Canadian Fashion Connection – Warren K. Cook

Warren K. Cook (1887 – 1972)

The Cook Clothing Company was founded in Toronto in 1920 by Warren K. Cook. He later established an eponymously named high end menswear line in 1935. In 1949 Warren’s son William A. Cook took over the business and officially changed the name of the company to Warren K. Cook Ltd., trademarking a signature label the following year. 

The company produced top-of-the-line suits for menswear shops across the country, but also offered custom work until 1989 when William Cook sold the family business. The new owners were the Hamilton menswear company Coppley that was known for its quality menswear produced under the labels Cambridge and Keithmoor, as well as licensed brands like Ralph Lauren. Coppley continued to produce the Warren K. Cook line, which featured hand set sleeve linings and a signature detail on all Cook jackets – a slightly flared cuff with a single button. This feature that can be seen in films of Oscar Peterson playing the piano in his Cook suits. 

Warren Cook died in 1972, and William Cook died in 2003. Coppley was bought out in 1998 and the Toronto offices for Warren Cook were closed that same year. The new owners of Coppley held the Warren K. Cook trademark until 2009. The trademark was expunged in 2011.

Oscar Peterson wearing a Warren K. Cook jacket (the cuff with a slight flare is typical of Cook jackets)

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Eldridge Cleaver

Leroy Eldridge Cleaver was born in 1935. By the late 1960s he had become a leading activist in the Black Panther Party, but after mounting an ambush on Oakland police, during which two officers were wounded and a Black Panther member was killed, Eldridge fled to Cuba and later Algeria to avoid prosecution.

In 1972 he moved to Paris where he became a born again Christian and turned his hand to fashion design. In 1975 he released his modern take on the codpiece with his “virility pants”, aka “Cleavers”. He promoted the idea that they would give men “a chance to assert their masculinity” and saw no conflict between the overt sexuality of his pants and his newfound Christianity.

Cleaver returned to the United States in 1977 to face the unresolved attempted murder charge. During the proceedings he incorporated Eldridge Cleaver Ltd. and began manufacturing and selling his “Cleavers”, which he claimed liberated men from “penis binding”. His charge was reduced to assault and he was sentenced to 1,200 hours’ community service, but his pants never found much success. Cleaver eventually joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and became a member of the Republican party. He died in 1998.

Lovable Brassiere Co. (c. 1932 – 1998)

Polish-born Frank Gottesman met and married his Austrian-born wife Gussie in New York City, and moved to Atlanta, Georgia where Frank worked in a ladies undergarment factory. In 1926 he bought the factory and by 1932 had renamed and trademarked his company as the Lovable Brassiere Company. 

Frank also fully integrated the work floor and lunchroom – a progressive move for a southern company at the time. The company was also progressive with wages, paying workers $9 per week – well above the national average.

At some point after 1940 Frank changed the family’s last name to the more American-sounding Garson. Although the sewing was eventually sent off-shore, the company remained a family-run business until a deal with Walmart, their biggest buyers, changed the terms of their agreement and forced Lovable to close in 1998. The company’s name was picked up by an Indian company that now makes brassieres under the Lovable brand name.

Carado gloves by Ireland Bros. Inc.

This past week I was going through a box of gloves, pulling out the best examples for the collection. I was looking inside for labels and clues for country of origin, manufacturer, date, etc. One pair of garnet coloured doeskin suede gloves dating from the late 1930s to early 1950s had the name ‘Carado’ printed inside. I have not heard of that brand and hit a dead end researching any reference to that name. I passed the name onto the museum’s intrepid remote researcher Lynne Ranieri, and she put her search engines into action.

Lynn was able to discover that the brand Carado was created by the company Ireland Bros. Inc. Tracing Ireland Brothers back, the earliest reference I could find for them dated from 1917, when the founder J.B. Ireland had a factory producing linens and lace in Ireland. They also carried a line of doeskin suede and washable kid gloves. The wording in the ad inferred the company had been around for a while and that the company was located in New York. Another advert from 1923 confirmed they were located in New York, but were only known for their Fleur-de-lis brand Irish linen.

In 1937 more information showed up about Ireland Bros., but this time the company is registered in New Jersey and located in Philadelphia. It’s not clear if this is the same company as the earlier one, but it is clear that after 1937 Irish Brothers Inc. makes Carado, Mirado, and Lavando brand gloves. Several advertisements dating from the 1940s and early 1950s mention the brand by name.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Erich Fayer and Balmain

During his lifetime Canadian financer Erich Fayer was a bit of a mystery man. He was rarely interviewed and never talked about his past. Only after his death did it become known that Fayer was a Polish-born Jewish refugee who came to Canada in the early 1970s by way of Panama. Where or how Fayer made his money was never clear, but his Montreal-based company, Produits Parfums et Cosmetiques Universels, had many assets in its holdings including a $50-million Montreal shopping centre. In July 1986 Fayer bought the Paris fashion house of Balmain with an eye to resurrecting the label’s prestige – the way Lagerfeld had resurrected Chanel in 1983.

Balmain had been one of Paris’ leading fashion ateliers when it was founded in 1946 by its namesake Pierre Balmain. However, it lost its lustre over the years, especially after Pierre’s death in 1982 when Balmain’s life partner and business assistant, Erik Mortensen, became the house designer. While Mortensen kept loyal clients happy he failed to make waves in the fashion press. 

Fayer diversified production into a line of luxury products including accessories and perfume, and bought back the rights to the original Balmain perfumes that had been sold to Revlon in the early 1960s. By 1987 he had cancelled licensing agreements with companies that were churning out Balmain designs using second-rate craftsmanship, damaging the Balmain image. Fayer bought d’Ana Cote d’Azure, a high-end clothing manufacturer in the south of France to produce all of the Balmain lines including Balmain Ivoire, a luxury ready-to-wear line created with the American market in mind (see video below of Fall 1989 Balmain Ivoire fashion show.)

Instead of contracting out ready-to-wear collections to lesser designers for the growing ‘fastwear’ market (as it was called in 1987), Balmain’s ready-to-wear collections were now designed under Mortensen to retain an elite, upscale chic that would be sold for 25% – 30% more than ready-to-wear had been previously priced. Twenty-two year old Hervé Pierre was hired to assist Mortensen with the increased designing responsibilities.

The influx of new ideas and capital re-invigorated the house of Balmain and ushered in an era of foreign capital investments into long-standing Paris fashion houses. However, everything wasn’t working smoothly behind the scenes at Balmain. In March 1990 Alistair Blair was hired to design the Balmain Ivoire luxury ready-to-wear collection, allowing Mortensen to devote his work exclusively to the couture collection. 

That same year, Fayer sold Balmain to Alain Chevalier, a French financer from the Louis Vuitton group, only to buy it back a year later in June 1991 at a greatly reduced price. Mortensen however, was no longer with Balmain when the company was purchased back. Hervé Pierre had been made in charge of creating Balmain’s couture collections for 1991 and spring 1992. 

Fayer then brought on board Oscar de la Renta as Balmain’s lead designer in early 1992. De la Renta, who had established himself in New York in 1966 and had only shown his own collection in Paris for the first time in March 1991, became the first American designer to take over at a Paris fashion house. He remained at Balmain until 2002. 

Erich Fayer died in Brussels on April 6, 1995 from a heart attack.

Alber Elbaz (1961 – 2021)

Alber Elbaz with Meryl Streep in 2014 as he is handed his Fashion Group International award. Streep, who is wearing Lanvin, said “if what you’ve made me feel over the years is multiplied by all the other women whose lives you’ve enhanced, I think you should get this every year.” 

Fashion designer Alber Elbaz has passed away from Covid-19.

Elbaz was born in Morocco and moved to Israel with his family when he was 10 years old. After studying at the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design he moved to New York in 1985 to work for Geoffrey Beene. In 1996 he moved to Paris to work at Guy Laroche. He became the creative director at Yves Saint Laurent in 1998 and in 2001 he joined Lanvin. 

Elbaz revitalized the dying fashion house of Lanvin – the oldest French fashion house in continuous existence that had been reduced to relying on men’s ready-to-wear and fragrances. During his 14 year tenure, Elbaz turned Lanvin into a creative and commercial success, and established signature trademarks for a modern Lanvin style, including exposed zippers and grosgrain ribbon trim. 

Fissures in the relationship between Elbaz and management grew into chasms, and Elbaz was ousted in 2015 after a loss in projected net profits. A complicated lawsuit followed that claimed there was a lack of investment strategy and that the projected profits were unrealistic, while blame was put from the other side onto Elbaz for poor sales of accessories. Ultimately, the real problem was a difference in opinion over priorities and in similar cases, the creative director is often held accountable for a decline in sales.

After years of inactivity, Elbaz just recently established his new label, AZ Factory.

Lerner Shops

Lerner was founded in 1917 in New York City as a woman’s blouse shop. By 1920, the store had expanded to 23 branches and by 1930, the number had grown to 160 shops across 37 states.

Lerner Shops located in busy shopping districts, signing long term leases to get better rental deals. Their shop exteriors embraced modern design and always featured enticing window displays, their interiors were light and spacious – and air conditioned! 

By 1967, Lerner began expanding into shopping centers, but as shopping malls became more popular, downtowns deteriorated. Lerner was tied into long leases on many downtown stores and began to get a reputation for being dowdy and dated like the downtown cores of many cities. 

In 1985 Limited Brands purchased Lerner and breathed new life into the business, eventually changing its name to New York & Company in the late 1990s. Limited Brands resold New York & Company to RTW Retailwinds in November 2002, and the shop became a popular mall staple alongside businesses like Forever 21 and American Eagle. The pandemic forced NY&Co. to seek bankruptcy protection in the summer of 2020. Saadia Group, LLC purchased what remained of the company in October 2020. 

Patent Fashions – Pantyhose

On November 9, 1956, Ernest G. Rice filed for a U.S. patent for a garment that combined stockings with an opaque panty. In his description he writes: “…a combination garment in which a pair of stockings and underpants are unitarily formed…that eliminates the need for garter attachments and belts.” His idea wasn’t new – dancers had been wearing tights for decades, however, his improvement was in the addition of an opaque panty, reinventing it for fashionable use. Sixteen months later, on March 18, 1958, Rice was granted his patent and pantyhose hit the market the following year. Sales shot up in the late 1960s when the miniskirt soared four inches above the knee, and until the late 1990s pantyhose were a staple of every woman’s wardrobe. In the process of researching pantyhose history, I came across this interesting website that is still in development but outlines a history of stockings.

Fashion Hall of Obscurity – Ramona Rull

Left: model Donna DeMarco wears a Ramona Rull dress with Sheesha work. Right: Ramona Rull wearing a wood-block printed cotton ‘at home’ dress, Toronto, April, 1979

Several years ago we inherited a collection of caftan and caftan-like dresses from a friend who loved the style. A few of them were labelled Ramona Rull, and the quality was particularly interesting, but I couldn’t find anything about the name on the label. Fortunately, thanks to Fashion History Museum remote researcher Lynn Ranieri, she managed to find a LOT of information about Ramona Rull and her career as a manufacturer:

Ramona Mary Rull was born into a Eurasian family of Hong Kong clothing manufacturers on August 5, 1933. In 1965, Ramona moved to New York and took a job at the United Nations. However, the fashion industry was in her blood and in 1968 she opened a boutique on Madison Avenue selling clothes made in Hong Kong from textiles she sourced across Asia. 

In 1971, Pakistan House International (a government agency), financed a trip for her to Pakistan to see what they could offer to encourage the export of Pakistani textiles. That same year Ramona closed her boutique and went into the wholesale manufacturing of cotton clothes made from vegetable-dye patterns printed with traditional wood-blocks. Sometimes her clothes also featured decorative work, like sheesha (mirrorwork). The dresses were manufactured in Lahore and Karachi using patterns for the export market that showcased the textile, using simple designs like slight A-line dresses with sash belts, caftans, and shifts with side slits. 

Her new manufacturing and importing business was called ‘Ramona Creations’. Over the next two decades she would travel to Asia for four to six weeks, three times per year, to source fabrics, draft patterns, and oversee quality control. The worst problem was ensuring textiles weren’t printed on rainy days when the dye wouldn’t set properly and then bleed easily.

In 1977, Ramona married Canadian businessman Thomas William Karson and moved to Toronto. Her first Canadian fashion show was held at Simpsons, Toronto in April 1979, where her clothes were sold through ‘The Room’ – their chic fashion department.  Over the years her clients would include Canadian journalist Betty Kennedy, and American actresses Ali McGraw and Shirley MacLaine.

Her husband passed away in June, 1989 and Ramona closed down her business by 1994.  Ramona Karson (nee Rull) died June 6, 2010.