Canadian Fashion Connection – Anita Pineault

Anita Pineault, late 1980s

The oldest of nine siblings, Anita Chouinard was born in Quebec in 1917. Her last name was changed to Pineault when she married. When he left to serve in Europe during World War II Anita took a job with the Montreal firm Nadel Hat. Her talent was quickly realized by owner Teddy Nadel and she was soon promoted to design for the company.

Anita launched her own company in the 1950s and, with high standards, built a successful international business, exporting hats to New York and making hats for designer collections. In later years she launched a line of scarves. In the late 1980s she sold her company to European interests and retired to Kingston Ontario. She passed away at the age of 92 on January 20, 2009.

Thanks to themerchantsofvintage for finding an obit that opened research doors!

Canada’s First Black Model – Johanne Harelle

Joanne Harelle with Montreal designer Michel Robichaud, early 1960s

A year before the first American black model, Donyale Luna, graced the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, Johanne Harelle retired from her modelling career in Canada.

Johanne Harelle was born Joan Harell to a French Canadian mother and West Indian father in Montreal on January 29, 1930. She spoke English until her father died of tuberculosis when she was three and her mother was confined to a sanitarium for treatment of the same disease. Joan and her two younger brothers were sent to an orphanage where the nuns altered her name to a French spelling, and required her to speak French.

After finishing school, Joan worked as a maid, waitress, accountant, nightclub photographer, lab technician, and eventually, as a professional model from about 1957 to 1963. “I suffered from a little racism.” she recounted in a 1983 interview “There were a few incidents but not many.” While modelling, she met film-maker Claude Jutras and had a three year love affair with him, which also lead to some acting work. In 1963 she married a French sociologist and moved to Paris the following year. In 1981 she wrote her autobiography Un Lecon, and after a divorce, moved back to Montreal where she died on August 4, 1994.

Johanne Harelle in the trailer for A Tout Prendre, a 1963 film by Canadian director Claude Jutras

CAFTCAD awards

Kenn and I attended the second annual Canadian Alliance of Film and Television Costume Arts and Design (CAFTCAD) awards on Sunday night. We both served on juries to narrow down the entries for nomination. It’s great to see the industry recognize the work of all the various jobs in the costuming field.

Taking home awards for their work included costumers from the productions: Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Murdoch Mysteries, and The Terror. Linda Muir was recognized for her costume design in the film The Lighthouse, and Juul Hallmeyer was honoured with an Industry Icon award for his body of work, which included costuming S.C.T.V. Congratulations to all the CAFTCAD 2020 nominees and winners.

At the reception after the event we managed to take a few shots of some of the more interesting fashions, and also look at a display of costumes done by nominees:

Kitchener-Waterloo Ontario – a city of fashion in 1940

Found this interesting article from the July 15, 1940 issue of MacLeans Magazine, about the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo. A large part of the article ensures readers that although the population has a large German heritage, it is not in support of Hitler. Details in how the cities raised money for the war effort then gives way to an overview of local industry, of which fashion related industries are detailed. 

According to the article, the Kitchener Board of Trade boasts that the city “makes more shirts, builds more furniture, manufactures more tires, fashions more footwear, and tans more leather than any other city in Canada.’’ 

Twenty-five percent of the 42,000 who live in the two cities arrived in the previous twenty years (1920 – 1939) and were employed in the city’s industries that included:

“The B. F. Goodrich Rubber Company of Canada makes not only Goodrich tires, but rubber footwear there. The Kaufman Rubber Company, a Kitchener institution from away back, also makes rubber footwear, as does the Merchants’ Rubber factory, now affiliated with the Dominion Rubber organization…

There are ten Kitchener companies engaged in the manufacture or processing of textiles, two of them rating international status. Here is the head office of Cluett Peabody and Company of Canada, producing the Arrow lines of men’s shirts and furnishings. This organization, of course, is linked with the original Cluett Peabody company of the United States.

John Forsyth, Limited, making Forsyth shirts, underwear, pyjamas, cravats and handkerchiefs, is entirely a Kitchener enterprise, and its growth is a matter of considerable local pride. The Forsyth company has two plants, one in Kitchener, the other in Waterloo. Mr. J. D. C. Forsyth, president of the organization, maintains two homes in the Kitchener-Waterloo district, a city residence and a farm where he raises prize cattle.

Other Kitchener textile products include glove linings, knitted fabrics, rayon, jersey cloth and twine. There are five companies making buttons—the town has always been a big button producer—and three of these, the Dominion Button Manufacturers, Limited, Kitchener Buttons, Limited, and the Mitchell Button Company, sell their goods all across Canada.

Twenty-three Kitchener companies manufacture boots and shoes and other leather products. Eleven companies, Ontario Shoes, Limited; Valentine and Martin. Limited; the W. E. Woelffe Shoe Company; Western Shoe Company; Charles A. Ahrens, Limited; the Bauer Shoe Company; the E and S Shoe Company; the Galt Shoe Manufacturing Company; the Hydro City Shoe Manufacturers Limited; and the Kitchener Shoe Company, make leather footwear. The Bauer and Western shoe companies also make skates. Other concerns turn out cut soles, shoe patterns, leather washers, and leather ties and braces.

The L. McBrine Company makes the widely known McBrine line of trunks, bags and other travel accessories in Kitchener. The names of Breithaupt and Lang, associated with the leather industry since its first beginnings in this area, are represented by three companies; the Breithaupt Leather Company, the Lang Tanning Company, and John A. Lang and Sons. There are three companies producing gloves, mitts and gauntlets; the Barrie Glove and Knitting Company, the Huck Glove Company, and the Ontario Glove Company. Canadian Consolidated Felt Company, and the W. G. Rumpel Felt Company make commercial felts.”

Click here to read the full article

Canada’s Silk Steam Trains

Bales of silk in the hold of a ship

From 1887 until the 1930s, raw silk from the Far East roared across Canada in trains from the port of Vancouver.  Within two hours of the boat docking at Vancouver, stevedores unloaded the 90-kilogram burlap-wrapped 12-inch by 24-inch by 36-inch bales of silk to waiting custom agents in a warehouse. Because raw silk is perishable, it is necessary to get the silk to the mills as quickly as possible. Special boxcars were developed that held 470 bales of silk each. Built on passenger car trucks for better suspension, the boxcars were also shorter than normal boxcars to take curves at higher speeds. 

The first shipment of 65 bales of raw silk arrived at the port of Vancouver on June 13, 1887, aboard the Abyssinia from Hong Kong. During October 1902, the Vancouver Daily Province reported the arrival of two ships from the Far East with silk cargos of more than 2,000 bales each, worth more than one and a half million. The same paper estimated on October 25, 1902 that “Vancouver, the silk port of North America: Over four and a half million dollars worth of raw silk will be received within thirty days”.

The following year, the Daily Province reported on Jan. 10, 1903, the silk train “makes the regular express time appear as but a snail’s pace.” The train the newspaper was referring to had travelled from Vancouver to Kamloops, 400 kilometres northeast through the mountains, in 10 hours and 45 minutes — an hour faster than the express passenger train. On the prairies, the steam trains could travel up to 90 kph where other trains rarely exceeded 70 kph. Every 200 kilometres there was a pit stop that lasted about seven minutes to add oil and water, or change engines and crew.

Canadian Pacific (CP) operated both a trans-Canada railway and a transpacific shipping line that dominated the silk trade and made Vancouver the major port for silk entering North America. Canadian National (CN) began to compete with CP with its first silk run across Canada in July 1925, however CN lacked ships and relied upon British and Japanese ships to bring the raw silk to Vancouver. CN trains crossed the border at Niagara Falls and handed over their shipments to the New York Central Railroad while CP carried their silk to Canadian destinations including Galt, Toronto, and Montreal. 

By 1929, rayon was becoming more used than silk for underwear, stockings, and ribbons. That October, the Great Depression began a series of cost-cutting measures that made shipping by ship cheaper than rail. The Panama canal, which had opened in 1914, began attracting more business and the railway’s share of shipping silk quickly fell from 94 percent of all silk in 1928 to 40 percent in 1931. The value of silk also dropped to $1.27 per pound by 1934, down from $6.50 per pound a decade earlier, making it less profitable.

CP stopped running silk-only trains in 1933, and instead hitched two or three silk cars onto their regular trans-Canada passenger trains. CN’s last silk-only trains ran in 1935. In 1940 CN shipped only 504 bales of silk for the entire year. The last shipment of silk from Japan arrived in August, 1941, months before the war expanded to include Japan. Existing stocks of silk were quickly used up or were requisitioned for wartime use. For more information on the silk trains see this article.

Express silk train, 1928

Canadian Fashion Connection – Gentry Inc. neckwear

Butterfly bow tie, c. early 1970s

Neckwear manufacturer Gentry Inc. began operations in Montreal in 1955. Two years later, Italian-born Rocco Polifroni joined the company, and in 1978 he purchased Gentry Inc. from the original owner. Polifroni’s children have since joined Gentry, keeping it a family-owned business that has grown into a 36,000 sq. ft. facility. 

In 1990, the new NAFTA agreement encouraged the company to branch into the U.S. By 1999 they were offering both their own established Polifroni brand, as well as higher-end Italian-made ties under the Serica brand. In the 2000s, the company expanded their product line to include shirts, sweaters and scarves. 

The company’s products are sold under the brands: Polifroni Milano, BLU by Polifroni, Domenico Franco, Nino Zotti, Serica, Serica Elite, Serica Elite NY, and Enrico Fiori, as well as various private labels for independent stores and chains, including Simon Chang Concepts.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Lola Leman

Little is known about this Canadian knitwear designer/retailer. Olga was born in Yugoslavia on July 29, 1924 and came to Canada with her family sometime before the mid 1950s when her mother opened a knitwear shop in Toronto. By 1980, Olga (professionally known as Lola) had taken over her mother’s boutique and had become known as one of Canada’s leading knitwear designers.

In 1980 her shop, at 55 Avenue Road, sold hand knit coats and suits upwards of $2,000. By 1985 she was known for her heavy knit and crochet ribbon two-piece dresses and three-piece suits. Her shop closed sometime in the 1990s, and was officially dissolved in 2006. Lola died on February 26, 2012 at the age of 87.

1985 Advertisement for Lola Leman, featuring one of her crochet ribbon dresses that she was known for.

Canadian Fashion Connection: Milli Gould (1935 – 2019)

Milli Gould at the Art Gallery of Hamilton exhibition, April 2019

Hamilton retailer Milli Gould passed away October 13 after operating one of Hamilton’s premier women’s clothing stores for more than half a century.

With a $5,000 loan, Milli opened her first shop in Hamilton in 1964, moving to her present location at 310 Main street West in 1966. Her husband joined her in the business in 1967. Her shop carried high-end ready-to-wear from Canadian, American and European designers. 

Despite the loss of her husband in 1999, Milli continued to grow the business, expanding to a Toronto location on Avenue Road in 2004.

On April 13, 2019 the Art Gallery of Hamilton opened a retrospective about the shop entitled Milli: A Celebration of Style.

Added January 4: We saw the Hamilton Art Gallery exhibition. There were some nice pieces retailed through Milli, but mostly by lesser-known designers and companies that created quality copies of dresses in popular styles, like Marty Modell and Peter Keppler. However, most bore only Milli store labels with no original designer labels.

The exhibition was very crowded to the point that it was difficult to see some of the garments. The dresses were shown on platforms with art and sculptures, which instead of making us look at the dresses as art, put the dresses into a context of a tableau as if the dresses were being worn at a gallery gala opening. The show closes February 9.