminator Album:

Clean shirt, new shoes
And I don’t know where I am goin’ to.
Silk suit, black tie,
I don’t need a reason why.
They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
Cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.

Gold watch, diamond ring,
I ain’t missin’ not a single thing.
And cufflinks, stick pin,
When I step out I’m gonna do you in.
They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
‘Cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.

Top coat, top hat,
And I don’t worry coz my wallet’s fat.
Black shades, white gloves,
Lookin’ sharp lookin’ for love.
They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
‘Cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.

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Lipstick templates

lipstick-stencilThe first commercial lipsticks appeared on the market in the 1880s. While too much lipstick soon became associated with loose morals, many ‘nice girls’ dabbed lip colour sparingly onto their lips to achieve a healthier appearance.

Just as the fashion for stronger lip colour was taking off in 1915, the invention of metal, retractable lipstick tubes (made from bullet casings) made lipstick application an easier process. Previously, lip colour could only be applied at the dressing table, but now lipstick could be carried for touch-ups, although early lipsticks were prone to melting in hot weather.

In 1926 lip stencils were first made by cosmetics manufacturer Helena Rubinstein to ensure the flawless application of a heart-shaped “cupid’s bow” lip. Various improvements to these stencils over the years were fodder for patents:

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Moustache fashion

Ant_304.1L.jpgBy the time I went back to my bookmarked page to purchase this 1904 Moustache trainer on Ruby Lane a few months ago, someone had snapped it up. Not that I avidly collect moustache related paraphernalia (I assume the buyer was a collector). The history of keeping moustaches in shape and out of food is an interesting one. as indicated by these Victorian era US patents for devices to keep lunch and moustaches well apart.

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American creator of the Beehive hairdo Margaret Heldt 1918 – 2016

1465886335512In February 1960, the editor of Modern Beauty Shop magazine challenged Chicago hairdressing salon owner and hairstyling champion Margaret Heldt, to create a new hairstyle for the new decade. Taking inspiration from the shape of a favourite hat, Margaret backcombed a model’s hair, then wrapped it neatly on the top of the head in a beehive shape, finishing off the towering ‘do with a chenille bee and a lot of hairspray.

Michela Theresa Vinci, the daughter of Italian immigrants, was born February 11, 1918 on the West Side of Chicago. She passed her board exam in 1935 and won her first styling competition in 1944. In 1950 Margaret (as she preferred to be called) opened her own salon on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, which she ran until the 1990s. Margaret Heldt died June 10 2016.

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Intended as wallpaper and possibly a fashion?

Bubblewrap was developed in 1957 as a space-age wallpaper, but nobody liked the idea. Then the American inventors, Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes, realized it had potential as a packing material. They went into business in 1960 and one of their first clients was IBM that used the material for shipping delicate office machinery. The product took off in the 1970s as a packing material for general use. Since then there has been some experimentation with it for fashion, but nothing successful yet:

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Gay pride…

1528516_806035472747176_1449552258_nAlthough I have this blog, I rarely write about myself. It’s pretty obvious I find fashion history fascinating but I shy away from writing about anything else – considering it private, uninteresting, or irrelevant.

I am gay – and so is my boyfriend Kenn. We met August 10, 1984. We are each other’s best friends and confidants. We kvetch at each other but we make-up. We are human, we are not perfect, we are in love. We are not married – I don’t see the point.

I have never been particularly political, although I believe in the separation of church and state. I don’t care if a church doesn’t want to marry two men or two women, because marriage is primarily a legal matter – a priest may be able to marry you but you need a lawyer for a divorce.

There weren’t a lot of gay role models growing up in the 1970s – it’s better now. Most gay men then were either invisible, comedically effeminate stereotypes (Paul Lynde, Liberace, Charles Nelson Reilly), or the Village People. Phil Donahue tried to make gay okay on his talk shows in the early 80s, but the endless ‘Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’ comments from his audience were tiresome and mean.

The 1982 movie ‘Making Love’ was the first movie I saw where gay characters weren’t serial killers, pathetic, or comedic relief. That same year, when I was 21, I was walking with a friend on English Bay in Vancouver around dusk when we were attacked by 9 teenagers who took our wallets, threw my car keys into the ocean, and kicked us to the ground while calling us fags. That same summer my fellow employees told me my boss Bill Baker at the North Shore Museum and Archives would say things behind my back about how I disgusted him — I was paid less than anybody else at that museum, including the summer student. Bill Baker is dead now, and it turns out his son is gay – I wonder if he ever learned to accept that.

I am not proud of being gay but I am not ashamed either – I just am. It’s like having brown hair; I don’t have any choice in the matter. You are born gay, like being born left-handed (which coincidentally runs around the same percentage as homosexuality), and there is no evidence you can change. Some can fake it, I can’t. I don’t need fixing.

I have had a lot of religious education and exposure. I was an Anglican choirboy for two years and I went to a Seventh Day Adventist high school for four years. The SDA’s live the best lives they can – I am not dissing them; they are good people. However, I personally cannot reconcile blind faith to a book that is anonymously written, translated through many different languages from non-extant originals, about sometimes contradicting events for which virtually no evidence survives. I am positive the world is older than 6,000 years…

I don’t think God should be referred to by gender. I don’t think God sent AIDS to punish homosexuals. I don’t think God will make anyone burn in hell forever – even Hitler. I also think Jehovah, God, and Allah are all one in the same, so it doesn’t really matter who you pray to, it all goes in the same till at the end of the day. I know some will read this and shake their heads in quiet condemnation. They will pray for me.

I suspect the Orlando shooter was gay – A 29-year-old Muslim man who felt damned by Allah for his inner desires, and couldn’t cope with the self-loathing that comes with being told by his Imam, family, friends, and community that being gay was evil. That made him angry and desperate and he targeted what was the source of his turmoil.

Orlando is bringing discussions of gun control, terrorism, mental illness, and homophobia to the table, but I doubt it will bring the topic of religious doctrine to the table. Nobody will want to discuss God’s rules about homosexuality; those rules that were created at the same time as rules about eating shellfish, mixing fibres in cloth, and who you could own as slaves.

Religion can be a source of great joy and strength but it is also the cause of great suffering, hatred and war. I am not an atheist and I don’t hate religion, I just recognize it for what it is – a flawed belief system that tries to make sense of why we are here and in the process causes a lot of damage along the way.

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Fashion Faux Pas – Unisexual styling in the early 1970s

Never a good idea when its done too literally:

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Fashion faux-pas – embarrassing boys into tucking in their shirts…

This may have seemed like a good idea but then one day little Billy changes into his gym strip at school… and thirty years later he goes into therapy to learn how to not hate his mother.


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