Canadian Fashion Connection – Monica Schnarre

Scarborough-raised Monica Schnarre won the Ford “Supermodel of the World” contest at the age of 14, in 1986. Schnarre immediately began working 300 days a year “There were weeks that I was on a plane every night” she recalls in a recent interview.  

Her adventures in modelling took her from Russia in 1987 where she and Christy Turlington were launching a fashion magazine and being followed by the KGB, to Berlin in 1989 where she was one of the last people to go through Checkpoint Charlie on the last day it existed.

Schnarre has been shot by many great photographers: Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel, Patrick Demarchelier, but her favourite photograph was taken by Bill King for French Vogue when she was 15 years old. She also appeared on the cover of American Vogue when she was 15, sharing the title of youngest ever on the cover with Brooke Shields. 

In the 1990s, her modelling career led to some acting work, including playing a supermodel on the soap The Bold and the Beautiful. 

Schnarre turned 50 this past May. When asked for some beauty tips, she said she rinses her mouth with diluted hydrogen peroxide once in a while to keep her teeth white, and to control her weight she makes sure she is hungry between meals and never eats after 7 p.m.

Canadian Fashion Connection – D’Allaird’s

George William D’Allaird was born in Troy New York in 1866. The family name had been changed by his father from Jocco to D’Allaird before George was born, which is probably why George often used a J. initial for his middle name. He married Clara Dufresne in Whitehall, New York in 1898 and the two moved to Montreal where George worked as a cutter at a shirt factory. George struck out on his own in 1914, making shirtwaists and selling them directly to customers which allowed him to offer his blouses for less money than competitors. By 1916 he was advertising his shirtwaists for between 98 cents and $7.98. In 1918, he was operating a four story factory and 14 stores across Canada. That same year his business joined The United Waist League of America – the first Canadian waist manufacturer to join the league.

Advertisement for D’Allaird’s blouses, c. 1920

George is listed in the Montreal businessman’s directory of 1923 as the owner of the D’Allaird Waist Manufacturing Company, president of a homeopathic hospital, member of the Montreal Board of Trade, as well as an avid golfer with membership at two golf clubs. The business survived George’s death in 1924, becoming a chain of 30 stores by 1972 when the English chain Marks and Spencer bought the company. By 2001 D’Allairds had been resold to clothing retailer Comark Inc, and was shut down two years later, after 89 years in business.

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)

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.

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. 

Canadian Fashion Connection – Lady Beatrice

Lady Beatrice was a mid-priced line of millinery sold through Eaton’s department stores, and possibly other venues. The line was created by K&G Hats Ltd., 55 York St., Toronto, ON. The company was operated by Philip Katz (president) and Harry Glassman (vice president), and was in operation from 1935 until at least 1965. The company went out of business sometime between 1966 and 1979, and was expunged in 1980.

Canadian Fashion Connection Everywoman’s World Magazine 1914 – 1923

Everywoman’s World magazine first appeared in 1914. Founded by Isidor Simonski of the Continental Publishing Company, Toronto. Although The Canadian Home Journal, founded in 1895, had a 50% female readership, Simonski realized there was no magazine in Canada that exclusively marketed to female consumers. Everywoman’s World was an instant hit and by 1921, the publication boasted the highest per issue circulation of any Canadian magazine to date, with 106,167 monthly readers.

The publication is an interesting mixture of fashion and household management, alongside articles with feminist interests, from reportage on various women’s organizations to what women can do to help win the Great War. The magazine favoured women writers, including Lucy Maude Montgomery. There are several issues available online here but despite its popularity, surviving examples of the actual magazines are rare. The last reference I can find for the publication dates from 1923, which must be the last year it was printed. Not sure how a publication can go from the highest circulation in Canada to defunct in two years! If the Continental Publishing Company in Toronto was associated in any way with an American publishing company of the same name, the U.S. company was dissolved in 1925, however, it is not clear if there was any association.

Canadian Fashion Connection – La Marquise Handbag Co.

Jack Sverdlove founded La Marquise Handbag Co. in Montreal in 1946. Sverdlove had been born in Russia in 1907 and immigrated to Canada where he married his Montreal-born wife Gabrielle in 1947. Jack’s company specialized in making handbags from imported tapestry. In 1976, as tapestry and handbag styles fell from popularity in favour of leather shoulder bags, the company was forced to reorganize its debts. It is not known exactly when the company ceased production, however, the last AGM was held in 1981 and Jack died in 1987. The company was officially dissolved in 1993.

La Marquise handbag, c. 1960s

Canadian Fashion Connection – Givenchy

Eight years ago a picture of a brocade suit with a Givenchy label from the early 60s was posted on the Vintage Fashion Guild by Kelly-Anne. I was sure her suit couldn’t be a Givenchy because, although the brocade fabric was nice, the construction was standard factory work typical of the era. As well, the skirt had a Canadian union manufacturer’s tag. 

At the time Kelly-Anne posted her pictures in 2013, there had been more than a few incidents of less-than-reputable online sellers removing designer labels from men’s ties and sewing them into dresses and suits. I myself was once duped into buying a suit with an added designer label. In my case, the dealer, who rarely dealt in vintage clothing, took the suit back without an argument, and she may have bought it that way herself. However, there were a few well-known sellers who were regularly making these alterations on purpose, concocting fake stories to accompany the label about how they got the garment from the original owner who had worn it for her going away outfit, or graduation ceremony, or bought it on her first trip to Paris… One dealer in Israel was notorious for this, but despite being regularly reported to Etsy she sold her fakes for years without repercussion. 

After vociferously declaring that the Givenchy suit must be a fake, and suggesting Kelly-Anne confront the seller (who had a story about the original owner), the discussion petered out and the thread slowly slipped away into the backlog of Vintage Fashion Guild archived conversations. But then, three weeks ago, Modamuzesi, a collector from Lebanon who owned the same suit in a different colourway but with the same label, showed up with evidence that the suit was, in fact, a licensed copy of a Givenchy design.

He posted a snippet from the August 30, 1960 issue of Women’s Wear Daily, that noted Marvin Warsh, vice-president of the Toronto clothing manufacturing firm J.H. Warsh & Co. Ltd., signed a contract with Givenchy to reproduce clothes under Givenchy’s boutique label for the Canadian market. The line would become available that October through better stores across Canada and retail between $50 and $100 (the equivalent of $450 – $900 today).

Canadian Fashion Connection – Cougar

Walter Sedlbauer immigrated to Canada from Czechoslovakia in 1939 to work for the Bata Shoe Company at their newly opened manufacturing plant in Batawa, Ontario. In 1948 he, with business partner Anthony Ronza, founded Susan Footwear Industries in a former parachute factory in Burlington, Ontario.

A sneaker brand called Cougar became a breakout success for them in the early 1970s, rivalling adidas running shoe sales in Canada. Their next big success story came in 1976 with a snow boot style with a padded leg and red lining, called the Pillow Boot.

By the time Walter died in 1994, the company was running into hard times from foreign brands being dumped on the Canadian market. Most Canadian shoe companies didn’t survive the shift to the world market, including Bata. Wanting to keep the business going, Walter’s sons Steven and Ron bought the Cougar trademark out of bankruptcy in 1996. The brothers realized they had to play by the same rules as the modern shoemaking industry and revived the Cougar brand by moving manufacturing off shore. The new Cougar brand company found success in new designs based on Pillow Boot styles, updated for the contemporary market.

To read more about the Cougar brand, check out this article, and their web page.