Gina Fratini, 1931 – 2017

Dress of the Year 1975 – Bath Museum of Costume (Now known as the Fashion Museum)

Georgina Caroline Eve Butler was born into an aristocratic, connected family on 22 September, 1931 in Kobe, Japan and spent most of her childhood in colonial India. She studied at the Royal College of Arts before marrying in 1954. After her first marriage ended in divorce in 1961, she married Renato Fratini.

Elizabeth Taylor’s second marriage to Richard Burton, 1975

In 1964 ‘Gina’ opened her own clothing business and became a part of the British Boutique movement that redefined youth fashion. She kept her name after she and Renato divorced in 1968 – just as her romantic, historically-inspired floaty, frilly, lace-trimmed fashions were becoming influential.

Princess DIana wearing Fratini

In 1975 the Bath Museum of Costume chose one of her wedding dress designs for their Dress of the Year Award.  That same year, Elizabeth Taylor wore a Fratini designed dress for her second marriage to Richard Burton. In the 1980s Princess Diana also wore Fratini designed dresses.

Gina married two more times before closing her fashion house in November 1989. Her last husband was actor Anthony Newley. Reports of her death first appeared in a tweet over the weekend by Joan Collins, who had been married to Anthony Newley before Gina Fratini.

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Laura Biagiotti, 1943 – 2017

Laura Biagiotti with her daughter Lavinia

Laura Biagiotti was born August 4, 1943 and studied to become an archaeologist before entering her mother’s dressmaking business. She presented her first eponymous collection in 1972 and her brand quickly became one of the leading luxury lines that made Italian fashions famous in the 1970s and 1980s. Known for her cashmere knits and wool fashions, she also had a successful men’s line, sunglass brand and signature scent Roma, named for her home city.

Biagiotti lived in a restored medieval castle outside of Rome, which was also the headquarters for her business. The company was a pioneer in the now-established practice of fashion houses sponsoring the restoration of historic structures. In 1998, her company restored a staircase designed by Michelangelo that leads to the top of the Capitoline Hill, and more recently, Biagiotti contributed to the restoration of two 17th century fountains in front of Palazzo Farnese – home of the French Embassy in Rome.

Her husband, Gianni Cigna, who had also been her business partner, died in 1996, and her daughter, Lavinia Biagiotti Cigna, has been working as the creative director of the fashion house since 2005. Laura Biagiotti died May 26 of a heart attack.

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Glossary – Budgie Smuggler

Photo taken last month of an advertising campaign for the Sydney swimwear company. Photo courtesy of Susan Walford

Originally an Australian slang term for a pair of tightly-fitted briefly-cut Speedo-style men’s swimwear that highlight the male bulge – likening it to what a smuggled budgie might look like. The term appeared shortly after the turn of the millennium – the earliest references in print appear c. 2003.

The term became popular when Tony Abbot, Australian PM (2013 – 2015), was photographed wearing a pair. It was around this time that Adam Linforth founded his Sydney-based swimwear company Budgy Smuggler.  The term Budgie Smuggler was inducted into the Oxford dictionary in 2016.

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Buy From Jews!

I have known Vancouver collector Claus Jahnke for 35 years now – from right around the time he first started collecting German and Austrian clothing. I can proudly say I have had a leading role in finding many of his best pieces and now Claus is loaning some of his rarest treasures for an exhibition at the Jewish Museum in Vienna called “Buy From Jews! Story of a Viennese store culture”.

The media release that outlines the purpose of the exhibition sums up the theme with some interesting information:

Handwoven coat by Maison Zwieback, Vienna, Austria, 1920s, from the collection of Claus Jahnke, photo by Roz McNulty (

The emergence of department stores in Vienna was a part of a pan-European development of the 19th century. Today, the fact that many of the founders came from Jewish families is just as little known as the former existence of the garment district in Vienna’s first district. Prominent houses such as Gerngross, Zwieback, Neumann, Jacob Rothberger, Braun & Co., Goldman & Salatsch, Jungmann & Neffe and Knize characterized Vienna’s fashionable shopping miles on Kärntner Strasse and Mariahilfer Strasse. But the exhibition also brings the so-called suburban department stores Dichter and Wodicka back into the city’s memory. With their businesses, these families made an essential contribution to Viennese urban development and influenced the economic, topographic, social and cultural cityscape to the present day.

Through the caesura of the Shoah (holocaust), this shop culture shaped by Viennese Jewish women and men disappeared almost completely. The success stories of exiles can be traced abroad— such as that of the costume designer and graphic artist Ernst Deutsch-Dryden or the architect, urban planner and inventor of the shopping mall, Victor Gruen. Many companies, however, could no longer build upon the successes of the time before 1938. In any case, most of them decided not to return to Vienna after 1945. In Vienna’s urban and commercial landscape only the names of some successor companies and, in rare cases, parts of the building stock recall the major department stores, as well as the numerous retail stores operated by Jewish women and men.

Contrasted to this “vanishing” is the development of the garment district after 1945. Attributable to migration and immigration, individual stories of enterprises like Schöps, the Tuchhaus Silesia, Wachtel & Co., Haritex, Zalcotex and many others, which also bear witness to the rebuilding of the Vienna Jewish community after 1945, let themselves be told here…

“Buy From Jews! Story of a Viennese store culture” opened May 17 and will run to November 19, 2017 at the Jewish Museum Vienna, Dorotheergasse 11, 1010 Vienna. The museum is open daily but for Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information:

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Marie Saint Pierre

This past week saw two historical milestones happen in Quebec. The first was Montreal’s 375th birthday, and the second was the induction of Montreal fashion designer Marie Saint Pierre into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

Marie Saint Pierre graduated LaSalle College in 1987 and created her first ready-to-wear collection the following year. In 1991, she opened her first boutique and by 1993, when she received the Griffe D’or Award for best fashion collection in Quebec, her clothes were already being carried by leading Parisian boutiques. In 1998 Marie opened her first stand-alone boutique in Toronto.

In 2003 Marie Saint Pierre launched an accessories line, in 2005 a line of furs, in 2009 a wedding collection, her fragrance Faux de Parfum followed in 2010, and in 2014 she ventured into a range of home accessories. Saint Pierre has received numerous awards and accolades over the years including an Order of Canada in 2012, and this year she was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Saint Pierre is the first fashion designer to ever receive this honour – an action that opens doors for fashion to be respected as a true art form in Canada.

For more info:

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Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Chuck Howard

Design for Townley, 1966

Chuck Howard, was one of those designers of the postwar era that gave American fashions a distinctly American look. Born in Cochrane, Georgia in 1927, Howard was stationed in Hawaii as a tail gunner in World War II. Courtesy of the G.I. Bill, Howard studied dress design in Paris after the war and then settled in New York.

Vogue pattern, c. 1970

He first worked as a photographer’s model before working as a sketcher for New York designers including: David Crystal, Bill Blass, Anne Klein, and Richard Cole. After becoming the designer for Townley in the mid 1960s he began designing under his own name as well as creating a pattern line for Vogue until 1974 when he closed his own company and returned to Anne Klein to design their Studio Line.

In the late 1970s, he left the fashion world to open a restaurant in the theatre district with his partner Edward Vaughan. When they closed the restaurant in the early 1980s they moved to Saba in the Dutch Antilles. Howard died in 2002.

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Fashioning Canada Since 1867 article

The latest article about Fashioning Canada Since 1867:

150 years of Canadian fashions – Bill Doucet | Cambridge Times

While Canada’s contribution to fashion may be somewhat underappreciated, there are garments that are internationally known.

Take for instance a Russian group that came to the Fashion History Museum in Hespeler to see the newest exhibition, Fashioning Canada Since 1867, which runs until Dec. 17 to coincide with the country’s 150th birthday.

As museum curator Jonathan Walford tells it, the visitors spoke very little English, but as they were mulling over the works of Canadian designers and some of the more well known apparel, they caught sight of something very Canadian — the tartan jacket. They pointed to the jacket and, with a thick Russian accent, said, “Don Cherry”.

Though the co-host of CBC’s Coach’s Corner is known for his fashion choices, the fact people who likely live outside the country know the tartan coat speaks volumes about Canada’s fashion reach, said Walford.

So much so, the exhibit has been divided into four sections to give the historical significance its due. The first being some of Canada’s most notable homegrown contributions. Along with the tartan coat is native wear, apparel from the Rio Olympics and two of the country’s greatest fashion exports, the Canada Goose jacket and Cowichan sweater.

The Cowichan sweater, though most people aren’t familiar with the proper name, came about in dialogue between the Salish natives in Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island and early European settlers, who taught the natives to knit. The sweaters have become cold weather fashion in Europe and the U.S. It also became part of Jeff Bridges “The Dude” character in The Big Lebowski.

Walford noted the common theme through many of the recognizable garments. “They’re almost all winter,” he said with a laugh, “and almost all them have some connection to native culture as well because Canada did rely so much on native experience to learn how to dress in the climate. “We wanted to try and define what was a Canadian identity through dress, that was one big part of the exhibition.”

One of the items in the exhibition is also a misnomer. The Canadian tuxedo — a denim jacket with denim pants — was not in fact Canadian, but pegged that way after a fishing trip to the country by Bing Crosby in 1951.

The movie star was wearing the outfit when he tried to get a reservation at a hotel and was denied access because of his wardrobe. That, of course, made the news. A few months later, Crosby was at a rodeo in Nevada and was presented with a denim tuxedo with a patch inside. Walford recited the patch basically said, “notice to hoteliers everywhere, if you’re wearing this jacket you are dressed appropriate for any occasion and hotel as well.” From that point, it was known as the Canadian tuxedo.

The exhibition moves on to fashion and the development of the industry in Canada, which sees more formal wear come into play. The Canadian industry emerged after the Second World War and evolved until it hit a boom in the late 1960s.

“That kind of development of the Canadian version of fashion, which really was pretty much a reflection of what was going on everywhere else. The same thing happened in the United States as well. They’re essentially making a local version of what is high fashion in Paris or London,” Walford said.

Of course, the section carries the famous chapeau — a grey fedora with a silk band around the top — that coined a famous hockey phrase. When Chicago Blackhawks winger Alex Kaleta came to Toronto in 1946 for a game against the Maple Leafs, he went into a local haberdashery owned by Sammy Taft.

Kaleta eyed the hat but didn’t have enough money for it as he had just returned from serving in the war. Taft cut him a deal: if he could score three goals that night he could have the hat for free. Kaleta potted four in a 6-5 loss, but got the free “hat” for his “trick”.

A look at Canada’s fashion would be remiss without mentioning some of the designers themselves and their work, which is also on display — Wayne Clark, Marilyn Brooks, Brian Bailey and Christopher Bates.

Clark and Brooks, veterans of the industry, enjoyed their success in Canada until the abolishment of tariffs on global trade in the 1990s practically forced them to work overseas. “We’re in direct competition with Asia and other parts of the world where labour is so much cheaper that things are no longer made in Canada,” Walford said. “So there really isn’t much of a Canadian fashion industry anymore, but there still is a Canadian pool of talent. So a lot of Canadian designers go abroad and you end up with some really well-known Canadians working out of London and Milan and New York.”

The final part of the exhibition looks at the top 10 contributions Canada has made to fashion, which includes the protective cup jockstrap, the hockey mask, MAC Cosmetics, Elizabeth Arden (born in Canada), false eyelashes, the invention of Botox and supermodel Linda Evangelista, from St. Catharines.

One of the crazier items invented by a Canadian, who had the patent taken by his boss, never earned a penny for the creator. While working at a wire company in the U.S. — which manufactured lampshades and the like — Albert J. Parkhouse didn’t have a hook to hang his coat in the company coatroom. He grabbed a piece of wire and bent in two places and made a hook at the top for the first wire coat hanger.

That tidbit is only surpassed by the finale to the exhibition — a tea gown created by Lady Duff Gordon, who designed under her professional name, Lucile. She and her husband survived the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 in one of the emptiest lifeboats. His reputation was destroyed as people believe he paid off the sailors not to go back and pick up survivors in the water. Her reputation soared, however, as everyone wanted a dress from a survivor.

So far, the exhibition has received a lot of attention, though Walford admits he was initially hesitant about the theme he picked. “I was a little bit nervous when I was putting this together because I thought is there going to be interest for this out there. Then, after I did more research and more writing I thought, yeah, it will because it really is about us as a nation,” he said.

“I think what people are surprised at is how interesting the show is. A lot of people don’t really know what Canadian clothing is and what Canadian fashion is, you don’t really have an image in your mind until you come into the exhibition and you look and go, ‘OK, I get that’. Just because it’s familiar, you may not see it because you have to step back from it.”

He added what makes Canadian fashion so intriguing is that it is always renewing itself. “With every immigration wave there’s another element brought into Canada and it eventually worms its way into the entire fabric of the nation,” Walford said. “You do find little bits of it here and there.”

“We’re changing and constantly growing; it’s not stagnant. We don’t have a traditional costume like a European country with something that was invented 200 years ago. Our costume is still happening, it’s still developing and changing.”

The cost of the entry into the fashion museum for Fashioning Canada Since 1867 is $5, while children age 12 and younger are free. Beginning June 9, and running throughout the summer, admission is free on Fridays between 5 and 7 p.m. to coincide with Hespeler Village Market.

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Glossary – Holoku, Muumu, Wrapper, Mother Hubbard

The holoku, as it is known in Hawaii (and its shorter version, the muumuu – which means ‘cut off’), is also known as an ahu tua (empire dress) or ahu mama (granny dress) in Tahiti. Other variations in name exist around the South Pacific that all refer to these colourfully printed cotton dresses originally made as wrappers (aka Mother Hubbards) in the late 19th century. Originally designed for use as house dresses and maternity wear, these were intended to be worn with a belt (often in the same material) that could be adjusted during the pregnancy. South Pacific natives, who were given the dresses by missionaries to cover their nakedness, didn’t wear the belts and set in motion a regional style of dress that became a traditional clothing style for most of the South Pacific. Since the 1930s holokus and muumus have been made up from brightly coloured tropical floral prints that were printed in Japan before World War II, and in the U.S. since.

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1956 mall footage

Fascinating footage from 1956 of Southdale Minnesota’s Richfield Edina Shopping Mall. They claim to be the first enclosed mall in the world.

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Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes

Born June 28, 1905 Zelda Barbour Wynn Valdes grew up in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania and learned how to design and sew at her uncle’s tailoring shop in White Plains, New York.

In 1948 she opened her own boutique called ‘Chez Zelda’ at Broadway and West 158th street in New York where she made clothes for stars including: Dorothy Dandridge, Eartha Kitt, Ella Fitzgerald, and Jessye Norman. By the late 1950s she had moved her shop to midtown at 57th street.

Her most famous commission came in 1959 when she was hired to design the bunny costume for the first Playboy club, which opened in Chicago on February 29, 1960.

In 1970 she was asked to design costumes for the Dance Theatre of Harlem. She continued to design dance costumes for them until her death in September, 2001, 12 years after closing her regular business.

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