Canadian Fashion Connection – Sherman Costume Jewellery (1947 – 1981)

Gustave Sherman was born in Montreal on October 15, 1910 to Jewish parents who had immigrated to Canada from Eastern Europe. Gustave started his career in the jewellery field as a salesman before hiring jeweller Dmytro (aka Jimmy) Kurica (pronounced Koretza), and opening his Montreal manufacturing firm Sherman Costume Jewellery in 1947.

Sherman jewellery was known for its quality and is often identifiable by its use of aurora borealis coatings and monochromatic colour combinations.

Rhinestone jewellery fell from fashion in the 1970s, causing Sherman’s business to go into decline. Gustave closed his business in 1981 and passed away in 1984.

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Mr. Smith

David Smith was born in Windsor in about 1930. In 1955 he met television actor Jack Creley and the two opened an antique shop in Yorkville called the Green Dolphin. The business wasn’t doing well, so in 1960 they started selling some men’s sports shirts from a corner of their shop. The shirts sold well but not to men – they sold to pregnant women as maternity tops. Some of their buyers requested the shirts to be made long enough to be worn as maternity dresses – and so began David Smith’s fashion business.

As the staid name of his company suggests, Mr. Smith clothes were generally not exuberant or edgy. Smith sold mostly practical and versatile dresses, suits, coats, and sportswear – simply cut clothes in already popular styles. However, Mr. Smith became known for great materials he sourced from all over the world. By late 1962, Smith had expanded to two shops in Toronto and by early 1963 he had hired Sybil Grundman to design sportswear, Marilyn Fisher to take on suits and coats, and Winston Kong to design dresses.

After 1965, I can’t find any information about David Smith as a fashion designer, although he and Jack Creley were celebrated as well known Toronto dinner hosts in a Toronto Star article from 2000 (four years before Jack Creley died). Any more information about David Smith and his fashion line Mr. Smith will be gratefully received!

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Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Mrs. Franklin Inc. (1923-1938)

1931 – figure at right “dark blue wool golf or country suit with green jumper and white blouse, from Mrs. Franklin Inc.” This suit closely resembles the suit we acquired, without the jumper and blouse.

Last year we acquired a very nice forest green knit suit from the early 1930s. It is dead plain – consisting of a straight, ankle length skirt, and an open jacket with a belt. In the nape is a small tag that reads “Mrs. Franklin Inc.  Chicag0 – New York – Philadelphia”

With the help of some members of the Vintage Fashion Guild, we looked around the internet but didn’t find much of anything. All that could be found was a mention of Mrs. Franklin sponsoring a fashion show, and a few advertisements (all dating between 1931 and 1938) with references to Mrs. Franklin being available in Bar Harbor, Palm Beach, Haverford, Watch Harbor, Jenkintown, Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York. However, this chain of boutiques carried some fashion weight as Mrs. Franklin was included in several American Vogue magazines during the 1930s.

In 1933 the actual Mrs Franklin was interviewed by Vogue, who pointed out that her specialty was knitwear “Heavy, tweedy-looking fabrics were made by loving hands… on actual needles.” Vogue noted.

I thought that was it…

Added November 9 Marianne Dow found a legal document that outlines more history of Mrs. Franklin, which lead to a few more documents…:

1935

Ellen J. Franklin, wife of William B. Franklin, was born in 1875. In 1915 she began knitting women’s sweaters and selling them from her home. In 1917 she opened The Sweater Shop in Philadelphia. In 1920 she bought a new premises for her shop and in 1921 incorporated the business, changing the name to Mrs. Franklin Incorporated in 1923.

In 1927 she opened a branch in New York, and in 1932, a third shop was opened in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Mrs. Franklin had built a good reputation for her tasteful designs, and she is credited with popularizing knit dresses and suits. By 1938 she had shops in Bar Harbor, Maine, and Watch Hill, Rhode Island, and was operating a factory in Philadelphia, making women’s knitted dresses and accessories for wholesale.

1938 – figure at far right “Model wearing a yellow dress with yellow plaid jacket by Mrs. Franklin Inc.”

However, by the summer of 1938, the business had not been profitable for several years and was in financial difficulties. Mrs. Franklin owed nearly $150,000 for mortgages, rents, and past stock, and didn’t have enough credit to acquire any autumn merchandise. The board negotiated a plan of readjustment with creditors by re-organizing under a new company called Mrs. Franklin Shops of Philadelphia, Inc. Ellen Franklin ceased working for the company and paid out $5,000 on the more than $21,000 she personally owed. She then requested a weekly payment of $75.00 for the use of her name for the company, which was paid towards the balance of her debt. The New York shop and Philadelphia factory continued to operate until the end of 1938 before closing. The new company went back to making hand-knitted sweaters and dresses and continued in business until at least the end of 1941. After that the trail goes cold, although the company is mentioned in several legal papers dating up to 1954 over precedence regarding the taxation of the money paid to Ellen Franklin for the licensing of her name.

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Fashion in Song – Lydia the Tattooed Lady (1939)

There are several songs about tattooed women, but one of the best is by Groucho Marx.

Lydia the Tattooed Lady, was written in 1939 by Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, and was famously performed by Groucho Marx in the 1939 film At the Circus.

Lydia, oh! Lydia, say have you met Lydia
Oh! Lydia, the tattooed lady
She has eyes that folks adore so
And a torso even more so
Lydia, oh! Lydia, that “Encyclopedia”
Oh! Lydia, the Queen of tattoo
On her back is the Battle of Waterloo
Beside it the Wreck of the Hesperus too
And proudly above the waves
The Red, White and Blue
You can learn a lot from Lydia
She can give you a view of the world
In tattoo if you step up and tell her where
For a dime you can see Kankakee or Paree
Or Washington crossing the Delaware
Oh! Lydia, oh! Lydia, say have you met Lydia
Oh! Lydia, the tattooed lady
When her muscles start relaxin’
Up the hill comes Andrew Jackson
Lydia, oh! Lydia, that “Encyclopedia”
Oh! Lydia, the champ of them all
For two bits she will do a Mazurka in Jazz
With a view of Niag’ra that no artist has
And on a clear day you can see Alcatraz
You can learn a lot from Lydia.
La la la La la la La la la La la la
Come along and see Buff’lo Bill with his lasso
Just a little classic by Mendel Picasso
Here is Captain Spaulding exploring the Amazon
And Godiva, but with her pajamas on
La la la La la la La la la La la la
Here is Grover Whalen unveilin’ the Trylon
Over on the west coast we have Treasure Islan’
Here’s Nijinsky a doin’ the Rhumba
Here’s her Social Security numba
La la la La la la La la la La la la
Lydia, oh! Lydia, say have you met Lydia
Oh! Lydia, the champ of them all
She once swept an Admiral clear off his feet
The ships on her hips made his heart skip a beat
And now the old boy’s in command of the fleet

Here’s a great link to images of women getting tattoos, and here is another great tattooed Lady song is by Paddy Roberts:

Fashion in Song – The Tattooed Lady, 1959

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Dressing Toronto – November 1-30

We just opened Dressing Toronto in conjunction with Myseum at the Toronto Media Arts Centre (location and opening times below). The show surveys some of the sources from where Torontonians acquired their clothing over the past 150 years.

The selection of garments was the result of picking examples from the collection that had Toronto labels, were not by designers currently working, and fit the available contemporary and original store mannequins. Two of the Victorian dresses didn’t have labels, but they did have known provenances with names of the original wearers, including the sister of Major MacKenzie, after whom Major MacKenzie Drive is named.

The oldest piece, a man’s tailcoat from about 1870 has the label ‘D. Stevenson, Toronto’ – a mystery tailor I have yet to track down any info about. The most elaborate garment is a 1914 wedding dress by the high-end ladies’ dressmaker and tailor ‘O’Brien’s Ltd.’ A couple of 1940s dresses from Simpson’s and the T. Eaton Company represent the two big department stores, and imported garments from the 1950s and 1960s made expressly for Holt Renfrew and Creeds, represent those two luxury retailers. The balance of the exhibition is a selection from some of the best known Toronto designers, labels and shops from the 1950s to the 1990s: Rae Hildebrand, Rodolphe, Tip Top Tailors, Pat McDonaugh, Poupee Rouge, Claire Haddad, Maggie Reeves, Marilyn Brooks, Winston Kong, Loucas Kleanthous, Linda Lundstrom, D’Arcy Moses, Peach Berserk, Siren…

Dressing Toronto is on display November 2 – 30 at the Toronto Media Arts Centre, 32 Lisgar street: Wed/Thurs/Fri 11-7; Sat 11-6; Sun 12-5. I will be conducting guided tours of the exhibition, with more discussion about the Toronto fashion industry, on November 9 and November 23, at 6 p.m. Tickets are free, but have to be reserved through myseumoftoronto.com

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Happy 10th Anniversary to me!

I just realized my first blog entry was on October 26, 2008! My host accidentally erased the site in 2010, but I managed to recover most of what had been written, reposted, and kept on going.

The GREAT thing about blogging is that it helps to clear my mind. Once I write something down I can file away the floating pieces of paper, tagged websites, or magazines that clutter my life. I also get some great feedback from people who are related to or used to work for the people or companies I blog about. Sometimes the comments come from people who just know more than I do and their knowledge contributes to the blog.

The BAD thing about blogging is the commitment. A lot of people start blogging every day. As time passes the posts dwindle to once a week, then once a month – they inevitably stop after a couple of years. I have gone through bouts of being too busy or just not into it, but I find I eventually get re-enthused and return to blog again.

On average, I blog three times per week and I have turned down offers to monetize the site because, although I enjoy reading visitor comments, I ultimately write for myself. My style changes – sometimes I write in a chatty article kind of way, sometimes I write factually, like a museum label. This reflects my mood to some degree but also the reason why I am blogging that particular day.

I don’t foresee quitting the blog anytime soon as there always seems to be something to write about. So, here’s to another ten years!

Contemplating the work ahead to install our pop-up exhibition ‘Dressing Toronto’, opening tonight

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Photograph of mannequin heads, c. 1930 by Peter Weller

Peter Weller (1868-1940) lived in Berlin in the 1920s an 1930s where he worked as a fashion and portrait photographer. His work appeared in leading German magazines including: “Die Dame”, “Das Magazin”, and “UHU”. His studio and most of his archives were destroyed during the war.

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Canadian Fashion Connection – Winston Kong

Winston Kong was born in Ipswich, Jamaica. He studied at Cornell university and planned to go into hotel management before realizing his passion lay in the fashion world. After attending the Fashion Institute of Technology, Kong worked for Henri Bendel in New York for a year before taking a job in March, 1963 designing dresses for Mr. Smith, a Toronto boutique manufacturer. In 1966, Kong set up his own couture business on Gerard street, which he moved to 158 Cumberland Street in Yorkville in 1970.

Two Winston Kong dresses at a Toronto fashion show on June 16, 1988 in honour of Nancy Reagan who was in Toronto with her husband for a summit.

Known for his exuberant party clothes, most often made in silk taffeta, Kong created for clients who attended Toronto social events like the Sunnybrook Hospital ball, Opera ball, and Art Gallery ball. He would make no more than four of any of his designs, but even then, each would be different because they were all made on the premises for the client, rather than at a factory from a master pattern. Kong did eventually learn to carry a small selection of ready-made dresses for last minute shoppers who needed something for an event the same day. In the 1980s, his creations, which were similar in style to designs by Valentino and Ungaro, sold for between $900 and $1,400 each. Kong closed his shop in about 1995 and died in 2005.

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That time when hem lengths were measured from the floor…

When hems started going up in the 1910s, they were measured according to how far off the ground they were, which this picture of the committee of the British Columbia Electric Social Club Dance from April 1, 1921 illustrates exceptionally well (although the woman on the right must have had her ruler set an inch too short…)

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Deja Views – See through boots

The biggest difference between these two pairs of see-through vinyl boots with black patent trim, is that the original c. 1966 pair were around U.S. $20.00. The 2018 pair by Maryam Nassir Zadeh are U.S. $556. (BTW – these styles never last long because condensation from the body collects on the inside of the plastic which looks and feels gross.)

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